I’m a massive petrol head and general lover of all things motorsport. Well, most things motorsport – I still don’t get why the cars in NASCAR can only turn left. So imagine my joy when I heard that F1 2011 – which is utterly fantastic on the 360 and PS3 – was becoming almost as pint-sized as Bernie Ecclestone and was racing over to the Vita. So is Sumo Digital’s port a pocket-sized motorsport masterpiece, or has it all gone a bit Wacky Races?
F1 2011 on the 360 and PS3 was unquestionably a great racing game; whilst the sport itself is a highly technical, Codemasters worked their magic and produced a game that was the perfect blend of forgiving arcade-style racing and a full on racing sim. It was so good, in fact, that it even won a BAFTA (which is like an Oscar, but with worse teeth) last year.
So F1 2011 on the Vita certainly has a mighty pedigree behind it. But – and this is a big but – the Vita version of the game was developed by Sumo Digital (who were responsible for the decidedly average 3DS version of F1 2011) rather than by Codemasters’ in-house specialists. However, I’d imagine that it was highly unlikely that Sumo had to start from absolute scratch and were probably able to nab a lot of assets, physics and AI from the console version of F1 2011. So one would surmise that Sumo Digital couldn’t go that wrong – right?
Well, whilst the Vita incarnation of F1 2011 is nowhere near as polished as the console versions and, in some parts, does feel distinctly rushed and a little rough around the edges, the core racing mechanics of the game are still spot-on. Admittedly the game has much more of an ‘arcadey’ feel to it on the Vita, with all the cars feeling much less highly strung and much more forgiving. This was probably quite a sensible choice on the part of Sumo – the analogue sticks on the Vita are a tad fiddly and the bumper buttons (usually used for brake and throttle) are purely digital input as opposed to analogue, meaning that you can’t accurately feather the throttle or brake.
Despite the mild dumbing-down of the handling, driving in the Vita version of F1 2011 still feels great. There’s a real sense of satisfaction to be had when you manage to perfectly kiss an apex or pull off a particularly daring overtaking manoeuvre. All of the rules of the 2011 F1 season are present and correct in the Vita version too – from KERS and DRS (which, in layman’s terms, are the buttons that make you go faster) to tyre rules and the 3 sessions of qualification for a race. Impressively, there’s still a noticeable difference in handling between the various types of tyres, between hot and cold tyres and fresh and worn tyres. Weather effects also make an appearance in F1 2011 on the Vita too, although they’re nowhere near as dynamic as those found in the console versions – if a session is wet, it stays wet.
As I mentioned earlier, Sumo Digital were also responsible for the 3DS version of F1 2011 – and that’s patently obvious here. In fact, I may be as bold to say that the entire game was merely ported from the 3DS and had little else done to it. For starters, the Vita version is virtually graphically identical to the 3DS one – sure, there’s some fancy bloom lighting chucked in for good measure, but the texture maps are of a shockingly low resolution, the models of tracks, cars and people are made up of a notably sparse number of polygons and the game appears to be running at a resolution that’s notably less than the native resolution of the Vita’s display. All of this results in F1 2011 looking visually underwhelming when compared to the vast majority of the Vita’s other launch titles.
Other signs that this was a straight port from the 3DS are oddities such as the game referring to Trophies as ‘awards’ (which is what they’re called in the 3DS version) and the complete refusal of the game to acknowledge the existence of the Vita’s second analogue stick. If the Vita version of F1 2011 is a straight port, there’s a good chance that it’s running unoptimised code which may, in part, explain the sub-par graphics.
The vast majority of the nips and tucks made from the 3DS version of the game have been left as-is on the Vita too – a highly simplified damage modelling system (seriously, it feels like high-octane bumper cars in parts) and AI that can be spectacularly dumb in its never-ending quest to remain stuck to the racing line are but two notable examples. Another bizarre omission that seems to have been carried over is the lack of online leader boards for lap times; the only yardstick that you’ll have to compare yourself to is your previous records or the times that you have to beat to win a gold, silver or bronze medal on each track.
One other major difference compared to the console versions is the lack of intra-team rivalry. Getting one up on your team-mate was a big part of the console iterations of F1 2011, and that’s something that’s sadly completely absent in the Vita version of the game. The pit lane environment where you could adjust the settings of your car, keep an eye on how other drivers were doing and set your race strategy have all been replaced by some rather bland menus as well – however, the loading times are very snappy on the Vita, meaning that you can get from the main menu into a race in well under a minute. Like the 3DS version, the game also lack of the ‘rewind’ feature – that allowed you to rewind your race by a couple of seconds if you made an error – that’s found on the console versions of the game; but since the handling is so much more forgiving on the Vita, this arguably isn’t a major issue.
Although I’ve been complaining about how F1 2011 on the Vita essentially feels like it’s running on a 3DS emulator, there are some good aspects of the title that have made their way over to Sony’s handheld. There’s a number of challenges that have a wide variety of objectives to accomplish; these can be anything from a simple hot lap to passing a set number of cars or completing a slalom run on one of the tracks. Whilst a diversion from the main chunk of the game, these sections are fun to pick up and play when you’ve only got a couple of minutes.
The multiplayer modes also made it over from the 3DS version; admittedly there are only 3 race modes to choose from (race, time trial, constructor face-off) and all races are limited to a maximum of 4 players, but just about every aspect of the races is modifiable to set things up exactly as you would like and the net code seems very solid, with no evidence of lag when I was racing against the great unwashed at the other end of the Intertubes.
All in all, this feels like a lazy port of a great game that was rushed out of the door in time for the Vita’s launch and, presumably, before the 2012 Formula 1 season kicks off. You get the feeling that F1 2011 doesn’t push the Vita anywhere near its limits and, sadly, that with a bit more care and attention, this game could have been so much more. However, there is a solid and enjoyable racing game to be found here if you’re able to forgive all the little foibles – and there are rather a lot of them – that F1 2011 on the Vita has.