Formula One Championship Edition
To someone new to the genre, you could be tricked by first impressions. Formula One Championship Edition looks the absolute business with its uber-detailed vehicles, superbly implemented reflections and lighting, plus weather effects that seem so realistic you might reach out for your umbrella once or twice. Opening the bonnet for closer inspection, however, and you'll find that not all the spark plugs are firing in unison. You see, this is the PS2's Formula One 06 in everything but the name change, reworked with beautiful visuals, but all-in-all a pretty old game that comes hampered by a few concerning handling issues.
In order to make Championship Edition more exciting than watching Songs Of Praises on valium, you might want to head straight over to the option screens and switch off every last one of the driving aids. Right from the off, no joking about. Okay, so maybe you could leave the virtual racing line on to get a thorough feel for the circuits and their respective braking points, yet the game looks so sharp that you can easily see the tire marks tracing the racing line anyhow. Assisted steering, traction control, anti-spin, anti-lock braking - it all needs to go.
Once all the driving aids have been ditched, you can then sign up for a tricky, grueling, World Championship season with almost as much head-turning attention to detail as the real thing. Every race weekend goes through a number of stages: Friday's your free practice, Saturday morning is also free practice, then three 15-minute qualifying sessions on Saturday afternoon and finally the race itself (on Sunday). While you can sometimes just ignore the first couple of race sessions (they are useful for memorizing those all important braking points, though), the qualifiers are a must, otherwise you'll be stuck at the back of the grid and more than likely lose parts of your car as you attempt to cut through the field.
Next comes the Grand Prix itself. There's plenty of big race atmosphere and hype, just like the TV shows. As cars wait to explode off the starting grid - sometimes literally - a heat haze makes the screen turn blurred (don't worry, you're not hallucinating) and the entourage of whining engines reaches fever pitch. And when the lights go out, the fight to race for the first corner can be pretty hair raising. On the hard setting at least, a couple of laps on and the initial buzz dies down and races then turn into lengthy battles of mind control and concentration - while trying not to mess around with the almost endless camera options (all the stunning TV angles are included) and careering off the track. Get stuck in midfield, and you'll find that the leading pack will steadily and relentlessly pull away, as if possessed by horse power demons under their bonnets and the pit stop strategy you decided before the race becomes all-important. Just like actual F1 racing, it can be, you know, a bit boring. It's incredibly fast, and sometimes you'll come across wrecked cars, but it can be a pretty lonely experience as a race wears on.
Until now the best example of pit-stopping in an F1 game was back in 1984 (if my memory stands correct) with the aptly-named Pit Stop II, where you'd actually direct the mechanics around as they worked on the vehicle. Since then F1 games have mostly opted for the mainly dull, automated stops, but F1 CE changes that tune - requiring you to press the correct buttons in accordance to the on-screen prompts to refuel and change tyres, which is a very nice touch indeed.
Keeping your car on the track is a challenge in itself, and the balance of the cars, on the whole, seems a bit off. They're a bit too twitchy, unresponsive and negotiating a corner involves a minimum of five tweaks of your analogue-stick. Imagine trying to control a shopping trolley with a wonky wheel (yes the ones with a mind of their own), except this one's traveling at speeds of up to 200mph. Whether this twitchiness is realistic is debatable, but one thing's for sure, it's not much fun.
Out on a straight, and it's a completely different story. The movement of the F1 vehicles still feels slightly haphazard, but the sensation of speed is quite exhilarating. Tearing along at break-neck speed, background lost in motion blur, F1 CE handles it all masterfully; running at a cool 60 fps. Unfortunately, once you come to another corner all that good work goes out the window. It's hard enough for something as limited as an F1 sim to compete with the likes of Ridge Racer or MotorStorm. Throw in some slightly erratic handling and those chances of challenging are even slimmer.
Championship Edition is super-realistic. Perhaps too much so for its own good. For F1 buffs it is ideal, but if you want an adrenaline-pumping ride on PS3, there's another game, with a big desert and mad vehicles, which does it all much better I'm afraid. One for the fanatics, then...