Formula 1 racing is a bit of a mystery to most Americans, and for some reason, open-wheeled racing has never really caught on here. Perhaps we expect our racecars to look like our actual cars, or we just would rather watch some good ole boys turn left for five hours rather than cheer a Frenchman with an unpronounceable name through a series of hairpin turns. 1 2009 attempts to change that opinion and give some attention to this somewhat-ignored sport, and while it provides a great racing experience, it lacks the flash needed to really turn heads.
1 2009 ditches oval-track racing for Grand Prix events, races that feature open-wheeled cars driving on what some would call "street" tracks. Rather than running a 500-mile race in an elongated circle, F1 races are full of long straightaways that suddenly disappear into sharp U-turns and lots of thoughtful, strategic racing action. While positions may be swapped due to sheer horsepower and outrunning an opponent, it is usually the most thoughtful, strategic driver who wins the day. This is a sport where steering and braking is honed to the millisecond, and even the slightest error will not only drop you back in the pack, but likely send you careening through the grass and into a wall.
Novices need not be concerned about the game's difficulty, though, as a number of driving assists and AI settings make it simple to ease into the experience. On its easiest difficulty setting, the game will coddle you significantly, doing its best to keep you on the track and at the head of the pack. This goes a long way to building confidence and leading many players to believe that, with enough practice, they might just be good enough to take on a real challenge.
And what a challenge 1 2009 can become. Those who want to take off the kid gloves and really race will find an extremely accurate driving simulator, one which will chew you up and spit you out if you try to race the wrong way. Penalties, car damage and component failure all threaten those who don't stick to the lines and run a clean race, and when you're controlling the steering, braking, gears and gas all at once, it can be an absolutely thrilling experience.
Those wanting to make the game even more white-knuckle can hook up a racing wheel or just run races with motion control, though in our experience, these setups felt a little loose. Thankfully, the game also supports the Wiimote/Nunchuk combo as well as the Classic Controller, so no matter what your style, you can plug in and race with ease. You can't blame that crash on the controls; Codemasters has been as accommodating as possible with this title.
One thing a lot of people likely won't get when they first boot up 1 2009 is just how deep this experience is. Those looking for a quick race can jump into a single event or a Grand Prix weekend complete with practice sessions and qualifying, and those in it for the long haul can tackle a full championship season or a three-year career. On top of this is the game's great Challenge mode, which puts you through a series of scenarios and tests your skills. Some levels are as simple as racing through checkpoints or passing other drivers, while others offer more complicated fare, like trying to fend off the pack during the pouring rain in a car equipped with dry-weather tires. This is one of those games which, once it sinks its hooks into you, refuses to let go for a long time.
Multiplayer is a bit of a mixed bag, as 1 2009 provides plenty of local competitive play but no online functionality whatsoever. You and a split-screen competitor can take on single races or even an entire championship season, but there's no opportunity to set up an online racing league or take on friends across the world in a quick sprint around the track. While no one really expects much when considering the Wii's online prowess, racing games are meant to be played with others, and an online community is the perfect venue.
From a gameplay perspective, 1 2009 is a dream, but the presentation mucks up the experience and really hurts the overall package. Cars and tracks lack detail, and before long, it becomes difficult to really differentiate one raceway from another. The lack of any music beyond the annoying looping tracks on the menus means that all you'll hear in race are the overly whiny car engines, and the only commentary offered is your pit crew chief stating who's in first place and who just ran the fastest lap.
Codemasters has proven itself a master at racing games with standout titles like <i>DiRT and <i>GRiD, but those games had the whole package of style and substance. On the other hand, 1 2009 is all steak and no sizzle, but you quickly realize that you need at least a little sizzle to bring the whole thing together. From a gameplay standpoint, this title is unrivaled on the Wii, and it allows gamers to break away from the cutesy kart racers to a more complex affair that really tests their skills. The dull-as-dishwater design zaps the magic, though, making it hard to maintain interest. I get the feeling that if this same game had been developed to utilize the horsepower of the PS3 or Xbox 360, then we'd be holding it up as an absolute triumph, but the sad truth is this is the wrong game on the wrong system, and it's going to have a hard time finding an audience. Codemasters and Sumo put up a valiant effort, but even they can't take more than the Wii gives them, and the Wii simply doesn't provide them enough to work with.
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