Review: F1 Career Challenge (PS2)

Game: F1 Career Challenge
Platform: PS2
Developer: EA Sports
Chemical enhancer: Caffeine, and lots of it.

GAMEPLAY

Oy vey. Another racing career game. Well, I suppose SOMEBODY is into that sort of thing. You have your basic modes: Career, or single race. Single race is exactly what you think it’d be. Career mode is a little different though. You start out by going through training in driving an F1 car. The strange thing is that this is REQUIRED for the start of every career mode (oh, and by the way, you can only store one career at a time, so those households with multiple F1 fans are SOL unless they keep swapping out memory cards. 1 demerit to EA for that). The thing is, you’re not only learning the controls, you’re demonstrating how well you have them. There are two success detents: PASS and ACE. Once you’re done with the courses (which don’t take terribly long) you get job offers from a couple of F1 racing teams. You sign on to one, and start your career in the 1999 season. I’ll assume that the career mode only runs through the 2002 or 2003 season. I can’t verify this because I didn’t get that far (more on that later).

So you start each race by first taking the car for a lap around the course to be raced on to “get telemetry data” on the course. If you can complete a lap in a certain time the car will be better tweaked for the upcoming race. Of course, I can’t tell you how much this helps because I never could finish a lap in the proscribed time. After the telemetry gathering, THEN you can run practice laps on the course in preparation for qualifying and/or the race itself. I’m slapping another demerit on EA for this foible. I would have really liked to practice the course BEFORE the telemetry run, thank you; and I believe that a real F1 team would be able to afford to do just that.

Anyway, you practice, and then you attempt to improve your starting position by qualifying. After you’re unsuccessful with that, you actually run the race. Before each race, the front office tells you what they’re expecting you to finish in each race, so that’s the number to beat. If you don’t make that number, your reputation falls and the front office gets angry. I’m assuming you beat that number, your reputation rises and you get praise and eventually job offers from more prestigious racing teams. I’m only guessing at that though.

Now for the controls. As I’m saving my ire for one big rant in the Fun Factor section I’ll just say this:

The control model for the game is as realistic as they possibly could have made it. Hoo-Ray for them.

GRAPHICS

Of course, it’s beautiful. I say “of course” because, like most racing games, you have a small number of set courses that you’re not allowed to deviate from. Making the game look realistic with those scope limitations isn’t nearly as hard as making something a lot more open ended look good. Still, I can’t fault the EA people for that, it’s the nature of the game. The courses really do look wonderful; I especially like the fact that the pavement gets darker with deposited rubber right before sharp turns.

There are four different driving views to choose from: behind car (third person), total first person (just road in front of you), behind wheel (first person with the front of the car and a steering wheel in front of you, and a quasi-third/first person (the camera is higher and back a little more). You can drive with any one, although I actually preferred the last of the options listed, for greater visibility.

You can see the changes in speed very well, and long straightaways really give you the impression of some really kinetic energy being exhibited. Even the off-course regions are rendered very well, and I should know.

SOUND

I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it: It’s a racing game. There’s only so much that can be done with sound in a racing game. This does it reasonably well. Engines, check. Curbs, check. Smash when you hit a wall, check. Tires, check. Occasional informative voice over, check.

It doesn’t blow me away. Of course, if I wanted constant medium to high-pitch engine noise I just take a job out on the airport ramp and listen to REAL engines all day long, but I don’t want tinnitus that bad yet.

FUN FACTOR

You may want to send the kids out of the room before you read this section; just a warning. I’ll wait.

Ready?

Now?

All clear? Good. Ahem.

I’m not exaggerating when saying that I’ve had more fun at the dentist than I had playing this game. In the blind push for ultra-realism EA has done possibly the most effective job I have ever seen at alienating, frustrating, and just plain pissing off the mainstream gamer. The steering, braking, and acceleration on this game may be as realistic as they could possibly make it, but that means that you get to drive a car where the only gas or brake positions are full down or off, and the only steering wheel positions (effectively, see my review of Colin McRae 3 for more on this) are center, full left, and full right. Michael Schumacher couldn’t drive an F1 car with such limitations, why should you have to?

The only solution to this would be to go out and buy a steering wheel peripheral, or preferably a steering wheel/pedal combination that would allow some fidelity of control in steering, gas, and brake. Now, I’m not saying that having a steering wheel is preferable to playing without one, I’m saying that it is IMPOSSIBLE to compete in this game unless you have a steering wheel. Seriously, if you have that sort of control in your thumbs, get into watchmaking or neurosurgery. Don’t sit around playing this piece of dreck when you could be making serious cash with that skill. I couldn’t keep the frickin’ car on the track on straightaways, let alone turns (my straight runs were usually long zig-zag affairs that look REALLY embarrassing when seen in third-person replay).

At least in Colin McRae 3, the dirt roads afforded some degree of forgiveness to the controls, and you remember how I bitched about that game. Well, now we have racing slicks on asphalt. Do the math.

What’s more, in the career mode you have no option to restart at ANY stage. Again, this does add to the realism of the mode, but it would have been nice for us clumsy slob drivers to have the do-over option.

I can’t stress exactly how frustrated I got with this game. True story: The first race, FIRST RACE, that I ran I got Dale Earnhardted in the first turn and had to finish the entire first lap without going higher than 2nd gear. I was stuck at 95 mph and was getting lapped before I could even get to the pits the first time. So what do you think I did after that? That’s right, I shut the game off.

What’s maddening is that this game could have been really fun, but the fascism of the controls section just ruined it. If they’d made some sort of control option where the controls are more forgiving if you’re playing with a control pad, this game would be worth BUYING. As it is, I hiss at it now when I see it in a store.

Ratings

Gameplay: 4.0
Graphics: 8.0
Sound: 7.0
Fun Factor: 2.0