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Official Formula I Racing (PC) Review

Background Info

The Formula 1 license sure seems to be passed around a lot--it's been held by several different companies, with a mixed bag of results. Eidos, along with developer Lankhor, makes some pretty impressive claims about Official Formula 1 Racing (OF1R), such as realistic physics, accurate tracks, and a revolutionary 3D engine. Most F1 titles have made the same claims, but have failed to unseat Grand Prix 2, which has been the top F1 sim since 1996. Many have tried, all have failed- maybe Eidos can break this trend.

Presentation/Graphics : 93
With almost every PC containing a 3D accelerator of some description, there have been great strides made in the graphical immersiveness of racing sims. OF1R follows the crowd by providing 3D support for most chipsets either through Direct3D or Glide, and turns in a strong performance in most areas.

The cars in OF1R are quite attractive--the developers claim each car contains over 1000 polygons, and I don't doubt that. Each car is a good representation of its real counterpart, aside from the usual practice of not using any alcohol or tobacco sponsors. On the rest, the colors and designs very good- as good as any I've seen. The tracks are attractive, and appear accurate to my eye, and I noticed no graphics pop up while driving. Damage visuals are quite well done, with wings dangling before falling off and tires wobbling when deflated (then coming entirely off the wheel.)

Resolutions from 320x200 up to 1024x768 are supported, and there are a few detail settings, but the fine control over graphics seen in some other titles isn't present in OF1R. Lankhor also uses a revolutionary software renderer, called X3D, which they claim offers many of the advanced 3D features and high resolutions of accelerated titles. Unfortunately, it wouldn't run on my graphics card, so I'll reserve judgement. The settings in software mode are very numerous, and should provide enough flexibility for non-3D equipped gamers.

There are a few drawbacks in the visuals--the cockpit is very uninspired, and looks as if it would be happier in an arcade racer. The mirror is shown across the top of the screen, like a conventional rearview, and the mirrors on the car are not functional. These two items are the only big problems I noticed. There are more than a dozen default camera positions, from cockpit to satellite views, along with each being adjustable for height, panning, and focal length. This makes viewing replays quite interesting, and is a nice touch reminiscent of Grand Prix 2. High marks for this feature.

Another very cool feature in OF1R is the option to take a helicopter ride around the track prior to a season race. It looks neat, and provides a way to see the track in 3-D before practice. Kudos for this unique idea.

Presentation/Audio : 70
Outside of GPL, the sound in F1 sims hasn't been impressive. GP2 wasn't bad, F1RS and the subsequent Monaco GP Racing Sim had god-awful sound, and most other sims fall somewhere short of the mark when trying to replicate the sound of a 750 horsepower V-10 at 14,000 RPM.

OF1R makes a gallant effort, but it's not quite right here, either. The sound on the replays is very good, but the in-car sound just seems shrieky and somewhat unpleasant. The sounds of tire scrub, contact with barriers, and other ambient noise is acceptable, and the audible change in the airflow when you are in another car's slipstream is a nice touch. The latter can be used as an aid when overtaking, also--if the car is in disturbed air, it becomes unstable and can be tricky to drive. The air hiss is a good way of imparting this information to the driver, and I hope to see something like this in more titles in the future.

I haven't mentioned music, and I really won't--if you've read any of my other reviews, you'll get the idea that I place no value on music in a racing sim. That idea is accurate. The first option I turn off when I fire up a racing title is music, and I did the same thing with OF1R. Music and racing don't mix in my book.

What OF1R offers in the audio department is average--decent overall, with the wind noise a neat extra. The lack of a convincing in-car engine sound, as usual, is the biggest negative, and prevents a higher score here.

Interface : 65
The interface in OF1R is a slight disappointment--very arcade in appearance and functionality. However, once you have the basics down, it becomes pretty easy to use. There are a few unnecessary layers, and the lack of mouse support hurts the rating in this area.

On the positive side, the 3-D Showroom method of team selection is a neat idea, and really shows off the 3D models used in the game. The garage interface is pretty straightforward, and provides a fair number of adjustments--not nearly as many as GP2 or F1 Racing Simulation, but more than the average arcade racer.

Most of the graphics and sound options are easy to understand and adjust, and if a mouse could be used, the interface would score quite a bit higher. As it is, it's functional but nothing special.

Gameplay : 88
There has been a lot of discussion on Usenet regarding this title, and not all (or even most) of it has been positive. I saw a lot of posts screaming "Arcade racer!" and "Inaccurate physics!", and OF1R seemed to be written off as an also-ran the day the demo was released. In my opinion, judging OF1R by the demo is a grave error. I tried it, and was, to say the least, underwhelmed. The released version of the game was, however, a pleasant surprise.

Let me get this out of the way right here--I don't feel qualified to judge the accuracy of the physics in any F1 title. I haven't driven an F1 car, so I have no basis of comparison--all I can go by is the feel I get from driving. Among modern F1 titles, I've tried (and currently own) F1RS, Grand Prix 2, and now OF1R--each one feels different from the others, and requires a different approach. There are some things you can get away with in OF1R that would cause a major shunt in the other two, and I have no idea which is more correct. I do have to say that the driving model in OF1R seems much more "alive" than the other two, but I think they have toned down the touchiness inherent in these cars.

With that point out of the way, I will say that I have found OF1R a lot of fun to drive. The cars are pretty easy to drive near the limit, but can get tricky at or beyond it--much like a real racing car. The tracks (once again, I have no first-hand experience here) seem to be well laid-out and fairly accurate, and quite pleasing to the eye. The force feedback implementation isn't bad--nowhere near as good as the GPL standard, but better than most racing sims. The sensation of the front tires breaking traction seems a little too abrupt and can be disconcerting, but overall FF is done pretty well in OF1R.

The AI in OF1R is not outstanding, but not bad, either. I didn't see the computer cars doing anything stupid, and they didn't run into my car or refuse to surrender the racing line when challenged. In the one real concession to authenticity, the AI will adjust speed to match the human driver--this doesn't make OF1R a pure arcade racer, but it does detract from the pure simulation promise made by Eidos. On a positive note, it does keep the competition close, and makes for some enjoyable racing.

Probably the best single feature in OF1R is the weather--not only can it change from session to session, but the conditions can change in the middle of a race. This really adds to the immersion in the game, and poses some interesting strategy decisions. I've stopped to put on rain tires, only to have the skies clear and force another stop--something I've seen happen to teams in real life. This is a great feature, and is well implemented here.

I'll probably catch a lot of flack for this, but I find OF1R to be a very enjoyable way to spend some of my racing time. It's easy enough at the lower levels to be unintimidating, but can provide a stiff challenge when pushed to the limit. Is it a hardcore, no holds barred simulation like GPL? No, but it isn't in the same league as Andretti Racing or Need For Speed, either. OF1R is in its own niche in the racing genre, and it suits me just fine.

Difficulty : 85
There's something for just about everyone in OF1R. As mentioned above, the AI scales itself to your performance, and there are several combinations to tailor OF1R to your driving skill. The basic choices are between Arcade and Simulation, with novice, standard, and expert levels in each.

OF1R isn't as challenging as GP2 or GPL, or as easy as the Psygnosis titles. It falls somewhere between these, and fits nicely into the "sim lite" category, which has needed an F1 title for quite some time.

Overall : 81
If you haven't guessed by now, I'm pretty taken by this release. OF1R is the first modern F1 sim (or not-sim, depending on whom you ask) I've really been able to get into. Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate the technical research and endless setup options in Grand Prix 2, and am somewhat impressed with the Ubisoft offerings. The final word, for me at least, is that OF1R just feels right--and I think anyone who isn't an absolute fanatic for detail would be happy with the purchase of this title.

By: Scott Moore 7/30/99

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