Formula One 04
Sony is still winning the F1 race, but as pretty much the sole participant, does it come away with gold, or last place, in its latest edition?
With Rallisport Challenge 2 still consuming the best part of my free time, it took some considerable effort to drag myself away and indulge Sony's Formula One 04. See, were you to ask me, I'd say that each new F1 season amounts to nothing more than an annual spectacle of ingrained German efficiency, spearheaded by Mr Schumacher's efficiently-crafted German chin, wagging away at the after race press conference. All in all, it makes enduring 75-odd laps of motor racing a bit of a chore.
But because this is a game, and a Sports game at that, there's scope to knock Schumacher and friends off the winners podium and onto the searing hot tarmac beneath. If they're lucky, I might acknowledge them by spraying some champagne on their now simmering carcasses. That prospect alone should count for something and in this game it almost does, providing your willing to appreciate the developers approach to providing a realistic F1 title, and endure a learning curve set by the inventor of Spirograph.
The front end of things, the menus and what have you, are quite appealing; clean, stylised, logical, and littered with more modes of play (including online play) than what the real deal offers.
It's at this early stage where the dividing line between aficionado and newcomer is drawn, with both camps seemingly catered for with the simulation and arcade modes. "Seemingly" being the operative word; for these differences aren't rooted in the fundamental gameplay.
And with that said, the review may as well end for some of you. F1 04 is punishing to a degree that casts your local S&M Mistress in a flattering light - an observation that some of you (in particular fans of the sport) are probably relishing with all the zeal of a work-weary member of Parliament. And just like a session with "Mistress Dominique", it might be a tad na´ve to expect a reward proportional to the punishment endured. Still, there's no better place to find that out than in the career mode.
It's in career mode where the best part of the games' appeal lies, both in terms of longevity and appeal. You start out by giving yourself a name (if you're stumped for ideas, glance in your wallet), then move on to configuring your nationality and appearance (though from the piddling identikit selection available, there's little consideration made to anyone further east than Russia). From there, you come to your "homepage" if you like, where you can view e-mails (essentially mission briefings), F1 news and statistics regarding your performance. Beginning as a rookie with a test race in the presence of various teams' scouts, you progress through a typical F1 career until you reach the heights of the sport. It all sounds interesting enough and truth be told these components come together as a tight and engrossing package, but when the approach taken to the gameplay is so horribly contentious (with one particular element we'll get to later), you might feel less inclined to proceed.
The gameplay varies by virtue of two different modes - arcade and simulation. Simulation sees your car becoming far more of a dynamic force on the track, like a wild horse in desperate need of taming, whereas Arcade allows for a less demanding level of control. It's a shame then that the difference between the two modes is so negligible. In arcade, you can pretty much drive in a straight line without having to worry about swerving off into the tobacco-laden advertising boards. In simulation, you must remain in total control of the vehicle, as the moment you take your hands off the wheel (so to speak), you're likely to end up firmly set in the mould of a Laramie Cigarettes ad.
With the only other distinction between the two being the amount of damage you're able to incur, it leaves the option between them bordering on redundancy. It's true that whilst simulation offers up a more thrilling experience, it isn't offset by an intuitive and accessible arcade mode. Unfortunately, the reason why both arcade mode and simulation mode are so difficult to appreciate lays with the controls, and their poor implementation in this game.
I've said it a thousand times, but the PS2 joypad just isn't suited to driving games. When you've become accustomed to the accuracy that deep trigger buttons afford, using the analogue sticks of a PS2 pad to accelerate/decelerate is a difficult concession to make. In this instance, the unwieldy nature of this control set up makes F1 04 a difficult learning experience to swallow, and in particular makes negotiating the circuits troublingly exhausting.
Regardless of whether you use the analogue combination or the face buttons for accel/decel, the awkwardness of the former couple with the pressure-sensitive nature of the latter makes braking and accelerating a bit of a chore, regardless. Most corners in this game require you to slow down to a creep, and even then you'll be lucky to get your vehicle around the corner without coming to a complete standstill. It's a little disappointing to report how difficult the gameplay is, especially as beyond these problems, there's still some fun to be had - for F1 fans, at least.
Assuming you struggle through the controls, you'll find the rendering of the sport to be highly pleasing. Both cars and tracks are rendered to what I would say is a level befitting the PS2's current perceived power, with multiple camera angles and accurately captured engine noises providing a convincing backdrop to proceedings. Add to this a fully endorsed FIA license with all the trimmings (real cars and drivers), and any F1 fan couldn't ask for more. But what of your average PS2 owner?
The fact that the arcade mode simply doesn't distinguish itself from the more realistic aspects of the game, as well as the frustratingly realistic handling means this game doesn't reach beyond the restrictions set by the developer's pursuit of realism.
(See Latest Videos & Video FAQ Here)
|PLEASE DO NOT DIRECT LINK TO ANY MEDIA FILE ON KIKIZO|
Formula One 2004
Direct feed gameplay (640x480, 1Mbps)