F1 2011 PC Review
The Career mode’s opponent AI is also a little ropey. In the lowest two difficulty levels
(amateur and medium), we found ourselves grabbing pole position and winning races in the back-marker fodder Lotus. Meanwhile, switching up to Professional saw us having to drive almost a perfect race to finish in the mid-teens (which is about right for the Lotus), but knock it up to Legend and you’ll need to be Jenson Button himself to compete. There just doesn't seem to be a middle ground that manages to be challenging without demanding you apex every corner perfectly, although you can configure which, if any, of the many driver aids you chose to use.
Even on the highest difficulty setting, despite setting incredible lap times, the AI is woefully passive in its defence of positions and overtaking, with AI racers often just ramming into the rear of your car instead of passing you wide after you bodge a high-speed corner, and rarely straying from the racing line. After a few races, you’re well aware that you’re racing dumb AI racers, and not digital representations of their namesakes, and you're able to take advantage as a result; opposition drivers will do anything to avoid hitting you in corners, so you can turn in and nick the inside line with little fear of causing an incident, as long as you keep your wheels on the track.
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Adding to the lack of immersion in the career mode is F1 2011’s laughably poor damage modelling. One of the most entertaining parts of F1 is the crashes, sending carbon fibre, wheels and suspension rods flying
, yet F1 2011’s cars seems to be made of adamantium. Even in F1 1996, a 15 year old game, you could knock off both the front and rear wings, but F1 2011 only allows you to knock off the front wing or puncture a tyre without ending the race.
It's possible to remove your car’s front wheels too, but this requires you to terminally nail it into a wall at top speed; you can merrily bounce from barrier to barrier around Monaco without knocking off bits, even on the highest realism settings. This means you can bump and jostle with opponents, without fear of ending your race prematurely and the stewards are very lenient when it comes to car contact; perfect for Lewis Hamilton perhaps, but it all ends up breaking the game's feeling of immersion. Perhaps 24 fully deformable, smashable, trashable cars is too much for the engine, but it’s still hugely disappointing, especially as Codemasters has chosen to include long requested features such as tyre, brake and engine temperatures, the safety car and even a wet track’s dry line.
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There’s also little of the polish you’d expect from a marquee franchise such as F1. There are plenty of creepy crawlies, including AI drivers using DRS in the wet, pit stop mechanics not bothering to replace tyres, AI drivers not pitting and AI drivers not suffering tyre wear. Similarly, many of the setup options, such as spring stiffness, don't have their full effects. These are issues that can really ruin races, to no fault of the player.
Playing F1 2011 has been both an immensely enjoyable, and immensely frustrating experience. On one side, it’s a hugely accomplished and enormously fun racer; perfecting turn 8 at Istanbul Park or Eau Rouge at Spa is hugely satisfying, with the car and track physics feeling brilliantly detailed. While it can be challenging to keep a car on the track and up to race pace, this only heightens the sense of achievement; when you put in that awesome qualifying lap there’s a genuine feeling of accomplishment and elation. On the other hand, F1 2011 is laden with bugs and sorely lacking in both the depth of its Career mode and its damage model. If Codemasters plans to make this a yearly franchise in the vein as FIFA, it needs to do more than change the driver roster and fix last year’s bugs to bring players back year after year. There's a superb game inside F1 2011 somewhere, and while it's an improvement over its predecessors, it’s still too flawed to be an essential purchase.