Driving an F1 car is difficult. Well, driving one fast is. Just about anyone with a driving licence could pootle one around a track, but to get the most out of it, you need a supernatural ability to hit the brakes a few metres later than when your instinct begs you to. You need to carry a few more miles per hour through the apex and get back on the gas a few moments earlier than the opposition.
Last year's game touched on that spirit, and now Codemasters Birmingham have sent a few thousand volts through the suspension for 2011.
The key is a far more accurate driving model. You'd think being chastised by a new, more demanding physics system would make you feel less of a hero, but actually it's the opposite. The new, more lively handling makes every successful corner in F1 feel hard won.
To help, there's a configuration of driving aids. With everything switched on, your car is painted to the road. In addition, there's a new driving line that rises up around corners for a better view from that carbon-fibre coffin the F1 drivers wedge themselves into.
F1 can now hustle a McLaren, which I try out. I'm launching off the line and deftly scything through the pack on the run down to the tight left-hander. With nary a hint of tyre smoke, I sweep in and kiss the apex of the corner. Turn two is dispatched with a chuckle of haughty disdain as I neeeowwwww past F1's Dick Dastardly, Fernando Alonso. I'm Lewis Hamilton!
Now it's just the simple task of slicing left around the uphill turn three. Except it isn't – the rear of my car is galloping past me and I'm in the process of being violently deposited, backwards, into the nearest run-off area. OK, I'm not Lewis Hamilton, but for a moment there it was close.
For the solo player there's not a great deal of structural change – the career mode is basically as it was, barring two new circuits and more frequent updates on rivalries with other drivers. The biggest challenge is getting to grips with KERS and DRS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System and Drag Reduction System), two genuine features of the sport that act like the traditional videogame turbo boost.
Venture online and F1 2011 boasts a vastly upgraded offering. Not only can you now play with 15 other drivers, but any empty grid spots can be filled with AI competitors so you're always elbowing your way through an uncommonly populated field of cars. There's also the option to run an entire championship in co-op as team-mates, collaborating to win the Constructors' Championship but competing to secure the Drivers' title. PC gamers are spoilt for choice when it comes to online racing, but F1 2011's competitive additions are wonderful.
The feature set may be loaded in favour of multiplayer, and there really hasn't been a great deal added to the career path, but even if you're devoid of contact with the outside world, the new physics engine is a meaty challenge. If you do pluck up the courage to head online, though, that same handling model, combined with the blend of human and computer drivers, makes this one of the most exciting multiplayer racers in years.
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