Formula 1 racing has plenty of exciting elements to it that make it a premier sport for racing fans. The vehicles often average around 200 mph. Drivers often have open cockpits and not much else protecting them, aside from a helmet and flame-retardant suit. All of the race tracks have varying twists and turns as well as different track surface conditions. Even the environments of each track differ, from closed circuits to those happening in city streets. Unfortunately, like soccer, Formula 1 racing has a large following everywhere but in the United States. With this knowledge at hand, it is still surprising to see that Formula 1 racing doesn't have as many video game versions of the sport as NASCAR does, despite the overall world popularity. In fact, the last time someone attempted a Formula 1 racing title was during the PS3 launch. After a hiatus of several years, Codemasters has taken up the burden of making a Formula 1 title. With the help of Sumo Digital, F1 2009 was born on the PSP, and it proves to be a decent start to what could be a very exciting series.
After creating a profile, the player will be met with several options to choose from in the single-player mode. Quick Race lets you choose any car and track and start racing while Grand Prix Weekend lets you do the same but gives you the options of racing the practice runs and time trials associated with the track. Time Trials mode has you solely racing against the clock. Championship mode lets you re-create the 2009 F1 racing season, and Career has you expand that into a three-year journey to both gain the championship and become a repeat winner. Finally, Challenges mode has you completing specific tasks, such as passing as many checkpoints as possible in a short amount of time or simply winning races.
One thing that stands out greatly is just how much tweaking can be done to each and every race. With the exception of challenges, the difficulty of the game can be changed according to your preferences. Arcade racing fans can turn off everything, from penalties to car damage, and still bump up the opponent's skill level to give themselves a challenge. Meanwhile, simulation fans can make car damage and tire wear a factor and throw in lots of rain to make it as realistic as possible. The customization also goes down to car control and features like the presence of a racing line and other aids to help those who want to step on the gas instead of learning the intricacies of each course.
There are a few things that do take away from the excitement of the racing, however. The AI racers, for example, have a tendency of following their lines closely enough to ram you out of your own line. No amount of tweaking in the options seems to fix this, so unless you like spinning out of control, you'll be the one trying to modify your own line instead of your opponent. As much as the game wants you to experience everything that an F1 racer has to go through to reach the top, you can actually skip all of that without much consequence. The game length is drastically shortened since you can skip all of the placement trials and practice laps and go straight to the main courses as if it were Quick Race. You'll always start at 20th place, but that's not too much of a penalty for some gamers. Finally, at the end of a race, there doesn't seem to be a grand celebration that you won at all. You get the text notice and your crew chief will tell you that you did well, but there's no celebration once you win a championship. All in all, none of these things by itself really drags down the game, but when taken as a whole, it adds up to something that needs to be worked on for the next game.
The game's multiplayer actually ends up being more robust than its home console brethren. Up to four players can participate in quick races with any car and track, up from the standard two-player races of the Wii version. Like the single-player Quick Race mode, this one lets you customize just about every feature in the race. The real heart of multiplayer mode is the Championship, where you can replay the 2009 racing season with a friend in tow. Multiplayer racing is always more engaging than single-player, and this proves to be no different in this mode. The local lag from wireless play is pretty nonexistent though it's too bad that, like most PSP games, this doesn't feature any sort of online play. Finding enough people locally who have PSP consoles is difficult enough, and Championship mode would have been much more welcome in an online environment.
The controls are fairly straightforward. By default, the d-pad or analog nub is used for vehicle steering while the Square button brakes and X is the accelerator. The L and R shoulder buttons handle shifting in manual transmission while the Circle button activates the KERS system. The steering is fine, but the responsiveness of the nub is certainly no match for the d-pad when it comes to manipulating tight turns. The placement for the buttons is fine, but for those who are used to the way current consoles handle racers, there is an option to use the L and R shoulder buttons for braking and acceleration, respectively, giving you faster access to each as well as access to the KERS system. It's interesting to note that these are the only control schemes available; full button customization would have been welcome for those who don't especially like either configuration.
Graphically, F1 2009 the game simply strives to fulfill the task at hand. The menus are functional but don't give out any vital stats when you're looking at the selected driver or car. During races, the tracks have a few nice touches to them, like flags in the crowd being waved. Vehicles look fine, though they don't have too many visible details like logos and ads and such. There's also a lack of particle effects, such as smoke and dust being kicked up when racing off track and car pieces flying off when taking a particularly nasty crash. What is bothersome is the filter being used throughout the game. Though it is more noticeable on the tracks, just about everything here has a filter that makes it look like there are spots on everything. Imagine the looks seen in some Nintendo 64 games or late PlayStation games, and you get a better idea of how this title doesn't look up to par against some PSP racers. With the game not really pushing the system at all, it's even more surprising to see that it only manages to get 30fps instead of a full 60fps.
Like the visuals, the overall sound package needs some work. Outside of the main menu, there is no music so the effects and voices really have to carry the weight of the experience. To that end, the effects are mostly fine. Those who aren't familiar with F1 racing will find it a bit odd to hear engines whine instead of roar, but it does sound pretty close to the real thing. The use of the KERS system, however, sounds more like a jet engine revving up than anything else, but without hearing the sound in real races, it would be difficult to tell whether this was the intended effect. The voices are pretty bad, though, as their delivery is inconsistent. Your racing coach will sound fine when giving you the basic info on the current track, but when he gives the first update on the placement of you and every other racer relative to you or first place, he sounds robotic and emotionless. This only occurs during that sequence, but it's enough to make it feel like more work should have been done to make things feel more organic.
F1 2009 falls squarely into the category of average racer. The racing mechanics are pretty solid, though it can stand to have a few adjustments made to the system. The same cannot be said for the graphics and sound, though, which are both so bland that any improvements to them would be considered welcome. The controls also need some tweaking, but the number of overall gameplay modes makes it a meaty package. In the end, the game turns out to be a good rental for race fans as it is still fun despite the flaws, and it will be interesting to see if the team can transform next year's version into one that Formula 1 fans will want to own.
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