F1 2009 Wii Review

Ever since Codemasters announced that they had grabbed the rights to develop Formula One games, I’ve been very excited by the prospect. The British publisher and developer certainly know what they are doing when it comes to motor sport, with a long line – from TOCA to Colin McRae – of racing game released over the years. Though, Codemasters first published Formula One title isn’t actually a product of in-house development, instead coming from Sumo Digital, the talented folk behind the various OutRun 2 ports.

F1 2009 is exclusive to both the Wii and the PSP, with a Codemasters developed PS3 and Xbox 360 version arriving next year, powered by none other than the EGO engine (a wonderful graphical tool that has already given life to the likes of the DIRT series, Race Driver: GRID and Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising). At least this Wii version isn’t a hand-me-down from the more powerful consoles with tacked on motion control and inferior visuals, instead it feels as if it has been made specifically for the Wii.

The game does aim to please with its control options, although sadly there’s no support for the GameCube controller. What’s there includes support for steering wheels, the remote and nunchuck, or the classic controller. The game feels rather difficult to control with a wheel, and the classic controller or the remote and nunchuck are better if you’re seeking instant satisfaction. It’s possible to purchase the game with an F1 car like steering wheel, though being mere plastic housing for the Wii remote, you can use any wheel you have at hand, but, for those who own one, the game also has support for the Logitech Speed Force wheel.

Right, lets get straight to the racing. The game is by no means a harsh simulation (the brakes are ultra responsive), though it does have assists to take away the slight learning curve that is required to get the F1 cars flying around the tracks like a real life pro. Obviously, these driving aids can be toggled on and off to make it as easy or as difficult as you’d like, and without anti skid and anti wheel lock you’ll certainly see a difference as the cars have a tendency to spin out if you aren’t careful around those many famous corners.

The game can be played with real racing rules, though the slightest of nudges can result in you being penalised, whilst the AI seems to escape punishment with every bump. It certainly makes for a more enjoyable experience without these rules turned on (or at least set to the more relaxed setting), though stop and go penalties do at least make you familiar with exactly where the to find the pits on each track. With damage, tyre wear and fuel depletion turned on you’ll also be making plenty of trips to the pits.

As an F1 game, obviously we’re all expecting the cars to be real speed machines, and here Sumo have truly delivered. There’s a great feeling of speed as you climb through the gears on the long straights, and KERS (a slight turbo boost) can also speed things up a little, although, unlike real life, it’s available in every single car.

It’s easy to tell that F1 2009 isn’t an in-house Codemasters development, simply because the AI is so predictable. Codemasters are renowned for their clever AI, which generally use every inch of the track and are even susceptible to human-like error, but Sumo Digital’s AI is artificial as opposed to intelligent. AI drivers follow the racing line almost religiously and, apart from a few bumps here and there, they seem as if they are pretty much glued to the track. I just know that Codemasters F1 development debut is going to be very different, and I’d be very surprised to find myself to be wrong on this subject.

The game has career, championship and challenge modes, amongst others. The career is the deepest mode and has you starting out as a no-name rookie and being given the golden opportunity of driving for certain teams and testing out their cars before you make any decisions and sign any contracts. Each team has objectives to be met in order to keep them happy and obviously you’ll have your own sights on the heady heights of becoming the F1 world champion. The championship mode simply allows you to choose a driver and then aim for lots of champagne showers and first place finishes, and finally the challenge mode presents you with challenges (150 of them) such as driving through gates, overtaking a certain number of opponents and so on. You’ll be graded on each performance and it’s a mode that certainly adds to the longevity of the game, as many of us will be striving to improve upon our past results.

Another thing that adds to the longevity is the multiplayer mode. Sadly, it’s limited to two player split screen, though, despite a drop in detail, it does retain the speed of the single player. The Fair Race Balancing System also attempts to keep races close, even if the players have differing abilities from one another, which is actually very fitting for a Wii game.

Both the presentation and the visuals could have benefited from some extra attention. The visuals are the more severe of the two: bland in their appearance with small bouts of noticeable slowdown. Whilst you can damage your car, the crash physics are also unsatisfying, and, as opposed to the spectacular, you’ll merely bounce off any objects that you hit. Then again, it’s not supposed to be the most realistic racer in the world.

Problems aside, the use of the licence means that – pleasing to fans – all the drivers, teams and tracks are in there from the 2009 season, but, more importantly, F1 2009 is a game that handles well and mostly moves at a scary speed. True, it’s not perfect, but Sumo Digital have still managed to nail some of the most important aspects of a racing game, and with future F1 titles on the Wii, this series can only continue to improve.