Although driving and racing games seem to be my ‘thing’ here on Ready Up – something which I’m very happy about by the way! – Formula 1 has never really been a bright light in my life. As a fan I find the combination of processional races around cookie-cutter Herman Tilke tracks with the mind-numbingly complex set of rules, regulations and mid-season changes a little sterile and a little confusing.
F1 games have also left me feeling a bit ‘Meh’ on the whole as the franchise lurched from one bad incarnation to another, disappeared, re-emerged and drifted past me with a look which, to me, simply said “sorry, we’ll try better…”
F1 Online takes the whole thing and looks at it from a different perspective though. You aren’t just – or even – a driver, you’re responsible for looking after the whole team. For researching and developing parts, for looking after the commercial side of things, for getting your car around the tracks in a reasonably decent time and for progressing your team up the ranking from Class U to Class A.
The learning curve is reasonable and the game provides some hints and tips by the way of characters who walk you through the various functions as and when you are able to access them. There are no tips however to learning the actual driving process for racing in the game.
Being web-based the controls are limited to mouse and keyboard. Being a top-down (sort-of) racer the ideas of left and right are set aside and you steer by basically holding the mouse pointer ahead and to one side, or the other of your car. Accelerate and brake are either mouse buttons, or ‘W’ and ‘S’ on the keyboard and you can invoke KERS or DRS through keystrokes too. At this point the game assumes that you know what both KERS and DRS are so if you don’t you’ll need to work that stuff out!
Initially the races you’ll do are ‘Quick Races’ and last three laps. This is just about long enough for you to work out which way the track goes before you finish last-ish. Don’t worry though, that’s what these races are for, getting to know the tracks and the handling and earning enough basic funds that you’ll be able to get started on the bigger leagues!
That’s the basics, what did Update 2 bring to the mix?
Well some gameplay features have been added, including soft-punishments for cutting corners slightly, through a slow-down. There are also improvements to the overall look of the game and to the buildings as well as a whole bunch of bug and issue fixes.
The two BIG additions though are the Japan race locations and the ability to keep a list on in-game friends with whom you can race. The second social element is pretty important as it provides a greater level of involvement and investment. “I’ll be on-line at 6, let’s race”:
From now on you’ll notice a new icon in your menu bar inside F1 Online: The Game. Clicking this will open up your Friends List which will allow you to instantly see which of your friends are online and what they are up to. You can add friends by name from the Friends page after logging into the F1 Online: The Game website or alternatively you can send invitations directly to your competitors after any race, from the Race Results table.
Racing together with your friends is easy; simply open up your Friends List, select the friends you want to race with and send them a Group Race invite. You and your friends will be entered straight into a Quick Race event, where you can race as buddies or battle hard to beat one another – it’s up to you!
If you’re busy working on your HQ and not in the mood for racing with friends, you can quickly and easily set your online status to ‘Busy’. This means you won’t receive any more race invitations until you’re ready to race again, at which point you can just switch back to ‘Available’.
The additional circuits in Japan add something different to the mix though. We’re used to racing on mice safe, friendly tracks with run-offs and curbs and wide, wide straights. The three tracks in Japan bring us street racing at its tight and claustrophobic best.
They also provide some pretty demanding effort to set up your cars correctly:
Route 1- Kitamachi Kaido – A relatively short route, which goes through the heart of the city. You’ll need responsive braking and good acceleration to negotiate the tight downtown streets.
Route 2- Higashi Kokado – The track features many long straights and tight corners, so a balanced low drag setup will be your best choice.
Route 3- Ryokuen Route – High downforce will help during the winding midsection, but make sure your load out has a high top speed to tackle the length of this track.
Even if racing games aren’t your thing, even if Formula 1 isn’t your thing, then it might be worth giving this a go. It’s got something that’s a bit… different. Yes there are some niggles – albeit personal ones – with the controls, but I’ll bet that with a few more hours under my belt I’ll be pretty slick around a couple of the tracks!