• One of the games available on launch for the PS Vita is F1 2011.  Whilst the PS3 and XBox 360 versions were a huge success, the question remains: Can a handheld truly give us a comparable experience? This is the official game of the 2011 season and as such has all the drivers, tracks and official sponsors.  In licensing terms this is the FIFA of F1 games, everything you need to tweak you can in this game.  Whilst the gameplay is very good, I don’t see the novel aspects of the Vita being used well enough.  Yes the two touch screens have been used but very poorly I feel.  Read on to find out why.

    When you start the game you need to set up your profile.  This is done by entering your name, choosing a country and a helmet design.  There are four available to choose from with four more being unlocked as you progress through the game.  It’s odd but you can’t use the touch screen to input details for this section and must use the D-pad or analogue stick.  Once completed you are asked to turn on or off the various aids in the game.  These are visual aids in the form of a racing line and mechanical aids such as steering assist, predictive braking, gear changes and anti-skid.  I suggest you use these for the first few times you pay the game just to get up to speed.  Of course these can be turned off during play at any time.

    The main menu gives you many options including quick race, time trials, grand prix, career, championship, challenges and multiplayer.  Most gamers will begin with the quick race and that’s probably best.  This option allows you to play as any of the drivers from the 2011 season and on any track.  You’re then given yet more options such as difficulty, race distance, AI, damage and so on.  Now this is useful as you can choose a quick race of just three laps or a percentage of laps from the real grand prix.  It’s also helpful as you can choose to have penalties or not.  I would choose not to have penalties as I find the penalties are particularly unforgiving.  Race purists however will keep these on.  There are four various control set ups.  The first uses the left and right triggers for shifting up and down whilst braking and accelerating have been mapped to the square and X buttons respectively.  Tapping the front touch screen simply changes your view.  The all important K.E.R.S and rear wing buttons are assigned to the triangle and circle buttons.  The other controls set ups are pretty similar, the only difference being the function of the buttons and the implementation of the rear touch screen for shifting up and down.  I have to say the two biggest aspects of the Vita have not been used very well here.  It seems like an afterthought that has been put on to cater for the Vita’s ability.  It’s also strange that you can’t use the front touch pad to select things on the options screens or during car tweaking in the garage, surely that’s the least the front touch screen should have been used for?

    If you’re a F1 fan you know what opening the rear wing does and the boost you get.  The Kinetic Energy Recovery System is used to recover a cars kinetic (movement) energy for use as a stored boost to speed when needed.  This K.E.R.S system is invaluable in F1 and is your friend during races.  Just be sure to use it on a straight otherwise your heading into a wall (as I did).  The grand prix mode is next where you choose a company to drive for (as well as a driver) and then you can relive the whole qualifying session.  So both Thursday’s, the Saturday and qualifying, then you start the race.  This is the best option to practice the various tracks and tune up your car before you undertake the mammoth career mode.  Here you start of as an unknown and sign for a small team.  You first have to participate in and reach the target time in a test session to be signed for them.  From here you can view your laptop to see the latest news, team jobs or other bits and bobs, advance time and begin with the race weekend.  It’s up to you how much detail you want to be honest as you can take part in as much or as little as you like.

    This is the best game for gear heads as you can tune everything in your cars down to the decimal point.  Casual gamers will focus more on the races and placing well whilst gear heads will tinker and tweak their cars for hours.  This game caters to both sets of gamers very well.  Graphically this game is no slouch, but at the same time it’s not as stunning as the PS3 version is.  The palette is bright and warm and the weather changes are very well done.  The adverse conditions really have an impact in driving and you need to take care as you navigate those hairpins.  The cars look lovely in the menus but during gameplay they seem slightly blocky in appearance; the whole sharpness to the design and the razor sharp corners are missing.  The overall feel of the graphics tells me that the Vita is not being pushed here and that’s a shame as this could have been a stunning looking game.  I do however like the different steering wheel designs and the driver’s helmets.

    The driving mechanics handle well for the most part, using the stick I found is slightly more sensitive than I liked so I changed the settings in the options.  The cars take turns pretty well and the assist in braking is a big help.  Turn this off at your discretion.  I was saddened to see that the spectacular crashes are no more, in fact there is pretty much very little crash mechanics here and it gives the game a somewhat cheap feel.  That’s not to say that this isn’t fun because it very much is.  Taking this bad boy online is a world of fun in your hands and your friends joining in gives this game a much needed shot in the arm.  The challenge mode gives F1 2011 a lot of longevity as you need to complete several challenges before being allowed to move on to the top of the pyramid.  These are in the form of driving around obstacles, setting great times or passing cars.  The sounds are all fine as the engines purr with power and the brakes scream as they go round corners.  Your race engineer will provide plenty of updates and everything is accurate.

    F1 2011 is a very solid racing game.  It has as much detail as you want and then some.  Racing fans are well catered for as you can tweak with everything.  Casual gamers can just jump right in and enjoy the races as well as the entertaining multiplayer.  There are some issues with weird AI, absent crash mechanics and the varied graphical levels.  The difficulty goes from easy to impossible depending on how many of the aids you use.  This could have been much better as I feel the front and rear touch screens have been severely under used.  For now this is a good addition but the future looks good for Sumo and Codemasters as I see them improving on this next year.  Want a portable F1 game?  This is the one you’ll want.

    Score: 7/10

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