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F1 2000 (PSX) Review

Background Info

Screens (6)
The Formula One World Championship has been considered the pinnacle of motorsports since its inception in 1950, with the best drivers competing in the most technologically advanced race cars in the world. F1 enjoys a global television audience of hundreds of millions for each of the 17 races on the schedule, making it the most popular form of racing on Earth, by far.

But until this year, ironically, only Psygnosis had conquered Formula One for the PlayStation with its successful Formula 1 series. The original Formula 1 was a breakthrough for the console in the mid-1990s, and Formula 1: Championship Edition, released in 1997, still is considered by many to be the best F1 sim on any console. Psygnosis also released the feeble Formula 1 98 but rebounded last fall with the formidable and fun Formula 1 99.

The F1 niche looked ripe for the plucking. And love them or loathe them, when industry giant EA Sports sees a niche where it can prosper, it throws all of its substantial marketing and programming might behind the title. Such is the case with EA's first Formula One title, F1 2000. EA has dominated oval-racing console games with its popular NASCAR series, and now it's trying to be the king of the road circuits with F1 2000.

Presentation/Graphics : 90
The graphics for F1 2000 score high marks before the lights turn out and the cars even leave the grid, for one reason: This is the only F1 game available for PlayStation with the correct liveries (paint jobs) for the 2000 season. That's a big plus that really adds to the realism. The only team that has incorrect decals is Arrows, but that team landed Orange as a sponsor only two weeks before the season debut in March at Melbourne. It's hard to fault EA for that. Also, no tobacco or alcohol sponsors are seen, thanks to the political correctness police. But that's not such a bad thing, though. F1 cars can't run tobacco advertising at a handful of venues and have alternative decals, such as "Buzzin' Hornets" instead of Benson & Hedges on the Jordan and "Look Alike" instead of Lucky Strike on the BAR. Those decals are modeled perfectly in all races on the tobacco cars in this game. Excellent touch.

Once the cars are in action, there are plenty of convincing special effects. White tire smoke lofts under heavy braking, grooved skid marks are left after spins, flaming backfire is seen from the telescopic exhaust ports on the Ferraris and Jaguars, heat shimmers from the engines during the stationary starts before each race, and drivers' heads tilt sideways from the strong G forces in turns when using the airbox camera angle. But my favorite effect is the orange glow of the brake discs under heavy braking. It's a magical effect that adds so much realism. EA's programmers were smart to emulate this great effect first seen in Formula 1: Championship Edition in 1997.

There are five camera angles: Near behind, far behind, cockpit, front wing and airbox. Both behind cameras don't convey a good sense of speed. I've never liked front-wing camera angles - despite the great sense of speed - because it feels like you're driving a camera instead of a car since you can't see any of the car. The two best camera angles in the game are the cockpit angle and the airbox angle. The cockpit angle includes the driver's hands on the wheel, a series of lights that act as a tachometer and working rear-view mirrors. Unlike the mirrors in Psygnosis' Formula 1 99, the rear-view mirrors in F1 2000 are big enough to provide a decent idea of which car is behind you and their approximate distance behind. Nice touch. Every racing game should have a rear-view mirror, and many don't. The airbox angle is almost identical to the angle shown from in-car footage in every F1 telecast. This angle provides an excellent balance between speed and perspective, as you can still see the cockpit, nose of the car and front wheels from a slightly elevated angle, a big plus when trying to find extra tenths of a second on every lap.

The only quibble with the camera angles is the lack of race timing and scoring data when using the cockpit or airbox camera angles. That robs players of vital information about the running order of the race and the time gap between them and their pursuers and pursuees. There's plenty of room on the screen for this data in all angles, and EA must include it in future editions of this game. But the lap counter, gear indicator, on-screen gear shift lights and abbreviated running order graphics, complete with team logo and abbreviated driver name, are easy to read and informative.

Once the game is in motion, there's a decent sense of speed, especially from the cockpit, airbox and front-wing angles. There's no popup to speak of, and draw-in is minimal. Slowdown is evident when all 22 cars in the field reach the first turn, as the cars seem to slow dramatically. But it's nowhere near as unrealistic as the crawling framerates in traffic of F1 World Grand Prix, a wretched recent release by Eidos.

The tracks all look great. I watch a lot of F1 races, and nearly all of the distinctive landmarks and braking points of these tracks are evident. The texture and detail of the background scenery is excellent, especially the TV helicopters flying overhead and the crowds lining the hills at Barcelona. In fact, EA even included such details as the green-and-yellow striped curbing - Brazil's national colors -- at Interlagos.

Presentation/Audio : 94
EA took a minimalist approach with the audio of F1 2000, and it worked great. There's no music or television-style commentary during on-track activity. Some gamers weaned on the incessant techno that pollutes most recent titles may consider that heresy. I call it realism, and it's very welcome.

The only commentary provided in the game comes before and after each race by Jim Rosenthal, a pundit for the British network ITV. Rosenthal's commentary adds little to the game, but it does round out the overall feel and atmosphere. The lack of commentary and music allows players to appreciate all of the wonderful subtleties that EA programmed into the audio of F1 2000.

For starters, the engines sound great. The screeching wail of an 800-plus-horsepower V10 howling at 17,000 rpm is modeled perfectly. And the pitch changes in each of the camera angles, a very nice touch. In fact, the engine sounds are so good that they probably were recorded directly from F1 footage. There are also convincing and realistic sound effects for tire squeal during heavy braking or a spin, and the resounding thud of carbon fiber is perfect during collisions. But one of the few flaws in the sound of F1 2000 sometimes comes during heavy tire squeal. The audio loop for the squeal sometimes gets stuck, and the car will continue to squeal for the rest of the race. It's an annoying programming glitch that thankfully doesn't pop up too often.

The excellent sound continues outside of the car. Air and blow horns, staples of rabid racing fans outside of the United States, can be heard from the grandstands at some tracks. I was blown away the first time I heard them - fantastic attention to detail by EA Sports.

While the cars and fans sound great in this game, the absolute clincher for the sound is the race engineer. An English-accented voice crackles through the radio quite often, providing you with vital information such as your position in qualifying, who has taken pole in qualifying, how many cars are on the track during qualifying, any mechanical problems you might be suffering at any time, how many seconds you are ahead and behind your closest competitors, how many laps remaining, when to pit for fuel, etc. None of the comments are dumb. They're all useful. I'd rather have this realism over in-game music any day of the week.

Finally, it was very refreshing to hear the modern symphony music - strings mixed with a synthesizer and light drum track - during the opening full-motion video and some of the menu screens. Again, what a nice change from the hard-driving beats and techno that are so run of the mill in every racing release these days.

Interface/Options : 89
Just like the graphics, F1 2000 scores big points in the interface/options column before leaving the menu screens, for one reason: It's the only game that features the new 2.606-mile road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the inaugural United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis this September. It's a great thrill to drive this course before even real-life race cars have touched it.

The control of F1 2000 is excellent. First, analog steering with the left stick and gas-brake with the right stick are supported. That was comforting, considering that EA ruined its Need For Speed series by eliminating analog gas-brake with the right stick in Need For Speed 4 and the new Need For Speed: Porsche Unlimited. All racing games should have full analog support. Period. It's especially vital in F1 2000, as a subtle touch is needed while accelerating out of many tight turns, especially in the rain. I couldn't imagine driving the serpentine course at Monaco with digital gas-brake. That would be a controller waiting to be smashed in anger.

Analog steering is very tight and responsive, unlike the dead zone in the steering that really hurt Psygnosis' recent Formula 1 99. Predictable modulation of the gas and brake also are possible, unlike the off-on nature of the right stick in F1 World Grand Prix. This all adds up to excellent control of the car. The rest of the default control setup is well laid out. It was nice to see that EA allows players to use the L1 button for the rear-view mirror in every camera angle. Psygnosis wouldn't let you use the look-back feature when in the cockpit cam, instead forcing you to rely on the tiny rear-view mirrors. Players also can hit a Pit In function if they want to abort a qualifying lap midway through the lap and return to the pits. This is a nice, timesaving touch if you know that the lap will be slower than your best.

Perhaps the best interface option of F1 2000 is the instant replay. Players can hit the triangle button at any time and see a replay of the move they just pulled or the crash they just suffered. It's rewarding as hell to see a great overtaking maneuver right after it happened - sort of the Polaroid camera of instant replay. Overall race highlights also can be seen after each race.

The game menus are very clean and easy to navigate. Players can hear commentary and engineer instructions in English, French or Spanish. Plenty of career information is available for each driver, including starts, victories and fast laps. Everything else in the game is adjustable, such as tire wear, flags, equipment breakdowns and race lengths of 4, 8 or 16 laps, or half distance or full distance.

But there are some important options missing in F1 2000. First, there is no information provided about the circuits other than a simple course map. There's no information about the length or track record. And it would have been nice for Jim Rosenthal or maybe a former driver, like Martin Brundle in the Psygnosis Formula 1 series, to take players on a slow lap of each track, offering driving tips, braking points and interesting facts about each circuit.

The race statistics also are a bit thin. Only the running order with time and speed of the winner, and distance behind the winner and speed for all other finishers is provided. Driver and Constructor point standings also are provided in the Championship mode. But what about the fastest lap of the race? What about lap leaders? These need to be there.

Finally, no morning warm-up is available on race day. Not only is this unrealistic, but it doesn't allow the player to make tuning adjustments to compensate for changing weather between qualifying and the race. All final tuning must be done after the qualifying session. That's fine, as long as the rain from Saturday continues into Sunday. If it's sunny, you're out of luck.

Gameplay : 85
The driving model for recent Formula One console games has resembled a game of "Pin the Tail on the Donkey." Some games, like F1 World Grand Prix, have agonizing driving models featuring twitchy cars that test the patience of even the most hardcore F1 fan. Other games, like Formula 1 99, are too permissive. The cars stick to the track like the old days of sliding aerodynamic skirts in the early 1980s in F1. So EA faced a tough task when devising the driving model for F1 2000. Lean more toward a sim, or dumb it down into an arcade game? Thankfully, it's an appealing mixture of both, with more of an emphasis on realism.

Car physics are balanced, with plenty of understeer, some wheelspin on acceleration, especially when riding over curbs, and oversteer on turn-in under heavy braking. That's realistic with today's grooved-tire, narrow-track F1 cars that rely so much on aerodynamic grip. The car's handling can be changed in the simple but effective setup menus. EA again takes a middle-of-the-road approach, using the slider bars that work so well in the NASCAR series, to let players adjust front and rear downforce, gear ratios, steering lock, front and rear suspension, brake balance and ground clearance. It's not as detailed as Psygnosis' and Eidos' recent F1 offerings, but it works. Even minor changes affect the handling of the car in a realistic fashion. Proper setups are especially important during wet track conditions as the cars struggle for grip.

Before hitting the track, players can adjust their setups depending on the three-day weather forecast, a nice touch. Sometimes the forecasts are wrong, which adds another element of unpredictability. Players also can adjust their race strategy, determining whether to use soft or hard compound tires, rain or dry tires and whether to make one, two or three pit stops. Those stops also can be staggered to early, middle or late in the race. This realistically captures the chess game that is played out in the pits by team strategists at every F1 race.

That strategic theme continues during qualifying. The realism is spot-on, as each driver has one hour or 12 total laps - whichever comes first - to produce the fastest time. The tension builds as you stare at the classification sheet during qualifying and listen to the race engineer on the radio, jumping on the track with two laps and three minutes remaining, trying to make a banzai run for the pole. It's excellent.

During the race, the opponents' artificial intelligence is very good. Leading cars will dart realistically to block some passing attempts but eventually surrender the position if you have clearly displayed more momentum. Cars also will weave all over the track after the start, trying to find a quick opening to advance through the field. It looks just like the start of a real F1 race.

But the gameplay in F1 2000 leans too far toward the arcade side in some aspects. First, the damage model is too permissive. It takes too many hard hits to sustain damage to the wings or wheels. And light damage has no effect on the handling of the car, which is unrealistic. When wheels finally do fall off, the car still can be driven. That's a joke. I know EA was trying to offer "relaxed realism" here. But it should have offered the option for realistic damage for true sim-heads.

The lap speeds for some circuits also are too fast, especially at the Expert skill level. For example, pole speeds in Melbourne typically are in the 1:29 to 1:31 range. But I had no problem ripping off a 1:24 to edge Mika Hakkinen for the pole by a few tenths. I also ran consistent laps of 1:46 at Spa during the race, when the pole speed in 1999 was in the low 1:50's. That's too fast, and too unrealistic. A grip model that's a bit too permissive in dry conditions creates some of that speed. There's still understeer and oversteer in the dry, but it still feels a bit too sticky. Some tough corners can be taken flat-out in this game but are rarely taken flat in reality. For example, I can take the daunting Eau Rouge corner at Spa flat without a problem. Ricardo Zonta and Jacques Villeneuve both crashed last year at Spa when they dared to rip through Eau Rouge without lifting.

Replay Value : 83
There's plenty to like regarding replay value in F1 2000. All 17 tracks from the 2000 season are represented, including the new road course at Indianapolis. It's also the only game with the 2000 drivers, especially rookie sensation Jenson Button. It's also nice to see the new green Jaguars. The four modes of play - Quick Race, Time Trial, Weekend and Championship - also provide some depth. The Expert skill level provides a consistent challenge, even for veteran console races. That's vital to longevity, as the first three levels are pretty easy for racing vets. The Test Day option, which includes cool telemetry tracings to help you find the weak points on each lap, is a superb touch.

But still, it's not enough. Not by EA standards, especially. EA Sports has become almost legendary for the depth of its games. The company continues to unveil cool new wrinkles, such as the outdoor 1-on-1 playground games against Michael Jordan in NBA Live 2000, the Madden Challenge in Madden 2000 or the Legends Home Run Derby in Triple Play 2001.

F1 2000 contains none of this. It would have been great to see some legends of the past, such as Stirling Moss, Jim Clark, Juan Manuel Fangio, Niki Lauda and Ayrton Senna, in their cars in this game. Management options, such as hiring and firing of mechanics, drivers, etc., also would have been a great option similar to the awesome recruiting mode in NCAA Football 2000. Even a head-to-head race against a legend, similar to the Race Against The King mode in NASCAR 2000 would have been cool. And there's no Create Driver option, either.

And F1 2000 isn't much of a two-player game, either. Only two computer-controlled cars join the two human players on the track. That's not much of a race. EA Sports had no problem putting six CPU cars into each two-player race in NASCAR 2000, so why can't they do it in this game?

Basically, F1 freaks and racing sim aficionados will love this game. Arcade drivers and even some Gran Turismo zealots won't, as there are no brutish powerslides, parts upgrades or stables of cars to buy.

Overall : 89
Sometimes when EA Sports introduces its first title in a genre, the game usually has shown promise but is marred by a few flaws. Take Supercross 2000 and its balky bike handling and Knockout Kings and its sluggish controls, for example. But then EA usually cleans things up in the sequel, such as the superb Knockout Kings 2000.

Well, there isn't much to clean up in F1 2000. EA nailed Formula One racing pretty square with this outstanding debut effort. It's the best F1 game for the PlayStation because it's the most playable. It has an appealing combination of playability and realism that will provide plenty of challenge and enjoyment for F1 fans. With an improved damage model, more realistic speed and more typical EA depth, F1 2001 could be one of the all-time killer racing titles on the PlayStation. EA is well on its way with the strong F1 2000.

By: Paul Kelly 5/30/00

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