Following on from last year's excellent F1 Championship: Season 2000, F12001 takes all the charisma and playability from its predecessor, and improves the formula with a sublime graphical revamp. Driven by a new engine that packs four times as many polygons onto your screen than Season 2000, each vehicle is rendered like a work of art on wheels. As always though, there's a...
If you want to experience this racer in all its glory you're going to need a machine heftier than a romp between Ann Widdecombe and Frank Butcher, which means a 1 Ghz processor, 128Mb RAM and a graphics card packing more speed than Brixton. However, even with a lower end machine you can still enjoy what is undoubtedly the most customisable and entertaining GP game to date.
The beautiful visuals are backed up by some slick presentation in which tracks, cars and drivers are introduced by Jim Rosenthal. Newcomers will find a set of superb tutorials that guide you through each track, demonstrating how to tackle every corner as you spectate from the back of a two-seater F1 car, before you have a go yourself. However, F1200V s strongest feature is versatility. Unlike GPGwith its vat-like quota of complexity and mind-blowing realism, F12001 comes with a set of options that allow you to configure the game exactly to your liking. So if you want, you can spend countless hours poring over your car set-up, shifting your gear ratios, damping, springs, ride height, fuel load and downforce. However, if you're more into the arcade style of racing, simply customise your car on the Basic Set-Up screen, turn on a couple of driving aids, select the behind car viewpoint and get driving. What's more, you can play just as easily from a behind-car viewpoint as you can from the cockpit view, again catering for simulation and arcade fans alike. Unlike all of its V competitors, F12001 ships with all of this season's teams, drivers y and cars. Which of course means you can test yourself against young upstart Montoya and old fart Hakkinen, or drive the ever-improving Jaguar or the always-losing Benetton.
Crap rhyming aside though, the AI has been hugely improved and bares an uncanny resemblance to its real-life counterparts, and you can configure your opponents' aggression depending on your ability. Stick them on low and they'll back off without too much of a fight, while higher aggression levels fall just short of opponents chasing you round the pit lane with a pneumatic drill aimed at your head.
There are however still some bugs that need ironing out, most notably the ridiculous floating car effect when you race from the behind-car viewpoint, and some occasionally dodgy physics which can see your car launch into the air at the merest shunt. Then there's the pit communications. Who the hell came up with those? The babbling idiot on the other end of your earpiece supplies you with useless pieces of information such as: "This is the last lap, don't stop now."
F12001 is undoubtedly the finest PC F1 game to date. It may lack the depth and utter realism of GP3, but crank up the difficulty level far enough, and it isn't that far behind, while the stunning graphics and excellent changeable weather effects make GP3 look about as attractive as a puddle of birthing fluid. The true beauty of it is that you can make it anything you want it to be, be it arcade, simulation or a mixture of the two, and it willingly obliges in every case.
The problem with most sims is that they're always going to appeal to a niche market. F12001 has broken that mould. Let's hope others follow its lead.