Formulatic, Of One

For as long as I remember there has been one sport that has been represented by video games from a very early start.  It wasn’t until the mid nineties that we started to see the true potential of these games, as up until this point the representations in games had been a bit blocky and not fully embracing the essence of the sport.  The first time I came across a game that was meant to emulate the sport was in the very early eighties and went by the name of Pole Position.  No, it wasn’t a game about lap dancing, it was of course the spectacle that is Formula 1.  Pole Position was amongst the first generation of games based around Formula 1 and featured a staggering, one track, no reverse courses or mirror tracks, just one single track.  The thing about Pole Position was that it actually looked pretty decent for a game of that era, I was always impressed with the shine on the tyres for some reason.  Over the next decade and a half we were treated to numerous attempts at creating the Formula 1 experience, these were also joined by advances in racing games in general, all of them paving the way for what was to come.

Look at the sheen on the tyres!

The 1980s were a boom time for the racing genre, almost to the point of saturation, with the advances in technology and the ability to move detailed car sprites around screens, arcades were filled with driving games.  Most notably, Out-Run was probably the racing game, and maybe even the game that defined 80s arcade and driving games, but it was no Formula 1.  As the 80s passed more Formula 1 games were released, strangely, not many spring to mind, there was a Nigel Mansell branded game and an arcade racer called “Continental Circus”.  Continental Circus was actually meant to be called Continental Circuit but in a mix up somewhere along the line the Circus was mistakenly added and it stuck.  As the 80s drew to a close we were treated to some of the most highly regarded Formula 1 inspired games, and indeed the ones that people seem to remember the most.  First up was the Super Sprint series, which differed from most driving games as it was viewed from a top-down perspective and also had four steering wheels on the arcade cabinet.  It was immensely good fun to play with a few friends and was the cause of many a wasted week’s pocket money, sadly home versions of the game couldn’t emulate the frenzied fun of the arcade.  Later in the 80s Sega released Super Monaco GP in the arcades and it filtered through to the home systems, it is regarded by many as one of the better Formula 1 games available, due to the fact that the home versions featured 16 tracks from the GP season.  The tracks weren’t totally accurate to the real thing, but it was a change to have so many tracks to race around.  The 90s saw an explosion in Formula 1 games with almost six times as many Formula 1 games released as there were during the previous decade.  Many of the purists will slaughter me if I don’t mention the Geoff Crammond series of games, which are highly praised due to their attention to detail in both car set up and customisation, I’m sorry to say I’ve never had the chance to play any of these games.

I'm sure there's a version with four wheels.

As gaming progressed during the 90s, companies were lavishing more and more time, effort and money to ensure games looked and felt right, midway through the decade one company got it spot on.  Bizzare Creations released a game in 1996 called simply, Formula 1 and it hit the nail right on the head for racing fans everywhere.  Featuring all the drivers, cars and tracks from the previous season’s racing it was the most complete and authentic Formula 1 game available, using the license to its fullest potential and using a television style presentation it was a joy to play.  The following year we were gifted, the  just a little better, Formula 1 97, which wasn’t hugely different from its predecessor, but seemed to offer a good bit more, I was hooked!  The presentation was exactly as it was on the television coverage, the commentary was all there, the tracks had been recreated so that they were recognisable, the cars had the correct livery and all the drivers were present except Jaques Villeneuve, who wanted money for his name, so he was just down as a Player.  I would regularly come home from work and play through an entire 50-60 lap race, basically to see if I could but mostly because I was enjoying it so much, it was essential for a Formula 1 fan.  I remember one particular race I was playing through, it was the Hungarian Grand Prix and I had been leading the race for the past ten laps, I was on my 50th lap and there were a few laps left to finish the race.  This race was part way through the season I had been playing through and a win was vital to keep my championship hopes alive, I raced down a straight before a left hand turn and then a right hand bend, as I throttled out of the bend my engine blew up and I was forced to retire, I was livid.  The best part of two hours gone and no points on the board, I was going to have to drive like never before to finish the season and I did, it was great I had been drawn right in to the experience and was loving every minute, a game done brilliantly.

How can you not love F1 97?

Sadly when you’ve played such a good game it raises the benchmark to extreme levels and can also prejudice your opinions on future games, this is exactly what happened with myself and Formula 1 97.  The bar had been raised so high that nothing could come close to it and as the sport faltered in real life so did the games.  Masters of all things sporty and annual, EA, acquired the Formula 1 license and produced some turgid piles of rot, the handling was wrong, the effort wasn’t there and the spirit had gone, I pulled my Formula 1 spirit into the pits and got off the ride.  Interest was slightly piqued, when a new Formula 1 game was released for the Playstation 3 under the name of Formula 1 Championship Edition and it was actually very good.  It looked and played the part but sadly was still lacking in the spirit that was so prevalent years ago, this was in part largely due to the actual sport of Formula 1 becoming hugely turgid itself; gone was the skill and passion only to be replaced by money and safety rules that have crippled the spectator enjoyment of the sport,  would it ever return?  Out of the pits with a fresh set of tyres, this month sees the release of F1 2010 by the respected Codemasters studio and it looks to be the game that will once again ignite my dormant passion for this one time sport of kings.  Watch out for our review to find out if my soul has been taken or broken.

F1 2010, ooh, lovely.

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2 responses to “Formulatic, Of One”

  1. Mark P avatar

    You know I think I remember playing Pole Position. Was it not the case that every car in the race (except yours, obviously) just zips off into the horizon never to be seen again?

  2. Simon avatar
    Simon

    I think that lap-dancing idea needs to be pursued by someone.

    The tyre sheen is actually really great there…….it’s amazing what a few white pixels can do.

    I remember playing a Microprose game in the late 90s, simply called Grand Prix 2……I loved it……but now I’m thinking I might be remembering the same one you’ve mentioned from that era.

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