[Preview] F1 Online: The Game

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F1 Online: The Game NDA Lifted

Do you have any great screenshots or video taken from the Closed Beta that you'd like share?

With the end of Closed Beta yesterday, the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) has been lifted. This means you are free to talk about the game and share your experiences.

We'd love to hear about your best moments from the Closed Beta.
This was the message I received on my Facebook page the other day, meaning I can now finally get going with my thoughts on this upcoming title.

First, some boring historical stuff.

F1 Online is the latest F1-based title to come out of Codemasters, who since taking over the licence for Formula 1 games have produced highly respectable games, of such quality that thoughts of F1 games on PS1 are now but a distance memory(1998's version being particularly nasty...). They haven't gone down the EA route of churning out titles and spin-off titles, even though the F1 crowd are usually quite demanding when it comes to having yearly titles. Instead Codemasters have preferred to place an emphasis on quality over quantity, a choice that has paid off in my opinion. I've never wanted to pay out for a new game every year just for the same tracks and some slight driver changes, so the approach taken by the developers pleases me quite a bit.
It's for this reason that I didn't purchase F1 2011; despite the introduction of KERS, DRS and the new Indian track it'll still handle like the older title that I still play, F1 2010. There wasn't enough to warrant my shelling out full whack for that one, but I might be tempted to get the 2012 game. Might. But we'll have to wait and see for later on in the year.

The Game - Firing it up

And so we bring our attention to F1 Online: The Game. It's a browser-based game, running off the Unity game engine. Having seen the Unity engine running a polygon-based game in the form of The Borealis Express(of Mojam Bundle fame), I had high hopes of this being fairly fast and smooth. Maybe not too aesthetically pleasing in terms of textures and smoothness of polygons, but high FPS figures looked like they could well be on.
When the opportunity came up to join a closed beta I immediately signed up, and waited. Before long it was confirmed that the beta was ready to test out so off I went.

There are two main game modes, a generic F1 season with authentic teams and tracks, and a career mode where you take the time to build up your own team and become your own success story. The Season mode was alright, you pick from one of three available teams, have a couple of races where you try and unlock them permanently, before it rotates to another three teams. You can unlock the teams prematurely, but I'll get to that later.
The main focus of this preview is on Career mode, the main bulk of Codemaster's attention went here and I can understand why; there aren't many true management-type games out there for racing games without entering deep dark levels of obsession(and Google-Fu) and the lazy bastards like me have been crying out for it for some time. The purists amongst us F1 fans will still get a lot of enjoyment out of Season mode, but for pure novelty and the desire to make my own F1 car, I suspect Career is going to be the focus for many gamers out there. I created a team(M1nardi F1, as Minardi was sadly banned from being used in all other shapes and forms) and had a poke about the various menus.

Above: in-game graphics are pretty fucking lush. Not bad for a free browser-based game eh?

Dreaded Microtransactions...

Presentation is incredibly slick, in fact the menus and various options wouldn't look out of place on a console game. Ease of accessibility is quite visible throughout the entire game, including the horrid microtransaction store. In order to make this a free game, Codemasters have introduced a store where you can purchase various aesthetic items such as liveries, helmets, sponsor labels and so on. There also appear to be purchasable development points that you can spend on your team's infrastructure, introducing a form of pay-to-win for the impatient amongst you. I personally am a big hater of pay to win items, and will thoroughly enjoy beating people who've spent a small fortune on getting their team's abilities up. Such as I already do on TF2, my Heavy with a plain ol' minigun simply wading through masses of noobs who buy extra-nice gear thinking it's a shortcut to greatness. Assuming of course it's actually possible to win a race or three against these transaction users.

Moving away from MT's, onto the restrictive part

So what can you do exactly? Well you can tinker with your livery, although it's quite restrictive. I was expecting the ability to choose at least my own choices of colour after reading the press release blurb, but you're in fact limited to a palette of about 10 swatches, each made of of colours that are similar to each other. Three shades of blue? Green, dark green and black? Pinks and purples? No option to pick and choose as I see fit. You can rotate the colours within your chosen swatch so you could have say, dark green, green and black or black, dark green green. These colours apply themselves to various parts of your bodywork and to unlock more colours and livery layouts, you have to either level up via racing, or... yep, MT's. I plumped for a grey/light blue/blue swatch and applied it to the car to look a bit like this:
Yes, it's an old Minardi  - exactly what I wanted to go for. But With the limited colours and livery layouts, this was the only way I could get a Minardi livery. You could have had a BMW Sauber one easily enough, or an older Williams. But during the racing the lack of variety showed as you could see green-ish cars, yellow cars, blue cars, a lot that looked like the Minardi above, but amusingly hardly any red ones.
See what I mean about the swatches, over on the right? Hardly what I'd call a decent choice. But hey, MT store.


Fine, fine. Let's stop whining about MT's and get on with the way it plays. The actual building/development is fairly quick to make happen once you get into it, but the tutorial(which can't be switched off, in case you're a hater of tutorials. Don't though, this one's quite good) asks you to jump into a race. So you click on the Quick Race button, and join a lobby which fills up reasonably quickly. Then after a short bit of loading, you're off.

The controls can be configured to you flavour, but the defaults give you the mouse for steering(via a big green arrow you direct around with your pointer), throttle and brakes(mouse buttons) which leaves you D for DRS and Space for KERS. Early on, your KERS doesn't feel that effective but as you progress through the game it's possible to upgrade it so hang in there.

Driving is done from a semi-top down view, reminiscent of Micro Machines from the 16-bit era - and is a lot of fun. The cars handle very nicely, and once you get the hang of it and the track layout, if you do make a mistake it's more often than not your fault, and it feels like it's your fault too. The biggest problem with the driving however, is the standards of your rivals. All too often I was nerfed out of 3rd place due to someone using me as their brakes, or simply just shoving me aside. A consequence of making an F1 game easily accessible would appear to be attracting the idiots that ruin online racing games such as Forza, over on the console scene. If I've cut a corner in a close race I'll back off and hand the position back if required. More and more it seems, I'm going to have to resort to ever-deeper probing of the internet to find an online racer that's actually got fast but fair drivers in. It'll have to be the deep parts because if they were more commonly known, I'm sure they'd have their share of idiots too.

Gaming Mannerisms

These games exist, I found out they do during a trip to Truro a couple of weeks ago. And that, apart from my major complaint about microtransactions, is my biggest complaint. Too many idiots will end up playing this game, not thinking they're doing anything wrong by barging through someone.
Being sneaky and devious and using all the advantages is all about online gaming. Shooting games, you have camping either spawn points or using a sniper rifle, or perhaps even blobbing warfare. Eve Online is just utterly ruthless thanks to its consequence-based PVP(you lose a fight, you lose your ship!) as everyone's trying that much harder to not lose their stuff.
In these and more, acting like a douche is an acceptable part of the gameplay. Perhaps I'm a misguided fool, but I once thought there was at least some racing etiquette within racing games. Which is a shame because this game has a lot of potential.
I'd like to carry on about the depth of career mode and how with gaining XP you can build more and more infrastructure that'll aid you in making your car that much faster, but I fear there's no point for the standard of driving within the game will just drive people away. Yes, it's that bad. Not just because I seem to have manners when playing a racing game, but because the console idiots are coming over to the PC to try their hand at this game.

It's certainly worth a look when the game gets its full release, especially so if you're one of the fucking idiots who believe that punting your opponent off the track in a non-contact game is perfectly legit. If you're like me however, you're probably best off finding your online fix elsewhere.

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