F1 2011 is a tough game to fall in love with if you’re not already a fan of F1 racing. It’s a superior racing sim, like F1 2010 before it, but it can’t compete with the well-roundedness of sims like Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo. Last year’s F1 console release from Codemasters Birmingham scored high marks with critics and fans alike, and that experience has been made portable for PS Vita early adopters thanks to the efforts of Sumo Digital.
F1 2011 is largely the same on the Vita as it is on consoles in terms of basic features and rule changes. If terms like KERS and DRS mean anything to you then you’ll be satisfied. And if they don’t, you probably won’t notice anyway. Like most modern-day racing sims, F1 2011 includes a variety of beginner-oriented difficulty tweaks that will do everything from auto-shifting gears to managing your vehicle’s speed. You can also turn things like damage and changing weather conditions on and off.
The assortment of modes runs through the full spectrum, from quick race options and time trials to Grand Prix competitions to a full-blown, season-based career. There’s also a Challenge mode that’s exclusive to the Vita version of the game. All of these nod heavily to the device’s portable nature, offering a rapid-fire set of goals that could involve anything from maintaining a lead in a race that’s already started to cutting back and forth between slalom poles.
One notable absence, however, is any real use of the Vita’s unique hardware features. Accelerometer-based steering seems like it would have been a no-brainer, and yet you’re stuck using the tiny analog stick. It’s much harder to feather the Vita’s miniature analog controls than it is to do so with a full-sized SIXAXIS controller, so having a tilt-based option would have been nice. The only real innovative use of the Vita hardware involves mapping gas and brake to the left and right fringes of the rear touchpad.
This even extends to the game outside of the races. There’s nary a touch screen control to be found in any of the menus. It may not be fair to criticize the game for not offering touch options for the menus, but the lack speaks to F1 2011‘s larger issue on the Vita: it feels like a sub-standard port.
F1 2011 also falls a bit short on the presentation side of things. It isn’t fair to compare the Vita F1 to the PlayStation 3 F1, but this game graphics are eclipsed by many of the other launch titles as well. It all looks fine from a distance, but you’ll have a hard time overlooking the cobbled-together look of the car textures when you dip into a first-person view.
More importantly, the career mode has had some fat trimmed away for this portable offering. The races themselves remain, but that’s pretty much it. You’ll have an e-mail box that you can turn to for updates on what your sponsor team thinks of your performance, but interviews, press clippings and the like are gone.
The one high point on the presentation side of things is the sound, especially if you’re using a decent pair of headphones to pipe the audio directly into your brain. The cars in F1 2011 sound like monsters of steel and rubber, screaming down the tracks at 200mph. Headphones also bring a more authentic feel, as you’ll receive constant updates on your performance and the overall race from your team’s radioman.
F1 junkies will have a hard time saying no to F1 2011 on the Vita. It’s definitely a more stripped-down version of last year’s release, but it’s also still chock full of deep cut features and challenging gameplay that sim nerds go nuts over. More casual fans might prefer to look at one of the Vita’s other launch racers. While F1 2011 does its best Pole Position impression with some of the difficulty tweaks activated, it just doesn’t do enough with your new toy to really justify a purchase. Recommended for hardcore fans only.
Score: 7 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita on a copy provided by Codemasters)