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F1 Championship Season 2000 (PS2) Review

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Screens (8)
As far as I'm concerned, the best racing on the planet can be found in Formula 1. While there's not a whole lot of suspense associated with the sport (usually boils down to a win for Ferrari or McLaren), the tracks are the best around. One of my most anticipated titles on the PlayStation 2 is F1 Championship Season 2000. Carrying a full license, this game brings you a full 22-car field at every track during the 2000 season, including the inaugural race at Indy. You can drive as one of the Mikas (Salo or Hakkinen) or perennial license bad boy Jacques Villeneuve (you heard it right, Jacques finally "allowed" a game to use his name).

Presentation/Graphics : 85
EA must have been watching the F1 season on Fox Sports. My favorite racing view is probably Sega's CART Flag to Flag on the Sega Dreamcast. The in-car view, with images of gloved hands turning the wheel, nifty mirrors, and a great glimpse of the cockpit controls are a race fan's dream. The in-car view in F1 2000 is as good as, if not better than, CART. The camera is situated atop the roll bar immediately behind the driver. As you turn, gloved hands rotate the wheel and the driver's head bobs back and forth. A nice dash image and a perfect view of the grooved tires (which have different looks depending on wet or dry tires) round out a great looking first-person perspective. If there is a fault, it's that the side mirrors aren't too effective. They are too small and not detailed enough to gauge competition running up your tail.

Whether you play with the excellent cockpit view or one of the other views (bumper camera and a couple of third person views), you are treated to some nice looking cars. Unfortunately EA didn't (or couldn't?) carry all the advertising from the actual cars in the game. Gone are the tobacco ads, but every other logo is in their appropriate place. The logos are legible even from a distance, and as you close in on the competition, the detail is incredible. Likewise, the courses are magnificent. What struck me was the Monaco course. During one practice session I wiped out right in front of the Gucci store! Grandstands are in their appropriate locations at each track, and the forest at Hockenheim is dark and lush. The attention to detail in the racing experience really shows with crashes and damage. Wheels fly off and wings separate from cars. If you roll your car while driving with the roll bar camera, the game cycles between an image of what's ahead and a television image filled with TV snow.

There are a few minor problems with the game. When driving in the rain, there are times where you experience pop-up. Driving in dry conditions, I looked long and hard for pop-up but was unsuccessful. The draw-in distance is incredible. But with the taxing rain the pop-up rears its ugly head. Even then it's very minimal and you have to really look to find it. Also, at times the frame rate dropped a tad. I was surprised when the rate diminished on a practice run at Australia. Being alone on the course I was expecting ideal graphical conditions. But my biggest beef with the graphics has to be the screen display. You get the requisite lap times, lap number, position, and speed, but what about fuel status? You could say that you don't need to have any feedback on fuel consumption since pit strategy is decided at the beginning of a race. However, your strategy may change during a race, making the knowledge of fuel an important issue. The game offers no feedback, visually or through pit communications, of remaining fuel.

Presentation/Audio : 60
I don't know what the heck I was listening to, but it didn't sound like an F1 race. The occasional tire squeal sounded realistic enough, but what didn't was the whine of the engines. Revving up through the gears, the whine barely changes pitch. Even downshifting sounded goofy. Where the sound was a big disappointment was with the commentary. Before the race the commentary was plentiful. Once the red lights went out and the cars were underway, all that was left were the sounds of the cars and crowds. Not once did I hear a human speak about the race nor did my pit crew radio me with updates.

Interface/Options : 75
With what seems to be a developing trend with first generation PS2 titles from EA, F1 2000 is a stripped down version of its PSX cousin. The number of options in the game has dropped making it a bare bones racer. What you get is a quick race mode, two-player modes, and championship season modes. The quick race mode requires you to earn a certain number of points before additional F1 tracks open up. The two-player modes included head-to-head split-screen racing and a time challenge (basically a time trial mode with up to 22 players). The season modes vary from a custom season to the full season. What's missing is the challenge-type mode of the PSX version where you were placed in situations and had to accomplish a task.

Also gone in the PS2 version of the game is the telemetry option where you can assess your performance on the track. Instead, the only way to tell how well changes to the car affect your performance is to watch the clock. The changes are rudimentary; F1 2000 offers three levels of car setup (basic, medium, or advanced). With each level of car customization, additional options are available. For example, the basic setup allows you to adjust the tires, amount of downforce, final gearbox gear ratio, and suspension. The highest level of customization includes ride height (front and back), downforce (front and back), and even brake bias. Simulation fans will no doubt be disappointed by the lack of true customization, but EA has accommodated the mass market with the simple setup options.

Additional game options include audio, video, and gameplay options. Oddly, the sound defaults to mono. Video options range from displaying the map to changing the aspect ratio of the image (mainly for widescreen televisions). The game options include assists, transmission (auto or semi-auto), difficulty, weather, damage (off, forgiving, or on), penalties, and more.

Gameplay : 60
As mentioned earlier, the in-car view rivals that of CART Flag to Flag on the Dreamcast. There's yet another aspect of the game that reminds me of Flag to Flag. The driving model seems like the bastard child of that other title. F1 Championship Season 2000 is far from a sim. Rather, this is arcade racing and nothing more. While there is a damage model to give the feel of a sim, the handling is so arcade-like that I had to run a few laps in my favorite F1 sim (import Monaco GP 2 on the Dreamcast) to set me straight. That's not saying I didn't like F1 2000; it's just a different kind of racing. I recognize that most racing game fans don't like, nor do they have the patience for, hardcore simulations. F1 2000 is geared towards those fans. Since EA threw the sim qualities out the window, the difficulty settings in the game simply make the AI drivers faster. I could barely keep up with the middle difficulty setting (medium), and hard was unbearable. No matter the difficulty, your lap times won't really change whereas those of the AI opponents do. The problem is that even at the medium setting, the times were too unrealistic. At Monza, I pulled a lap in just under a minute and 17 seconds in the quick race mode. The lap record in real life is just a notch below 1:25. Thinking this was because of the "quick" in quick race, I switched over to the season style racing. At the same course, I clocked in at a very respectable 1:19.417. That would have put me on the pole this year, but in F1 2000, that was good for a seventh row start. The pole winner ran a remarkable 1:15.446 on the medium difficulty setting. Even more incredible was the makeup of the first three rows - Eddie Irvine, Jean Alesi, Pedro Diniz, Gaston Mazzacane, Marc Gene, and Mika Salo. With the remote possibility of Jaguar's Irvine pulling a front row position (a near certainty last year when he was with Ferrari), there is no way 2 Saubers and 2 Minardis could qualify that high. Nonetheless, I battled on, pulling laps near the 1:15 mark. Even then I couldn't gain on the leaders.

The real kicker was that on my fastest lap at Monza I did not use the brakes once. The driving model is completely bizarre. Playing with a manual transmission, cars accelerate unrealistically. The first shift from first to second is realistic enough, but subsequent gear shifts occur in rapid succession. Then, as soon as you lift off the gas, the car decelerates quickly. While braking scrubs off more speed, I found that I could simply let off the gas to slow down enough to make some corners. Cornering is made easier with exaggerated mechanical grip at low to moderate speeds. With this in mind, I was actually running laps at Suzuka where I wouldn't brake at the tight Hairpin Curve. Likewise, at Monaco, I could take the Nouvelle Chicane at 60 mph or more. This compares with MGP2 for the Dreamcast, where you must take that chicane at a more realistic 20-30 mph.

Besides the grip, the problem lies with the curbs which are flat as boards. Never was my car's balance upset by running over a curb. Casual gamers will like that the driving model is so forgiving. The only times I ran into trouble was when I'd get a wheel off track and quickly hit the gas, sending me spinning. If you get far enough off track, the Hoovers turn on. Rather than glide across the grass, the car decelerates rapidly. Even in the kitty litter my car came to an abrupt halt rather than skate across like it was on ice. EA, ever seen an F1 race?

One thing that truly annoyed me was the lack of drafting. While drafting isn't a key element of F1 racing, it should still be modeled. As evidenced by the US Grand Prix at Indy this year, F1 drivers have difficulty with drafting. Still, they figured it out quick enough. Along the main straight at Indy, I expected to close in on an opponent through drafting. Both cars would head down the front stretch with the same speed. Of course, I just took advantage of the unrealistic grip to overtake him in the first corner. Throw in the fact that the game appears to reduce the wheel lock as speeds increase and you have a recipe for understeer. Never did I feel I'd spin out as long as my tires were square on the asphalt.

And once I overtook a car, I'd just curse the game more. AI cars would unexpectedly smash into me from behind. When side-by-side and when I had the position in a turn, the AI car would drive right into my line. I even saw cars ahead of me dart across the track for no reason. It became so frustrating that I eventually turned the damage model off. There were only so many pit stops I could handle fixing my chassis. The pit stops, by the way, are really basic. At times you can adjust the fuel strategy, but mostly you just watch the pit crew do its thing with no interaction from you whatsoever.

While the driving model and AI may not appeal to sim fans, there is certainly enough of a challenge to keep most satisfied. The extra grip befits the casual gamer's liking, and it is here that F1 2000 may find its niche. The quick race mode, where you collect points based on where you finish in a four-lap race is actually kind of fun. Its fast paced racing is the Ridge Racer equivalent to F1 racing. And some courses in the F1 season do offer some fun. Muck like CART Flag to Flag, the emphasis is on passing as opposed to realistic racing.

Replay Value : 50
The replay value of the game really depends on your tastes. Personally, I'm a sim fanatic. My favorite racing games include F355 and MGP2 on the Dreamcast. But I also like racers that have roots in arcade racing. Namco's excellent Moto GP for the PS2 is such a game that blends the simulation aspects of F1 motorcycle racing with arcade elements. F1 Championship Season 2000 lies a few notches below those games. It falls into the class of racers that pull fans of the sport into it with a nice license but stops there. This is an arcade racer in its most basic form - gas and go. It's a nice game to use to learn the tracks and to serve as an introduction into F1 racing games. Veterans, however, will ultimately grow frustrated with the suspect opponent AI and lack of realistic handling.

Overall : 65
F1 Championship Season 2000 is a product in transition. The first port of the game to the PS2 loses some of the key features of the PSX version. What is left is a basic racing game which suffers from questionable driver AI that runs into your car many times during the course of a race and handling which has so much grip that you run unrealistically fast laps. While the graphics hold up their end, the gameplay just isn't there for simulation fans to keep them satisfied for the long haul. But if you are a fan of games like CART on the Dreamcast, then F1 Championship Season 2000 may be for you.

By: James Smith 1/8/01

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