F1 Career Challenge jumps off the starting grid with promises of being a unique F1 racing title. Sporting a full license, you can race on any of the 11 F1 teams on your way to the top in the multiyear career mode. Along your way to the top you'll be challenged by the new driving model, a bevy of tests.
PS2 Screens (8)
Presentation/Graphics : 70
The car graphics are quite accurate in terms of shape and texture of the actual cars. Aside from things like tobacco sponsors, you should recognize many of the teams by paint and decal schemes. Coming off the line, the racetrack fills with tire smoke, which is an impressive touch. In other parts of a course, kicking up a little dirt generates a dust cloud that slowly dissipates. All this creates a realistic atmosphere for the driving. The track detail is equally enticing. Veteran racers will recognize courses easily due to effective off-track detail and elevation changes. Unfortunately some of the added detail comes at a cost as the game runs at around 30 frames per second and routinely drops below that.
Presentation/Audio : 40
Boring is the best way to describe the sound in F1 Career Challenge. To me at least, the car sounds don't sound as realistic as they should. But the car sounds are the highlight. There is no commentary provided in the game, and the only human voice is the occasional call from your pits. The information exchange is minimal and almost nothing of value to the game.
Interface/Options : 75
With the word, "career," in the title you'd expect the main mode to be just that. The career mode in the game actually only covers the time period from 1999 to 2002. During that time you start as a lowly rookie and work your way to the top. Along the way you have to pass a series of simple driving tests and obtain your "super license." By racing well through the four seasons you can earn cards redeemable for car upgrades and other items. The other mode in the game is the quick race, which lets you race on any circuit with a fully customized game setup. Options include length, weather, handling aspects (traction control for example), and FIA rules. Unfortunately AI issues prevent an accurate use of the FIA rules. Car setups are restricted to simple slider bars that modify things like downforce or gears. You can't set gear ratios, ride height, spring rates, and other detailed items in the game.
Gameplay : 50
I'm a racing fanatic. It doesn't matter whether it's open- or closed-wheel racing, racing on 2 or 4 wheels, or ovals or road courses. The thrill of going against the clock or other cars is what thrills me. Formula 1 racing offers some of the most intense racing around. Unbelievable acceleration and braking force, exceptional handling, and some of the best driving talent in the world are hallmarks of this brand of racing. When I play an F1 game, I expect many of those aspects from the real world to be replicated in the game. Sadly, this is where F1 Career Challenge makes a quick departure.
Flooring the accelerator, you get off the line realistically. From there it's a mad dash to the first corner. Much like real F1 racing you should expect an accident or two as drivers bully their ways through the turn. However, the AI in this game goes overboard. Braking is done way too early into the first few turns until the cars thin out. This creates huge traffic jams as cars simply can't move. The funny thing is that if you lightly tap another car it often spins out of control. Collisions are handled poorly in the game.
Once the cars thin out a bit, AI problems persist. Cars hold their lines to a fault. If you're struggling along you can easily block the competition, as they never come off their line to make a pass. If you flip to a rear view you can see the AI cars slam on the brakes. Further, entering turns it's not uncommon for the AI to give you a tap ala the lousy AI in the Gran Turismo series. We've witnessed much better AI in other EA racing games, and it's unfortunate that the same quality can't be maintained here.
The handling is suspect as well. Playing with both the standard controller and a Logitech force feedback wheel, the car control never seemed right. I felt I always had to fight with the car to keep it centered on the track. It feels more like digital rather than analog control. Minor adjustments are needed constantly. Going back and playing the same EA series on the PC, you recognize the steering control is much better on the PC platform.
Some positive aspects of the gameplay include pitting and damage. Pitting is somewhat interactive. You must obey the pit speed limits, and this requires you to slow down in two steps. You also need to turn in at the right time and throw the throttle down exiting your stop. All these are interactive steps, which affect your time in the pits. A button flashes up on the screen and you must react quickly. The longer it takes to press the button, the longer you'll stay in the pits. Damage covers a variety of areas from body damage, mechanical, or electrical. While some of the body damage isn't the best, the others happen randomly or are a function of how hard you drive the car. You can also give decent marks to the transition from high to low speed. Once you lose aerodynamic grip the lack of mechanical grip really shows. It's not uncommon to get loose going into turns under heavy braking.
Replay Value : 40
Sadly there aren't many great F1 titles on the PS2. The dogs are led by F1 Career Challenge. It's a poor simulation that just hasn't done well on the console platform. The PC versions always yield a respectable game, but for the console you'll be better served playing some of the competing titles. The career mode isn't enough to keep you racing this one.
Overall : 55
It's unfortunate that F1 Career Challenge can't adequately represent the 1999-2002 seasons in terms of racing realism. The AI flaws and problems with vehicle control bring the title down. The career mode is an interesting but not enough to maintain the title.