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December 7, 2004
Formula 1 2004 - Review
Release Date Distributor Developer Players Rating Difficulty
6/8/2004SonyStudio Liverpool1-4GHard
Save Size Sound Format Vibration 60Hz Mode 50Hz Border Widescreen

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Alonso's coming 15th.
The sport of Formula 1 racing is quite extraordinary; people strapped into little more than an advertising shell with an engine and four monstrous slicks do lap-times that send all other car types to shame. Furthermore, this is coming from a car limited to a 3 litre engine, with maximum revs that would melt most production car engines into a puddle of goop. But the most surprising thing about it is how one man, a talented German by the name of Michael Schumacher has turned the sport into a predictable whitewash of Ferrari podium finishes. Don’t get me wrong though, it isn’t without its exciting moments, but it doesn’t take much to see that domination of a sport like this removes much of the sparkle. In a somewhat similar fashion, Formula 1 games for the PS2 are turning into a predictable season-by-season rehash by SCEE and EA. SCE Studio Liverpool (formerly Psygnosis) of Wipeout Fusion fame are responsible for Formula 1 2004, Sony’s latest stab at the market. It’s officially licensed, and it’s got ‘2004’ in the title; does that make it any better than previous years’ attempts? Unfortunately not...

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Not the most exciting screen ever.
Being a racing game, Formula 1 2004 is limited to several typical game modes; Arcade, Online, Simulation and Career. Arcade mode is your typical jump-straight-in racing mode, where car handling is simplified somewhat, and damage is reduced to a 5-strikes-and-you’re-out system (it also has a horrendous commentator, but more on that later). Simulation mode is similar to arcade, but with an improved commentator and slightly more realistic handling. Surprisingly there was no damage in the simulation mode; I’m not sure if I had the options set up absurdly, but 5 consecutive crashes at +150Mph into cars, tire barriers and walls had no impact whatsoever on my car. Strange.

Similar to the recently-released V8 Supercars 2, Studio Liverpool have included a ‘Career’ mode, which puts you in the boots of an unsigned amateur Formula One driver aiming for the top of the drivers championship table. This game mode has great premise, as can be seen in the aforementioned Codemasters title which was complete with CGI cutscenes and branching gameplay. Unfortunately Studio Liverpool has fallen short in comparison, producing a seriously difficult and barebones career mode, which quite frankly isn’t that enjoyable to play. Let me explain...

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The in-car viewpoint.
You begin career mode with neither a car nor racing team, and you are approached by Minardi and offered a chance to prove yourself at a given Formula 1 circuit. Here you get placed in the car, and have several laps to beat an impeccable lap-time; this is without any practice laps, advice or any help whatsoever. Then, when you finally think you’re doing well, venturing off the track by more than a meter or two results in a premature termination to the session, where you must return to your ‘office’ (a screen with a few tabs with static pictures depicting a virtual fax and email). Here you must then wait out a portion of the season round-by-round, with a poor newspaper-headline displaying ‘Ferrari wins again’ or something similar (it looks surprisingly similar to the newspaper from the end of the levels in Paperboy). After your fifteenth try or so at the time trial, having passed through 5 seasons and 3 hours of your life, you may in fact beat the level and get signed up so you can do some racing (for once), however it isn’t that different to the other game modes at all. All in all, the career mode is far too much waiting and frustration for something which should be a lot simpler, intuitive, and more importantly… FUN!

Car handling plays a vital role in racing games, and sadly Formula 1 2004 stops slightly short of the mark. There is certainly a sense of speed behind the game, which makes the player slightly eager to hit the brakes earlier rather than later, but the moment you start cornering it all falls to pieces. The grip on the road seems to be a strange blend of black magic and karma when leaving corners; more often than not the car will suddenly lose the back end, and fishtail uncontrollably. What makes matters worse is that it gives no indication of this prior to, or during it; no tire squealing, tire smoke or skidmarks, and can easily lead to dropping a position or three at vital points during a race. Don’t write me off as just being a ‘poor driver’ though; I’ve carved up roads with the best of them in numerous street and rally games as well as the inaugural Gran Turismo, but the handling in Formula 1 2004 has some aching issues when you’re trying to push some tight lap times.

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Now he's 18th...
Looking at the screenshots, Formula 1 2004 is a very tidy game. The visuals are sharp and detailed, and the graphics rarely drop in framerate even with a full pack of cars bustling through a chicane. The tracks and cars look true to their real life counterparts, complete with advertising plastered on every spare square inch, and the experience is further enhanced with the bundled replay modes. Dirt and gravel actively spray up if you venture slightly over the edge of the rumble strip, and skidmarks are freely left on the grass if you prefer to take the odd short cut (or long-cut as is often the case). There’s a nice handful of views available to cycle through, with the always-impossible in-helmet view made even more frustrating by the lack of side-mirrors (or look left/right buttons) which effectively gives you tunnel vision.

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One of the newest tracks...
The audio found in Formula 1 2004 consists of a mix of ambient sounds, screaming F1 engines, commentary and pit crew chatter, which on the whole forms an enjoyable experience for your ears. The commentary for simulation and career modes is similar to that heard on the TV telecasts and is surprisingly useful, informing you of the positions of competitors and crashes as they happen. Pit chatter gives you more in-depth information of your performance, letting you know how many championship points your current position is worth, and if your lap and sector times are improving (which is actually a lot more helpful than flashing it up on-screen). BUT… (beware the dreaded but!) the commentary for arcade mode drags the overall aural experience down to new lows. The English-accented commentator from the simulation and career mode has been replaced by the most stereotypical annoying American commentator you could imagine; turning Formula 1 into a horrible Indycar meets Daytona USA hybrid. He doesn’t shut up, and his comments are neither helpful nor encouraging. My advice; listen to the radio or something while playing arcade mode… your ears will be thankful for it.

I was looking forward to Formula 1 2004, but messing up the car handling is really an unforgivable mistake that Studio Liverpool have made; this then snowballs the difficulty of the game, and makes it more frustrating than enjoyable. The game has network play too, but given that the servers aren’t local (for us Aussies at least), the high pings make it unplayable. F1 fans who don’t mind spending countless hours mastering the black magic behind the car handling will be right at home with Formula 1 2004, with the entire 2004 roster of drivers and cars, and endless car adjustments and tweaking. However if you’re a casual racing fan after a fix to last you through the Christmas break, V8 Supercars 2 would be my choice to have waiting under the Christmas tree.

Review By: Chris Gobbett

GRAPHICSLooks the part, with detailed tracks and cars; official branding and sponsorship is prevalent throughout.
SOUNDThe pit crew chatter is a great touch. The score would be higher were it not for the painful arcade commentary.
GAMEPLAYHandling is frustrating at times, which makes the career mode even harder than it should be.
VALUEIt’s tough, though rather than encouraging people to improve, the learning curve will most probably scare people off.
OVERALLFormula 1 2004 is probably best left to the hardcore fans of the Formula 1 circuit. The game is tough, which isn’t helped by some questionable car handling, but putting the time in will eventually pay off.

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