Formula One 2003
With EA no longer at the helm, Kikizo takes Sony's now-exclusive F1 racing title for a spin. Find out if it's any good right here.
By Kikizo Staff
Although previously one of a number of licenses held by EA, F1 2003 has the distinction of being the first title to be released as part of a new four-year licensing deal inked between Sony and the FIA. A deal that will see officially licensed F1 products released exclusively on PlayStation systems for the foreseeable future.
Coincidentally, the 2003 season is also the first to see significant changes made to the regulations governing the sport, all of which are accurately reflected in Sony's debut effort. Like the sport it emulates, F1 2003 is brilliant at times, and, well, less so at others. As a first effort, though, it provides a solid grounding from which to build upon.
A diverse, though not altogether surprising, selection of modes greets players upon startup: Arcade Race, Arcade Season, Custom Race, Race Weekend, World Championship and Time Attack. The arcade modes allow players to jump right into any event on the racing calendar with the driver and team of their choosing. Here, players accrue score, and in the case of Arcade Season, attempt to secure a place in the top eight in order to continue onto the next event. World Championship is of course the heart of the title, and it is here that players will race a full seasonal calendar in the hopes of claiming the right to be called the World Champion.
The multiplayer portion of the title presents players with similar options, including Custom Race, Arcade Race, Hotseat and Time Attack modes. Most notable is the Hotseat mode, here, up to four players (or one player controlling four cars) take turns in controlling a specific driver and car. Players are allotted a set amount of time, after which the computer usurps control of their driver and passes control onto the next racer.
The official license and all the accoutrements it provides notwithstanding, the presentation is bland and sterile, devoid of even the merest hint of personality. Upon starting the title, players are greeted with a maze of menu options; simply starting an arcade race requires the navigation of no fewer than five menu selections. It's hardly a problem, the current solution is entirely functional, but with a product of this status, players expect a certain level of 'splash', for lack of a better word.
Things don't fare much better away from the labyrinthine menu structure either. Once the required selections have been made, races begin immediately. No fly-bys; no summary of the expected track and weather conditions; no overview of the starting grid or a recap of the events that have transpired during the race weekend; and no warm-up lap. Players are simply dropped into their car and sent on their way. Needless to say, the race atmosphere is non-existent.
As a spectacle, F1 2003 leaves much to be desired, as far as the actual racing is concerned though, it's an admirable recreation of the sport. In fact, trite as the phrase may be, there's something for everyone; races can be tweaked to allow for everything from arcade-style jaunts to precision simulations. Difficulty, race length, brake wear, fuel usage, and damage, among other variables, can all be toggled to accommodate a user's specific predisposition.
One wonders why anyone would want to go bounding through a gravel trap or hurtle into other racers in an F1 car, but the fact that the developers saw fit to include the option is most certainly welcome. And if nothing else, it allows players to increase the game's complexity as their skill level rises. While players can expect to pretty much do as they please on the lower settings, the other end of the scale will require dedication, practice and intense concentration in order to excel.
It is here that the game truly begins to shine. With significant time behind the wheel comes the inevitable shaved seconds off a best lap time, a great passing maneuver or a pole position; feats that are all remarkably rewarding, and having put in the effort, a true sense of achievement and pride can be felt. As expected, car and driver selection have an immediately noticeable impact upon your performance, leaving true die-hards to test their mettle by competing in one of the lesser team's vehicles. If desired, various tuning and tweaking options are available, all of which are performed through the use of basic sliders and checkboxes.
A malady present in just about every single Formula One title ever produced, the AI in F1 2003 can be best described as 'inconsistent' and at worst, reckless. Even on the hardest settings, opposing drivers appear to have little sense of self-preservation, diving in on the inside at the merest hint of a gap, no matter how risky, and then not backing off even though the player clearly has the advantage. The racing line seems to be the determining factor in the erratic behaviour of the AI drivers. If they're not on it, they'll literally do whatever it takes to get back on it as soon as possible.
Crashes, too, leave much to be desired, defying, at times, all known laws of gravity and even common sense. Driving into the back of another vehicle while doing in excess of 100mph will send cars spinning or flying high into the air. Touch a wall at under 60mph and it'll rip the wheels off your car. Even the simplest accidents lack credibility; hitting the wall, for example, will see pieces fall off the car in large chunks, as opposed to the vehicle itself breaking apart, and then do so in a manner so contrived that any sense of believability is lost. Granted, realistic damage modeling is exceptionally difficult to achieve, but this is an area that SCEE will definitely need to focus on in future efforts.
Consistent with the rest of the title, the visuals are neither here nor there, a mixed bag, if you will. The various tracks and team liveries are accurately recreated, and minor details like functional steering wheel speedometers and the movement of the driver's head inside the cockpit add much to the overall atmosphere. Then of course, you see things like the flat, cardboard cutout spectators and the woeful gravel trap effects. Somewhat baffling is the inclusion of commentary, given that you can only listen to it when in Spectator mode -- in other words, when you watch the computer-controlled racers, which is about as much fun as watching paint dry.
During the races themselves, you're simply informed of your current race status via radio, or in the case of the arcade modes, forced to listen to the grating squeals and yells over an over-excited announcer, who, oddly enough, is not one of the licensed commentators; just some random fool blurting out utter drivel such as "You damaged your car!" Being what it is, naturally the soundtrack consists of a great deal of engine noise, and while the truly rabid sect will no doubt have some cause for complaint, the whine and roar of the engine as you shift through the various gears is commendable enough.
In spite of its problems, F1 2003 is an enjoyable racer. With time and effort, many of these problem areas can and should be addressed and with a number of years still to run on their contract, Sony has plenty of time to do just that. A tentative purchase recommendation.