Formula 1 (known from here on as F1) is one of the biggest selling Playstation titles of all time. It made the number one spot and outsold Quake. It is also a game that would prove damn near impossible to do on a PC without heavyweight 3D accelerator support. This is why PC F1 doesn't just have 3D card support as an option - it's required.
So, you've bought your 3D card, lashed out £35 on a glossily packaged box with 'Formula 1' printed on the cover and dashed home as fast as you can. What now? Well, you'll be pleased to know that before you can get started, you'll have to install everyones favourite piece of software: Direct X. Yes, the cause of more system malfunctions than I'd care to mention. If you already have it installed, then you still can't rest easy, because for some reason, F1 uses Microsoft Active Movie for it's video footage and that'll need installing too.
Still, installation is painless and you are given the choice of one of three versions of F1: 3DFX (the best option, of course), Rendition Verite (3D Blaster in other words) and Direct 3D (for those people with crap 3D cards: S3 Virge, Mystique, Power VR etc). Note; Because my Mystique is a 2Mb model, I was unable to test F1 with it and so could only play the game with my 3DFX.
So, with bated breath and sweaty palms I booted up the game and watched the glitchy rendered intro sequence, complete with large purple splotches. Quite nice but it didn't set my pants on fire, so to speak.
Into the very dark menu system, complete with a rather good CD audio soundtrack. The first thing that grabs you is how much this part of the game feels like a straight port from the Playstation. Having never played F1 on Sony's little box, I can't say for sure, but there was something very console-ly about the whole thing. You cycled through the menu options with the keyboard (no mouse support at all) and had to save your settings in one of a selection of 'memory blocks' much akin to what Playstation owners have to use. Now, this is a PC I'm using here, not a console. It might have been a good idea to revamp the front end for the PC, yes?
Still, that's only a minor gripe. The bigger gripes are still to come:Gripe No. 1 No Multiplayer Mode
I've looked and I've looked and I've looked, and nowhere can I see a multi-player option. Now, kick me if I'm wrong, but isn't a multiplayer option what every PC owner wants from his or her action games? Someone, somewhere has taken the conversion from the Playstation a little too literally.Gripe No. 2 - Graphical Glitches
The game is full of them. When racing round the tracks you can't help but notice that your tyres appear to be octagonal. Added to that, the writing round the tyres juts out over the edge of the tyre as if it was about to fly off or something. Polygon clipping bugs are rife: drive into a wall and chances are you'll get a weird shot of your car poking through the wall. Additionally, ramming into a pack of cars on a bend results in....interesting effects to say the least.Gripe No. 3 - Speed
Now I may not no much, but I thought these 3D accelerated games were supposed to be fast? Compared to Moto Racer, F1 moves as quickly as a snail on tranquilisers. It also tends to slow down drastically when things get busy. In the games defence, you can turn down the detail (specifically, the amount of detail the computer will draw 'into the distance'). Still, the game rarely turbos in the way you might hope and the framerate is rarely consistent. Faster PC's than mine may not suffer this problem, but I thought 3D cards were supposed to help offset upgrading your processor every five minutes?
Gripe No. 4 - Gameplay
The big one. I can't quite put my finger on it, but there seems to be something very wrong with the actual gameplay on offer here. The game just seems singularly unexciting. In arcade mode, all you really do is drive round the tracks at an unimpressive speed against computer opponents who are best described as 'thick'. They all bunch together on corners and are very easy to overtake, unless you are playing on a high difficulty setting, when they seem impossible to catch (well I couldn't...but then I'm crap). There really isn't enough to do in arcade mode to be honest, but that is where 'simulation' mode comes in.
Or rather, where 'simulation' mode would come in if it was actually any good. You see, although this mode is much more realisitc than arcade mode, it isn't anything like as 'real' as, say, Formula 1 Grand Prix 2. It just comes across as the arcade mode with added features. Your car is appropriately difficult to drive and takes an age to correct if you fly off onto the grass, but it still doesn't seem to have that certain something that the heavier sims have.Summing up
So, as a arcade game, it falls short. As a simulation, it falls short. It doesn't run fast enough, has graphical glitches, no multiplayer mode and doesn't reset my Orchid after quitting out, forcing me to reboot my machine (hurumph). What does it get right?
Well the graphics are nothing less than stunning. Pure eye candy, the likes of which PC owners of old will probably be quite unused to. The music is exceptionally good and I've listened to the audio tracks on the CD countless times. Murray Walker's commentary is enjoyable for the first couple of races but you soon want to turn him off (don't worry, you can.)
It seems a shame to roast the first major 3D card only product to hit the PC games market, but the sad truth is that F1 is not much good, nor has it ever been. Its success on the Playstation is more attributable to hype than to any real qualities the game has, and the whole product seems unfinished. Added to that, the PC port is scruffy in places and is a far too literal translation of the Playstation original. Improvements could have been made to the gameplay, a multi-player mode could have been added, but alas, what we have is a slavish port of a flawed original. I only hope that Wipeout 2097 (which has just received the same treatment from Psygnosis) will be suitably beefed up for the PC.
Tim Wright for Game Over!