Review by Wolf Feather

"F1 2001: A Great Simulation Game for a Range of Players"

F1 2001 is the latest entry in EA Sports' line of F1-based games for (originally) the PlayStation and (now) the PlayStation2. F1 Championship Season 2000, the game immediately preceding F1 2001, marked EA Sports' first foray of the series to the PS2, but F1CS2K was actually released in two 'flavors:' PSX and PS2. F1 2001 is thus the first PS2-only game of the series.

And what an introduction it is for the PS2-only line of the series!!!!! The graphics and sounds are better than before, the creativity behind the game (especially the unlockable features) provide far more repeat gameplay, multitudes of options have been added to customize gameplay much more than ever before in the series, the computer-controlled drivers REALLY dice for position (sometimes going four-wide!!!), and the game's controls (using a standard controller) are much more challenging than in previous incarnations of the series without stepping beyond what can be reasonably expected of the average gamer.

Most likely, if you play F1 2001, then you are at least a casual fan of F1 racing, and have at least a basic knowledge of many or all of the seventeen F1 courses currently in use. That knowledge certainly does help when first playing F1 2001, and vice versa – as any extensive gameplay greatly helps in determining where the drivers are on each course when races are televised.

F1 2000 and F1 Championship Season 2000 both essentially used the same physics engine; the physics engine for F1CS2K was tweaked to provide more options and more realistic handling over its predecessor, but the differences were certainly not colossal. F1 2001 presents a brand-new physics engine which itself renders the game more difficult than any of the earlier incarnations in the series. Anyone trying to drive in F1 2001 the same way as in earlier versions of the game will find the corner workers scraping the car off the barriers.

One of the more interesting features of F1 2001 is Challenge Mode. Here, players learn how to handle an F1 car in a variety of situations. Challenge Mode covers basics such as starting a race (F1 uses standing starts) and handling various corners, then progresses to driving in wet conditions, becoming habituated to the game's optional interactive pit stops, learning to use manual transmission, dealing with varying levels of car damage, and (the hardest section to master) completing a full lap of each of the seventeen F1 circuits within a given target time. These challenges are a great place to start for both the novice and the expert racing gamer, especially since these challenges mostly take place on the trickiest sections of the circuits of the game.

GRAND PRIX RACES
There are a variety of Grand Prix series in F1 2001, each paying out points in accordance with FIA Rules (10 points for First Place, 6 points for Second Place, etc.). Single Grand Prix allows the player to engage in a full Grand Prix weekend, from Practice to Qualifying to Warm-up to Race. One or more of these sessions can be skipped, allowing the player the possibility of starting immediately with Race. However, those who do not attempt to qualify will be immediately placed at the back of the starting grid, which can present its own challenges - especially in a short (4- or 8-lap) race.

Teammate Challenge has really only one rule: You MUST finish each race ahead of your teammate. Although winning each race is certainly a nice and perhaps lofty goal, that is not the actual challenge in these races. Playing with damage, flags, etc., all turned off will give you a bit of an advantage, allowing you to shortcut corners without penalty, bump other cars out of your way without receiving race-ending damage yourself, etc. Teammate Challenge takes place on the 2001 F1 circuits, presented in season order (as if in Full Championship mode). There are eleven teams in F1 2001, so Teammate Challenge can be completed within the first eleven races of the season. Unfortunately, the player is not given the option of choosing a driver within each team, which would be a nice addition to Teammate Challenge.

Custom Championship allows players to create their own F1 season by selecting two or more F1 circuits in any order. Want to start with the 'easy,' high-speed circuits (Hockenheim, Monza) and end with the difficult, technical circuits (Monaco, Suzuka)? Want to have a season in reverse of the 2001 order (Suzuka, Indianapolis, Monza, Spa-Francorchamps, etc.)? This is the place to use one's creativity!!!

Full Championship follows the 2001 F1 season in order. As in Single Grand Prix, each venue includes Practice, Qualifying, Warm-up, and Race. One or more sessions can be skipped, allowing the player to start immediately with Race. However, those who do not attempt to qualify will be immediately placed at the back of the starting grid, which can present its own challenges - especially in a short (4- or 8-lap) race.

Domination Grand Prix has just one rule: Win EVERY race of the season. The easiest way to accomplish this feat is to use Normal Handling on Easy in dry weather with no tire wear with FIA Rules off. The fastest way to accomplish this is to use 4-lap races without qualifying. However, Domination must be unlocked, which is where a GameShark2 can come in quite handy for those who really want to get to it as soon as possible.

For races, F1 2001 is very customizable. The main aspect which may be changed is the handling mode. Normal Handling is effectively arcade-style handling, with no set-up options (other than tires type) and easy, forgiving handling. Simulation Handling, however, is closer to the experience of driving an actual F1 car, with dozens of car setting options available ranging from gear ratios to downforce to spring rate. Other customizable options include car damage, number of laps, weather, and the implementation of FIA Rules (including flags).

A MAJOR PROBLEM: FIA RULES
My only MAJOR complaint about F1 2001 is its implementation of FIA rules, which includes the use of flags. While I personally WANT to race with flags active, the implementation of the rules is FAR too oppressive - to the point that I have thrown the controller in frustration several times, and will probably need to buy a new one soon.

What makes the FIA Rules option oppressive is how the Yellow Flag is used, particularly in accident situations. For example, as a highly aggressive driver, I tend to get into accidents or at least bump tires with someone fairly often. When this happens, if the other car has even one pixel ahead of my car, then ends up spinning or otherwise slipping behind me while I am able to keep going, the Yellow Flag is often presented instantly, and a $@#%^#&*!@ Stop-Go Penalty assigned for supposedly 'Passing Under the Yellow Flag.'

Also oppressive is the Yellow Flag speed limit of 130MPH. When the Yellow Flag is first displayed, the CPU does not allow enough time for the player to see the Yellow Flag waved (or its indicator at the top-right of the screen) and slow appropriately, resulting in a $@#%^#&*!@ Stop-Go Penalty.

When it comes to serving a Stop-Go Penalty, F1 2001 DOES NOT follow the official rules, which state that a driver can make no more than three complete laps before coming to Pit Lane to serve the Penalty. F1 2001 allows the car to cross the Start/Finish Line ONCE without serving the Penalty; crossing the Line again results in instant disqualification. THIS MUST BE FIXED IN FUTURE INCARNATIONS OF THE GAME.

While not necessarily a problem, I personally wish that the 107% rule would be enforced. The 107% rule means that anyone qualifying with a time higher than 107% of the race's pole position is deemed to not have qualified. Granted, this then makes it possible that the player may be the only one participating in a race (especially if shortcutting where 'permitted' during qualifying), or that a player not qualify well enough to compete in a race.

I have been unable to check this, but if there is a minimum speed rule in F1 racing, the game definitely needs to implement this rule as well. There have been several times when a super-slow car, or even a car stopped on the track in an area without a Yellow Flag displayed, has suddenly 'appeared from nowhere' and - due to my closing speed at top acceleration - caused me to crash. I know NASCAR has a minimum speed rule (which is even more important on oval-based tracks), but I would be surprised if a similar rule did not exist in F1 racing.


OVERALL ASSESSMENT
I rate this game an ''8'' as it is a great improvement upon an already wonderful game series. What is really great (especially from a marketing standpoint) is that virtually ALL players can have success in the game and still be nicely challenged in Normal/Arcade or Simulation Modes. The number of unlockable features assures great repeat gameplay potential. It would be nice if car set-up options were available for Normal/Arcade Handling, and F1 2001 does skirt FIA Rules in terms of the number of laps a car can make before serving a Stop-Go Penalty. But overall, F1 2001 is a MUST-HAVE game for diehard F1/open-wheel fans; other racing gamers will also enjoy the sophistication of the game. Really young players may have a bit of trouble with the game, especially in Simulation Handling mode, so parents need to first make sure their young children can handle a top-notch sophisticated F1 simulation game.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/19/01, Updated 11/19/01


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