Formula One games: love them or hate them, you can ignore them. And many people do, dismissing them as too dry, overly technical, and -gasp - boring. All valid points of course, and accusations which can be levelled not only at the games, but also at the sport they depict. Make no mistake, Formula One can be a dull sport to watch, and is best observed through one eye while nursing a hangover and/or cupping your balls. Whatever you do, don't make the mistake of actually attending one of these cursed events. I speak as someone who has twice made this error, the first time on an all-expenses paid jolly to Spa, in Belgium. Holding a cherished gold ticket afforded me the best seat in the house, providing a unique opportunity to be deafened and to enjoy a close-up view of the occasional streak of colour while watching the race on an overhead television. The second occasion was in the plebs area at Silverstone, which involved getting very wet and having to check in the paper the next day to see who won.
Not the ideal spectator sport then, but for the 22 lunatics at the wheel it's an absolute whiteknuckle ride that pisses on any rollercoaster, and one which F1 2002, manages to replicate in unparalleled detail for a PC F1 sim. Imagine tearing along a thin strip of tarmac at 200 miles an hour, with your arse cheeks mere inches from the asphalt, and death mocking your every mistake. Well imagine no more. Set yourself up with a decent wheel, slouch down in your chair and move close to the monitor and it almost feels as though you're in the thick of it, with the force feedback sending shudders up your forearms as you glide over every bump and divot.
Whatever your thoughts about Formula One, F1 2002 is a game of such quality that it actually makes you care. It's so immersive, detailed and entertaining that you actually want to try really hard in qualifying, in order to secure a decent position on the grid, where split seconds can make the difference between the contenders and the also-rans. It's so much fun that you won't even want to restart every race when your car picks up any damage. You can even safely play full-length races, and carefully judged pitstops can give you a huge advantage. It's almost unheard of from an F1 game, and as with its predecessor you can customise each race to either anally-hardcore proportions or simply play from a more arcadey behind-car viewpoint. Buy F1 2002 and you'll be able to live the dream, in whatever way you may envisage it.
Automatic For The People
However, if you want to play the game as realistically as possible, you're going to have to prepare yourself for some extensive car tweaking. It's easy to dismiss this as essentially a typical EA Sports wash-and-brush-up of the last version of the game, but on closer inspection you'll soon find that this year's model comes with far more features (see boxout), catering for F1 lovers of all abilities from Richie Shoemaker to Michael Schumacher.
With all the aids switched on, it's virtually monkey proof, enabling you to tear round the tightest of tracks with aplomb. However, simply switch the autobrake off and you realise you haven't actually been playing the game at all, rather that it's been playing you. There are so many driver aids - brake, steering, shift, clutch, invulnerability, stability - that finding a happy medium is almost impossible, unless of course you're content to play the game as a glorified destruction derby. Worse still, all of the aids can be altered ingame, so you often find yourself switching off the autobrake in an attempt to make up time, and then flicking it back on as you approach a tricky chicane. It's tantamount to cheating. And that's before you've even started tinkering with the Al drivers' ability and aggression.
Towing The Line
It's a minefield, but to be honest that's the only real quibble with what is a superb Formula One game. It looks and sounds brilliant, has all the latest data and even the Al is up to scratch.
Traditionally the cars stick to the racing line like shit to a blanket, but here they do seem to have some sense of self-preservation, although that said, they aren't completely averse to giving you the occasional nudge, making for some seat of the pants racing. Hats off to EA then, whose ruthless business model has seen them forge ahead in the F1 stakes. While Geoff Crammond takes an age to deliver outdated efforts, F1 2002 is sitting pretty in pole position.
More Graphs Please
Following last year's positive review of EA's F1 game, we received a sackload of mail (well, one crudely daubed letter) berating our lack of professionalism for recommending a game that didn't feature telemetry. We weren't overly sure what it was then, and we've only just about worked it out now, the reason being that this is the first time an EA F1 game has featured it. In fact, F12002 has stacks of the stuff, and after each session you can sit and stare at countless graphs that chart your lap times and performance at each corner and at every straight, until your eyes bleed. You'll need to really know your stuff if you're going to either enjoy or understand what it's all about, but if you are a hardcore F1 obsessive, you'll be in your element and will find that it can make up those few extra split seconds for you. Happy now?