F-1 World Grand Prix review
It's A Podium Finish

The good:

Solid controls
Lots of content
A lot of setup options
Challenge mode

The bad:

Poor two player
Inconsistant penalties


Is there a racing experience as thrilling as formula one racing? Shooting along twisting tracks at blazing speeds, where the slightest mistake can easily lead to flying off track and even planting the car in a barrier or another car. Therefore, a video game adaptation of that experience sounds like an automatic win right there.

Enter Formula 1: World Grand Prix, a video game based on the 1997 season of the F1 racing scene. A chance to take your favourite driver and tackle the challenging tracks from around the world.

Well, before we go too deep there is a problem here. While there are a lot of licensed drivers, cars and tracks on offer here, something is missing, or rather someone is missing. It appears that there was a failure to acquire the rights for Jacques Villeneuve, therefore resulting in the lead Williams driver to be a silhouetted man called Driver Williams (who can be renamed with sometimes hilarious results). It does hurt the appeal somewhat though, with this gap. Look past that though and you'll find out just what the game offers.

Naturally based on real world racing F1 takes a more realistic approach to driving the cars around the tracks. Needless to say that trying to take corners at full speed won't get you anywhere. The cars are usually glued firmly to the track as long as you don't launch off one of the various corners and the controls are tight and responsive. The control setup is pretty straightforward as well, and similar enough to most others racing games to allow players to quickly work through a few races.

Gear changing is an optional feature of the game. Picking automatic does it for you and is therefore easier and quickly forgotten that it exists. Pick manual and the responsibility falls to the player to shift through the gears. Wait too long and you'll hurt your speed; go too soon and you'll lose acceleration ability. It's a bit tricky but helps enhance the experience if you wish.

The game also offers some newbie-friendly features to assist in driving, although only available on the Rookie difficulty setting. Acceleration assistance is the less noticeable of the two. It doesn't really seem to do anything if you're capable of keeping the car on the track, but rather prevents spinning out should you dive off the track. Braking assistance is far more noticeable, as it causes the car to automatically slow down for the corners. It's fairly over-zealous in that regard, which is a good thing as it doesn't allow for near-automatic play. It's good to get used to the game but after a few races even the newbies will be switching the brake assistance off so that they can start working the corners to the fullest.

Damage is another optional trait that can be toggled as well. The display on the right side of the screen is a set of lights that indicate the status of the car. Most of these are warning lights to indicate damage to different parts of the car that affect how it performs. Damage a wheel and steering becomes a pain, or damaged brakes makes it harder to take corners properly. Damage builds up if you hit another car or fly off track harshly. Any damage can be repaired by making a return to the pits. Oddly, having to fix damage on the car doesn't extend the time taken, which is a little disappointing.

Two of those light indicators are for fuel and tires. Another feature that can be toggled is the option to consume fuel and tyres while racing. Worn types will affect how much grip you have at the corners while the car generally won't move without fuel. However, you probably won't notice this feature when the lap counter is set fairly low, so it's only going to be in the long races that it'll make any difference.

All this is where the pre-race setup comes into play. The player can tweak various settings on their car, such as suspension settings and wing angle. These tweaks can drastically alter a car's performance. In addition, players can save multiple setups to save slots, helping to avoid too much meddling about to access commonly used setups. The screen can be a little confusing though, as the layout really isn't particularly user-friendly. Not to mention a ugly mix of puke yellow and black.

Full races tend to be fairly entertaining too, with a full 22 cars on track in most situations, meaning there is rarely a time where you're not battling someone else for position. The computer tends to be pretty good too, trying to take the racing line and trying to take advantages of mistakes. There is the odd moment of idiocy but it's rare so it's good.

Flags play a role in racing as well and, again, can be toggled on and off. The most common flag is the yellow one, which signifies an area where there has been an accident and where overtaking is forbidden, but there's a few others too. Red flagged races are restarted, black and white flags are warnings, and the all important chequered flag for the finish. There's a little inconsistency here though. Basically, you'll get warned for overtaking in a yellow flag zone but nobody cares if you drive recklessly and even try to force other cars off the track.

There are a few more options the player can meddle with for racing. The lap counter lets you set the number of laps to race in. The lower amounts like 4 and 8 can help build up some quickfire races, although some features like fuelling won't have much effect. The game also allows for full lap races (dependant on the track but generally around 70 laps) and half races (somewhere around 35 laps). While better suited for pit stops they also eat up a lot of time to complete and therefore aren't particularly ideal. Weather conditions can also be set, ranging from the usual sunny to rainy or set it to changeable random weather.

97 events is an interesting addition to the options available, with the idea being that this copies the events that occurred during the 97 season, aside from the actions taken by the player. The consistency is certainly a nice touch.

There is a variety of camera views on offer here. A nosecam view right on the front of the car, a cockpit view from the driver position, a camera above the driver helmet and two behind car views. There are also three rear view camera buttons (one standard rear view and two based on side mirror views) that takes the current camera into account (you'll see the car when using a behind car view but the rear view doesn't show the car with the on-car views).

F1 WGP offers 22 drivers (all but one officially licensed), with 2 to each team. The performance of these drivers are predictable unbalanced, in keeping with the real thing. So the Ferraris and Williams will be tearing up the track while the Arrows and Minardis are more interesting in bringing up the rear. There is also a healthy 17 tracks on offer taken from the F1 calendar back then, ranging from the more simple tracks like the straights of Germany to the more technical tracks like Japan, and yes, the streets of Monaco are here too.

The game offers a few modes of play that should prove interesting. Exhibition is basically the quick race option. It lets you go up against 21 cars with a variety of options and the ability to play any track on offer. Time Trial is a single car race o set the fastest lap time. A ghost of your best time from the current race plays out each lap, but unfortunately there's no way to save a ghost for future play.

Grand Prix is a more structured variant of the exhibition. It's still straightforward racing but this time you'll tackle each track in the 97 season order. There are still a lot of options to mess with, but you can't change them during a season. You also get the chance to earn your starting position in the race with the qualifying session, as well as participate in three practice sessions before the main race, or heck, skip them completely if you don't care for them. Qualifying is something like a mix of exhibition and time trial. There's only a few cars on the track at a time but the goal is to set the fastest lap you can. Grand Prix awards points based on the top six finishing cars in each main race, which will determine the overall positions.

Challenge mode offers a very interesting game mode. There are a total of 16 challenges in this mode, classed as either offence, defence and trouble challenges (plus a final ultimate challenge). Challenges put you in set conditions (driver, track, predicament etc) and offer up a goal. Players are scored based on how well they perform this goal. Offence challenges require overtaking cars in front. Defence challenges require defending a position.

The trouble challenges are definitely the most interesting, as they require dealing with less-than-normal conditions. One such challenge involves losing a wheel during a race and having to guide the car back to the pits while losing as few positions as possible. Dealing with such troubles is quite a different experience and quite fun.

F1 WGP also offers a two player mode, but unlike the single player options it really isn't up to standard. Two player only allows for the two human-controlled cars on the track, which can lead to much less hectic racing. It's a lot more boring and lacks the appeal of the single player.

There's some nice unlockable stuff in here, like the Gold and Silver drivers that perform much better than anyone else, a bonus track that involves suspension bridges and driving through a volcano, as well as a car gallery. These extras can even be temporarily unlocked through naming Driver Williams with specific code names, although more permanent methods of unlocking them can be earned as well.

In terms of visuals there's some nice detail for an N64 game and decent draw distance. The animation flows along at a steady pace as well. The cars look a little plain though during races. In addition, it does look a look murky and the crashes simply aren't interesting. You car barely ever leaves the ground and the most wild thing is a completely unnatural spinning action. Is a few flips and – dare I say it – barrel rolls from the more intense crashes too much to ask for?

Sound wise there's no real music track to speak of, instead you're treated to the engine roar during racing. A neat touch is that the noise level changes based on which camera view you're using, but it can still be a little dull. The commenter is a nice feature too, alerting you to your position, the distance to the nearest car and even congratulating you on a victory.

Overall it's a very entertaining racing package. It has a few flaws, not the least being a poor multiplayer experience, but it will definitely appeal to the solo racing fan.

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