The Formula One series on PlayStation 2 has so far been a hit and miss affair -- hit if you're already an F1 addict, miss if you don't have petrol flowing in your veins.
Previous Formula One titles weren't exactly pick up and play games -- there was always a steep learning curve to master, meaning if you didn't spend a good few hours getting used to the finicky controls there was little chance you could keep your vehicle on the track even on a straight. The presentation was also always a little on the dry side -- you had to come into the game with your own enthusiasm, as it certainly wasn't going to pump it up for you.
But in a pleasant surprise, the latest game in the series, Formula One 2005, is immediately accessible for newbies thanks to some new driving aids that ratchet down the hard core simulation standard of the series. The game is also a visual knock-out, presenting an impressive sense of speed that you'd expect from a title featuring the world's fastest cars. While the presentation may still be a bit lacking (apart from a spirited intro using Muse's Butterflies and Hurricanes as the music), the overall package is one that should appeal to initiates as well as fanatics.
Not that Formula One 2005 sacrifices depth for accessibility. F1 trainspotters will still find themselves drowning in detail -- all of the teams, drivers and tracks are here (including the brand new Istanbul circuit which is set to host its first race on 21 August), as well as ultra-realistic F1 meets with all of their myriad test and trial laps, arcane race rules and more. And if you're a sucker for punishment (ie, a racing simulation devotee), then all of the driving aids are easily turned off for a more realistic experience.
For the rest of us, Formula One 2005 allows you to easily slip into the game, thanks to its numerous driving aids which, if all are turned on, give the game an almost arcade-like feel. You can have the game: control braking (automatically slowing you down to the correct speed for corners); initiate steering assists (putting you in the right racing line); control spins (so you're always facing the right direction in case of a spin); turn damage off (so prangs won't hurt your vehicle's performance) and much more. Formula One 2005 even draws a racing line on the track for you. This racing line is similar to the one used in games like Forza Motorsport, which indicates by colour what you should be doing (such as red for hard braking). Unfortunately, unlike Forza, Formula One 2005's racing line isn't dynamic, which means it won't change to suit how you're actually driving.
To the game's credit, using these aids as crutches will only get you so far. Once your skill develops and you turn off some of the assists, you'll realise that the game's far too conservative -- its braking distances are too generous and its racing lines are too strict. Actually becoming good at racing will be the only way to truly increase your lap times in Formula One 2005.
Formula One 2005 presents several game mode options which allow players to choose just how involved their gameplay experience will be. There are of course the obligatory instant race and career options, but there are also race weekends (which takes a gamer through all of the test and trial laps of an actual F1 meet) and a world championship mode (which puts you right into a full season with the likes of Schumacher and Webber). The career mode is by far the most exhaustive of the game's different offerings. Spanning five seasons, the career mode starts you off as a young driver without a team -- you'll have to 'audition' for a team, work your way up ranks as a test driver before finally ending up in the big leagues of the premier F1 tour. Career is a great way of learning the game, as it starts you off racing on empty tracks to hone your skill before 'graduating' you to actual races.
The races themselves are great fun, with the game giving you the option of running shorter races than real world F1 meets if the thought of running dozens of laps doesn't appeal. Your opponents are generally intelligent, but they tend to stick to their set lines with little regard for your position.
And in seemingly another concession to a mass audience, the game's graphics takes a leaf out of street racing titles such as Midnight Club Racing 3 by adding a distinct speed blur effect on the game's environments. It initially looks odd on what is supposed to be a simulation, but it certainly adds a great sense of inertia and speed to Formula One 2005. In fact, we think that this is the first game in the series to really capture the insane velocities these high performance machines are capable of -- particularly when you switch to the cockpit view while racing.
Generally, the game's graphics are top notch, particularly the car models which are highly detailed and distinct. Sound is fairly average, particularly the in-race commentaries which sounds rather more patched together than usual. The game's overall presentation could also use a makeover -- menus are fairly nondescript and the game's exhaustive information screens on F1 are rather hard to read.
Formula One 2005 deserves to find an audience outside of the racing faithful due to its ease of play and knock-out looks. If you're an F1 fan you'll probably already have this -- if you're not, then Formula One 2005 is a great way to get into the sport.
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