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F1 2000 (PC) Review

Background Info

Screens (6)
I love Formula 1 games. The first computer game I ever owned was World Circuit and I've made a point of getting the latest games ever since. I was a little late getting F1 2000 by EA Sports, and some of the comments on caused me a bit of concern. The reviews there were very mixed – some people seemed to like it a lot while others didn't like it at all.

And you know what? Both sides were right…

Presentation/Graphics : 80
Visually, this is a dandy game. Having seen all the tracks on television, I can testify that EA did their homework here. The only problem is the usual thing of not being able to have billboards for alcohol or tobacco, but the aftermarket programmers have done their part to bring the tracks up to visual, if not political, correctness.

And the cars are exceptionally well done. All 11 teams and 22 drivers are represented, and even though the Arrows team only acquired a sponsor the week of the season's first race at Australia, F1 2000 got the paintjob correct in the version of the game I bought only 10 days after the race. Again, alcohol and tobacco sponsors are missing from the cars, but this is the requirement for races held in most European countries, and other versions are available on the net.

But these delicious graphics come at a price. If you turn the graphics up to a satisfying level of detail, the frame rate plummets in traffic. The most common suggestion for dealing with this problem was to turn off the mirrors. And it does work, but not being able to see who's coming up behind you is a major handicap in a racing game. The only alternatives are to really ugly up the environment with blocky trees and buildings. When you've gotten used to quality graphics and good frame rates in racing games from Sierra, this is a big disappointment.

Presentation/Audio : 85
This is another area where the player can adjust the quality according to the horsepower of his system and components. I appreciate good sound and turned everything up to the highest settings with no noticeable effect on the frame rate. If your system were marginal, this would be a good place to make a sacrifice to the frame rate gods without your monitor paying the price.

Interface/Options : 90
Electronic Arts did well here also. There are menu pop-ups for everything you can imagine and some you never thought of. Eleven different options are available for setting game difficulty from spin recovery assist (which comes in handy when you're stuck in the kitty litter) to pit lane assist which guides you down the pit lane at the correct speed and into your stall with no human input. Additionally, there is a myriad of settings for graphics, such as elements in the worldview, detail in the cockpit, filtering, reflections, shadows, etc.

Gameplay : either 25 or 90 (see below)
Herein lies the great contradiction of this game, and why both sides of the debate on RAS were correct. If you are practicing a track, F1 2000 is a fine game. The tracks are realistic, the cars handle in a manner similar to what I've seen on TV (since I make no pretense of ever having actually driven a grand prix racer) and so long as there isn't a crowd of AI in view at one time, things generally go well.

However, the game only allows a full field of 22 cars in a race, and when the game is trying to think for 21 AIs at once, things seem to go completely amok. Every turn is an adventure with cars slamming into one another and flying off in random directions like what happened at the end of the backstretch at Portland in the early versions of Indy Car Racing. But that was one turn at one track – it is the norm everywhere in F1 2000. Several AI fixes have been posted at websites on the net to solve these problems but none have succeeded very well from what I've seen. So until something comes along to address the Wacky Racers Bug, I would recommend that players stick with Test Day mode where you can adjust the number of cars on the track. The fewer cars out there, the better each will behave.

And when you aren't actually trying to race with this racing game – and isn't that a peculiar concept – the game works very, very well. You can slam the curbs and gain time, but slam them too hard and you'll suffer damage. If you get into the gravel traps or the grass, your car is slowed immediately and considerably. If you stop in the gravel, you will be pretty much stuck there, and since that was a common occurrence for me, I used the spin recovery option to prevent my races from ending prematurely.

The racers react to both power on and power off in a realistic manner and can be controlled through the turns with throttle alone. Different cars have different characteristics. The Ferrari is tight and nimble while the McLaren is like buttah, as Stuart Scott would say. The Prost feels heavy and underpowered while the Arrows feels light but lacks oomph on the straights. And the poor Minardi just isn't very good at anything -- just like in real life.

One major gripe I have with this game is that there are simply too many setup options -- a whole screen of them -- and while the manual does offer a listing of what happens when you make each kind of adjustment, there are no separate settings for each track. Instead, there are generic ones for grip, speed, minimum downforce, etc, but none of them are really any good at any track. Doofuses like me do better if there is the Papyrus-standard of Easy, Fast, Ace and Qualify settings for each track to at least point us in the correct direction. Until people started posting settings, I was totally lost.

Another gripe I have – and one that seems to be a sign the game was rushed to market – is that there is no weather option for the game. Rainy races have traditionally been the most noteworthy in grand prix history from Jackie Stewart's magnum opus at the Ring to Michael Schumacher's demolition of the field at Spain a couple years ago, but this is not an option and is sorely missed.

All 17 tracks for the 2000 season are included in the game, including the new one for the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis. I live about 35 miles from the Indianapolis track, and obviously I'm really looking forward to my heroes plying their skills so close to home. Unfortunately, the Indy track is about the lamest of the whole bunch. Maybe this is realistic, but if so, it's not a very good omen for the upcoming race… The other real disappointment is Monaco. For some reason, they chose very dark asphalt for this circuit and as a result, you can't see where you're going! On a track as challenging as this, such handicaps are unwelcome indeed. However, there is a fix available on the net though I haven't personally tried it. Monaco and I don't get along very well and I don't drive there any more than I need to…

The best tracks, in my opinion are Spa, Monza and Silverstone. All are lovely to behold and a joy to drive. I would be a real shame if the British GP moved from its historic home with its high-speed corners and long straights. Too many tracks have been emasculated since the death of Senna and Ratzenberger in 1994, and unfortunately, that is accurately depicted in the game. But it makes me wonder what it would be like to race F1 2000 cars on the tracks of Grand Prix Legends… Ah well, I can dream, can't I?

Replay Value : 90
This game strikes the delicate balance between playability at 95% of your potential and true mastery at 100%. Within about an hour or so of practice, I was turning laps of 1:27.9 at Silverstone compared to a best-reported lap that I've seen of 1:25.2. It would take a heck of a lot of work to lose those two-and-a-half seconds, and that is the challenge that makes a game such as this one so much fun.

Unfortunately, since the offline racing aspect of the game is so poor, the hotlapping is the most desirable element available. Eventually, you'll get tired of driving around in practice mode by yourself, but hopefully by then, someone will have figured out how to make 22 cars share the track without the pandemonium. There is an online option for the game, which would solve the problem, but I haven't seen any mention of people actually using it…

Overall : 75
Doggonit, I want to like this game. Normally, when the racing itself is so terrible in a racing game, I'd slaughter it in the ratings, but I just don't have the heart to do so with F1 2000. The designers and artists have obviously put a lot of work into this product, but it seems that marketing had the final decision when the game would actually hit the shelves – as opposed to a Geoff Crammond game for which delay after delay have become the norm. I'm sure when Grand Prix 3 is released, it will be a remarkable product. But let's not count out F1 2000 quite yet.

With any luck, Electronic Arts won't treat this game like an orphan – it has too much potential for that, and when fixed, will make a terrific basis for upcoming Formula 1 games that should follow. A good short-term fix would be to allow a less than full field in races. I'd rather race against 6 or 8 cars than either to drive alone or to have a 22-car fubar.

One other thing that would be nice would be to allow saved replays in practice and qualifying mode. Right now, replays only operate in the race.

So there you have it – a very mixed review for a game that has inspired very mixed feelings in me. My recommendation is that if you're interested in Formula 1, this is a game that belongs on your hard drive. Buy it, then before hitting the tracks, hit the websites and download the fixes and enhancements that are available. Read the newsgroup for the latest hints, whines and fixes and you'll end up with a decent game for your efforts, because if it's not “in the game,” as EA Sports constantly reminds us, at least it's on the web.

By: Paul Hamilton 5/25/00

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