*Update* as of late November 2011 an patch has fixed many of the issues that dogged the original build of F1 2011, therefore, I have updated the score to the 3.5 it now deserves. Although the broken elements are gone, the lack of matchmaking is still an issue.
Before delving deeply into the co-op specific aspects of a game it is important to cover the basics of gameplay, graphics, sound etc. Of course, when a game allows you to effectively play the single player game in co-op, in theory everything should be covered in the co-op review. However, this does not differentiate between a bug free single player championship and bug filled co-op championship – you following me? Welcome to the world of F1 2011.
Aesthetically, F1 2011 is a great looking game; it has a clean feel that portrays the glamour of the sport, but also the slightly standoffish elements e.g. bland interviews, cold environments. Formula One is a sport that is played by the rich, while the hoi polloi get to watch from afar. I’m not sure if Codemasters were aiming for a slightly sterile feel to the game, but that is what you get. Each of the 19 tracks for the 2011 season are present and are faithfully recreated.
Perhaps the most impressive element of the game is how adaptable it is. By tweaking the simple to use settings you can create a game that spans the full gamut from arcade to simulation. Turn everything to easy, with assists switched on, and you almost have an on rails racer that will see you crowned champion in the worst car. Turn off the assists and you have a game that plays more like a simulation i.e. you spin off and spend half the time in a gravel trap.
With the introduction of safety cars, DRS and the KERs system, there are even more options to switch on and off than in F1 2010. Players can also determine exactly how long they want to race for; full practice, full qualification and full race times are included, but people who want to get on with the game can reduce everything down to a quick qualification and 3 laps of the track.
The majority of customisation found in the single player is also available in the co-op championship. Before embarking on a 19 race season a quick chat between players will help you determine how you want to play; arcade or simulation? This gives you great freedom when playing with different players. Unfortunately, with only one co-op save, playing more than one friend at a time won’t be possible – an oversight by Codemasters.
Yet another oversight by the developers comes in the form of no matchmaking in co-op. To start a game you will have to have someone on your friends list ready to play. This means organising a race will often take place online or via voice chat before you load up the game – something Co-Optimus is good for, but really shouldn’t be necessary in modern co-op gaming. In many ways the need to communicate well to actually start a game will determine how well you co-operate within the game.
Formula One is a team sport by name, but really it’s a sport for individual drivers. Although you play co-op with a friend within your team, you also vie for the best times and positions in the hopes of becoming the team’s number one driver. This will get you access to upgrades before the other player, furthering your advantage. This level of competition may not bother some co-op friends, who are happy to aid one another, but in some cases it may drive you apart and make for a competitive experience with little regard for actually cooperating.
In theory, what I have already mentioned should cover the co-op aspects of the game; brilliantly customisable, but perhaps only as co-operative as two player choose it to be. However, since the game released on 22nd September there have been numerous bugs that have plagued the co-op aspects of the game. To quote myself:
1. A great feature of the co-op championship is that you can save your progress and return as a duo at a later date. However, once you reload your save it will always set the AI to the lowest level, no matter what difficulty you are playing. This means you could set the game at a 'professional' level, but the AI acts like it is a beginner. This bug sometimes appears intermittently between qualifying and race days.
2. Your finishing position is not always guaranteed. "Congratulations, you came 1st." However, there is a bug that can place you anywhere in the final standings as the game struggles to compute some overtaking. "Congratulations, you actually came 14th."
3. You can ruin your tyres in qualifying, only to start the race on new tyres. A small issue, but on a game that can be set up as simulation style racing, this will annoy the hard-core players.
These three elements join together to undermine all the best elements of the single player experience so that the co-op is essentially broken. Any players wanting to play the game in simulation will be totally undermined by the broken AI and tyres issues. Even those gamers who just want to play on easy and romp to victory will become unstuck by the bug that often places you further down the field than you should be – as I said, broken.
Having contacted Codemasters they informed me that a patch is being designed that will hopefully fix all these major issues. My follow up enquiry was to ask exactly when the patch would be ready; unfortunately they replied:
Impossible to say with accuracy at this point I'm afraid, we're currently still investigating a number of reported issues.
Therefore, for the foreseeable future F1 2011 is a good looking, but slightly aloof single player game that brilliantly allows players to customise an F1 season to their individual tastes. This should be directly applicable to the co-op campaign as the majority of solo game is the same, except the co-op is broken. Any future patches may fix the co-op issues raising it from a ‘car crash’ 1 out of 5, to the ’third place podium’ 3.5.