Quick show of figurative hands—raise your hand if you know what a K.E.R.S. is. Ok, now keep them up if you are familiar with a DRS. And once more, do you know when to utilize those in an F1 race? If you answered yes to any or all of those questions, then F1 2011 for the 3DS may be worth a look, despite a few flaws. If those words aren’t in your lexicon, this game isn’t for you.
Typically, games like F1 racers have always been something of a niche market, at least here in the States. They take the racing genre to the extreme, but they do so at the cost of familiarity. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially for fans that hunger for realism, but it makes the games slightly inaccessible and hard for novices to embrace. The 3DS version of F1 2011 by Sumo Digital (taking the portable reigns from Codemasters who focused on the console and PC versions) is not only no exception, it is the perfect example of a game made almost entirely for fans. And only fans.
Again, that isn’t always a bad thing, but in this case it is. It isn’t that newcomers and casual fans won’t like the gameplay, it is that almost everyone won’t like the gameplay, but hardcore fans will be able to overcome that and grow accustomed to them thanks to the some customization tweaks, or just old fashioned stubbornness. For fans of the series and the genre, Sumo Digital has decent, albeit not great offering. For everyone else, it will be frustrating to the point that most won’t have the patience to bother learning the game—a fact that is further exacerbated by the complete lack of anything resembling a tutorial. There are numerous aids that you can turn on or off, but that always ends up limiting what you can do, which quickly makes it boring.
But putting all that aside and focusing on the pure mechanics of the game, there is some decent fun to be had, but there are also technical issues that are hard to overlook. The first of which is simply the difficulty that controlling an incredibly fast car faces with the nub analog stick of the 3DS. A standard controller offers a bit more room to move, which can make a huge difference. But the settings can be customized, and assuming the controls are something you can embrace, then there is the AI. Which is murderous.
It really is best to just accept the inconsistent AI, or you may find yourself asking for another 3DS this Christmas to replace the one you just broke. Sometimes they will try to murder you and crash into you, other times they are placemats, put there only to make you go around them. It makes racing far more nerve-racking than fun.
Thankfully, there are several other modes to help keep you entertained once the AI has forced the rage upon you. Along with the career mode, there is the standard quick race, a time trial, a grand prix, a championship series, and the challenges. Of them all, the challenges stand out as the best way to spend your time. Each offers you a specific goal, and you receive a grade for completion. There are 60 in total, and receiving the best score could keep you going for a long time.
There is also a multiplayer, both local and online, but the online remains sparse, and fairly devoid of racers. This could always change though.
Then there are the graphics. The tracks are dull and quickly feel familiar, and the textures are at best average. The most annoying visual problem comes from the 3D though. When you have it on at full, there is a slight ghosting issue. When you read text, a feint shadow of the words appears. That is annoying, but harmless. When you are on a track trying to keep above 200 mph, having a second line can be disastrous. It is best to keep the 3D off altogether, which means that one of the main points of playing it on the 3DS is rendered moot.
F1 2011 is a game that will likely appeal to hardcore fans of the series and F1 in general, and hardcore fans only. It is brutally unforgiving, which could be overlooked if there were a logic to it, but there isn’t. The AI is brutal, and the controls are difficult to get used to—but not impossible.
The graphics are also a major issue. There is a lot of content here to keep fans playing, but the look quickly makes everything feel repetitive. There are some good times to be had, but you will have to go out of your way to find them.
Score: 6.5 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the Nintendo 3DS on a copy provided by Codemasters)