Formula One 05
It must have been reverberating through Sony’s corporate headquarters: a new racing season, we demand a new race game! Psygnosis’/Sony’s F1 series has had an annual release since 1996 and for a few years, Sony’s own Studio Liverpool has been heading development. Just like their EA Sports brethren, it becomes difficult to justify the yearly updates as new full-priced games. This is already the fifth instalment to appear on the PlayStation 2.
Of course, the concept has not been changed, but there is always something fresh to attract the fans. This year, a new Grand Prix was launched in Istanbul, Turkey, and the track has already been fully reconstructed in Formula One 05. Early buyers even had the chance to drive their own Grand Prix before the real drivers had the chance. Just like the previous editions, the game has been fully licensed with the official teams, sponsors and drivers. Unfortunately, the virtual heroes are no carbon copies of their flesh counterparts, but that probably required additional six-figure contracts. Next to the regular teams’ transfers, the new Red Bull team is also available. As usual, the racing tracks have been reconstructed to the smallest details, and the multiplayer mode, introduced in the previous version, has now been extended with world ranking ladders and buddy lists.
Formula One 05’s biggest trump card is the amount of game modes. Both beginning and experienced players can jump right into the race. By gradually disabling driving aids, you can bump the difficulty level and become a pro driver. Next to instant races and online races, you and a friend can duel in timed-test sessions. You can also drive a race weekend on a single track, participate in a full-fledged championship with the 19 tracks, or start a racing career. In the career mode, you do not only drive all Grand Prix, but you need to constantly prove your skills and you even switch teams when more lucrative opportunities appear. In this mode, an agent will manage your affairs and contracts, and new tasks appear via virtual e-mail.
Technically, this game is perfect. Both image and sound are very convincing, down to the smallest details such as locked brakes or a faded vision at higher speeds. The controls react swiftly at your input, and with some practice it is no hassle to enter most corners at a high speed. As usual, every single part of the vehicles can be fine-tuned as well. A new feature is the interactive pit stop. By enabling this, you earn valuable seconds by pressing highlighted buttons at the right time during pit sessions. The same goes for the different car parts. If you do not want to be bothered with the complex handling of a F1 car, you can also enable steering or braking help, manual gears, visual indicators on the roads, or protect your vehicle against collisions, spins or locking brakes. It took me some time to drive at an acceptable level, but after a few laps, I found it challenging only to use the ideal racing line as a help. Per race, there are different settings, such as the AI level of the opponents (frustratingly difficult on hard), the race length, the need for fuel, the amount of damage cars can sustain, and even the official flags and rules if you want to play chicken by driving in the wrong direction. Of course, the weather circumstances can be adjusted, which influences the cars’ handling. Without fine-tuning or choosing the right tires, do not expect to win the race at higher difficulty levels, though.
Fans will welcome the realism, but after a few Grand Prix in the career mode, I really could not be bothered with the practice sessions and the qualification laps. I did not mind just skipping those to start at the back of the grid. If the races themselves take to long, you can also adjust the race length in percentages. Like most F1 games, the real challenge is in controlling the car and maintaining your position, combined with tactical overtaking manoeuvres. Impatient players get punished for risky actions.
Sony does not hesitate to put its hardware accessories in the spotlights. Owners of an EyeToy-camera can paste a picture of their own face over a new driver, using the DigiMask-technology. I have not been able to try it myself, but some of the screenshots I have seen on the forums show satisfying results. The faces blend in with the characters and there are different moves programmed to make them come alive. The entire game has become more vivid, with pit babes, journalists, camera men and crew on the track. I also found the introductory song by Muse to be charming, quite relief with all the electronic mess that is supposed to get us gamers into a racing fever. Next to regular game play, a section with hints and tips has been included, as well as a F1 encyclopaedia with a glossary of the jargon. A neat addition.
By finishing a full championship with a good ranking, you can unlock a few classic cars (including a 1979 Lotus), test tracks and new attributes for the drivers. Unfortunately, the new vehicles can only be used in test races, and not in full championships. Sony should consider including classic championships with older tracks in future updates. The commentary is rather disappointing. Prominent voices have been attracted, even in different languages, but they all sound artificial and monotonous. Do not expect to hear anything upon crashing or doing a splendid takeover from a car’s slipstream. The robots only give a ranking per lap and announce when someone enter the pits, that is all. Other games have proven that is can be implemented much better to enhance the feeling of immersion.
Based on the review score, you could conclude that Formula One 05 is not a top game. On the contrary, it is an excellent racer that nears perfection with unequalled game play, but Formula One 2003 already had that. Sony is squeezing the concept to get a new game out each year, but that just does not work. F1 fans should not hesitate to rush off and buy this one, and if you have not played a single game in the series, this is a welcome addition to your collection. But Sony should now hold back for a PS3 edition, to use the revamped graphics as a new sales argument. For the regular racing fans, this instalment does not have much new to offer because of the fixed concept. The game play is awesome and there are many different modes to explore, but they have reached a limit here for the PS2. There is simply nothing left to improve.