Another F1 game from Codemasters… but this one is very different. ‘F1 Online: The Game‘ doesn’t just feature racing, you can build your own team from scratch, from the livery to the factory itself. Some fans have been lucky enough to try it already and Dan Selby has written a review for WTF1.

Take it away Dan…

First off, I was quite surprised to see it was entirely web-based. No software to download, just through your web browser. You can also adjust to full screen and adjust the resolution. Unfortunately, I couldn’t use 1080 in full screen.

You are given two options – Formula 1, or Create Your Own Team. I havn’t had a go of the Formula One path yet (odd considering it’s an F1 game..), but one can presume Bernie didn’t like the idea of fictional teams taking on the F1 grid, which is a shame.

I was more intrigued by the custom team option, so went with that. I was then asked my team name, and to choose a logo for my team. You can pick a base logo which mainly consist of a basic foundation shape. You can then build another (slightly) more intricate logo on top, to create a badge effect. You can change the colours of all of these layers. The logos were mainly quite zany, but there’s some nice looking realistic ones to play with.

All the way through, you have prompts on screen to help you navigate. Next up, you must pick your colour schemes/liveries for your team, and then your helmet. You are given about 8 preset colour schemes, along with about the same amount of patterns. The colour schemes were very zany (pink/whites, cyans/darker blues). Patterns ranged from a Brawn style design, to more ‘out there’ designs (rips down the sidepods etc). Truth be told, getting a combination that didn’t either look generic, or cheap, was quite a challenge. I was pretty disappointed by the lack of colour schemes. One good thing about the colour schemes is the ability to change the order of the 3 colours in your scheme. For instance, using Brawn as an example, you could have the car predominantly in the lime green colour, with the trim in white/black. I was relieved to find out that there are many unlockable colour schemes (looked to be about 30-40 overall). I managed to put together a Caterham/Lotus style livery, using predominantly matte black with metallic black strips down the middle. Quite nice! Unfortunately, at this stage, you needed Codemasters Points to unlock these styles, which, I did not have.

The two main sections are the Race Hub (where you can access your Garage, see Achievements, your money etc), and the HQ (where you develop your car ie. engines, wings, gearboxes, general R&D). The Race Hub is as you’d expect: Your junior catagory spec car in the center (which you can spin round rFactor style), with options all around you. The HQ is set out like something out of the Sims/’Theme’ series, so it’s almost instantly familiar. I had a tinker with this section, built a couple of buildings and developed a new front/rear wing for our car. This is definitely something you’ll need to pay attention to, and will be a case of just getting used to it. Without the prompts, it can actually be a little overbearing. It’s definitely along the same vein as some of the older/more favoured F1 managerial games.

You are advised by a member of your team to try out some Quick Races to earn some quick cash, in order to develop your car more, and move up the ranks. Once you click on Quick Race, you are quickly taken to a screen showing you a fictional track (i’m guessing they use these for the lower catagories – there seemed to be approx 6-8 overall), and next to it a list of drivers who are currently in the lobby for this upcoming race. It then gives you a 20 second countdown, then takes you to the grid (no qualifying/practice). Loading times were good, but once you reach the grid, you always then get an extra loading time to ‘wait for the other players’, which was a little annoying.

The controls were not what I was expecting. At all. Left click for acceleration, right click braking, and mouse for steering. I have to say, it did not feel right for the first few corners. Then suddenly something clicks (no pun intended), and you suddenly realise that this is doable. The view makes things really strange. It flirts with being a purely top-down racer, but then at points the camera swings round, going side-on, and then somewhere in between. It can be a little off-putting at first, especially on an unfamiliar track (fortunately, your first ‘test session’ is at Abu Dhabi, where there’s little in the way of challenge..). Once you acclimatise, it’s really quite good looking, if not a little ‘cute’.

After a few races, you can even have some good wheel-to-wheel battles (that’s depending on the level of your opponents, of course. My first few races had some good racers, but after that, I seemed to end up in a pool of idiots). Me and another racer exchanged places about 3 times over the course of a lap without making any major contact. But on the flipside, you can get people trying to run you off the track, especially at hairpins. This is especially frustrating when you’re leading a group of cars in a decent position, as you then have to hit Backspace to be re-inserted in to the race, usually about 5 places down. I let out a few battle cries at times, it has to be said…

There’s no damage to report of, which will upset many purists, i’m sure. But once you play the game, you’ll realise why this is probably a good thing (see above paragraph). The races I played were only 3 laps long, so you do not have much time to make up positions after an accident. I’m not sure whether there’s an option to adjust race length, but you’d have to assume so.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that both KERS and DRS are available. KERS is activated using the space button, and DRS using the D button. DRS seemed slightly random in races at times, but the same principle applies in that you’ll have to be within  1 second of the car infront in order to use it. Detection points were not clearly marked. It’s also worth mentioning that the sound could use a little work. In my (only) experience with the F1 cars (at the sole Abu Dhabi test), the shifts sounded a bit clunky. Other than that, it’s what you’d expect.

Overall, this may not be what you’re expecting, but that’s not to say it’s a bad thing. You have the simluation/development aspects that sim-heads were hoping for, set out in a ‘Theme’ esque manner, while the racing feels like a cross between Micro Machines, and a Miniclips online based game. Although this all sounds a bit cheap and hokey, it’s actually quite fun.

The test will be longevity, something I have not being able to experiment with, for obvious reasons.

Overall, I think this’ll be a ‘Marmite’ title – you’ll dig it, or bin it.