It has become a tradition of late for games publishers to release as many Formula One games as possible, like an in-joke in a football team where players try to sneak in as many song titles into interviews as possible, we have been buried in a torrent of near identical titles. Through the numerous titles though, one series has long been considered the best by all comers, Geoff Crammond’s Grand Prix titles.
If you have somehow not played a Formula One title then before you give this a go you need to realize that the Formula One game is the flight-sim of the driving world. Races are about preparation and practice…without putting in the effort you will end up in the dirt with no wheels. What you get in return for your hard work is a racing game genre of more scope for tactics and more satisfaction than any other.
Writing a review of a Formula One game is quite hard since the content is pretty much identical to every other Formula One game. This is Grand Prix 4’s biggest flaw, gameplay innovation isn’t in abundance… This is the same setup you have seen before, you get your championship mode complete with practice races and qualifying and you also get your quickrace mode. The reason this is tolerable is because Grand Prix 4 does what it does perfectly, if you are a fan of Formula One then this is the one to get.
The game comprises 2001 season data (which has already been updated to current season by various fansites) and takes place over the full 17-track championship and 11 unique teams. The tracks are pieced together using satellite data so every corner and every hill is absolutely identical to the real thing. This meticulous attention to detail is continued in the cars themselves, there is an abundance of telemetry data and car settings to tweak to get the car running perfectly. If you don’t understand this aspect then there is the new ‘Gpedia’ section where you can learn about the car components and the tracks you will race on. Learning the tracks is an essential part of being any good at the game, there are numerous driving aids to help you, but I personally don’t like them, how can you learn if the car is practically being driven for you?
The immersion into a race is built up using some superb graphics and sound. To start with the cars look amazing, detailed superbly depending on the team and come complete with reflections and dynamic shadows. The tracks are even better, bump-mapped roads and no lack of trackside detail make these a very believable environment. The acid test is obviously Monaco and it’s the best, most detailed interpretation of the famous course I’ve yet seen. There is also a fully animated pit-crew that is excellent to watch in action, animated crew also feature round the track waving flags if there is debris on the track etc.
All the engine sounds have been taken from actual recordings of Formula One cars and so sound is absolutely spot-on, coupled with EAX effects its pretty much aurally perfect.
One of my complaints with earlier Formula One games was the AI of the other drivers, or more accurately the lack of any AI. Drivers would ignore you and drive into you if you happen to try and pass them through the best racing line. I have seen many instances in Grand Prix 4 where CPU drivers have taken me into account, passing a car on the inside of a bend the opponent will take a look to see if it can drive through and then pull back as the driver sees you edge ahead. They aren’t perfect drivers though, many times I’ve seen the yellow warning flags come out and then a wrecked car with a driver walking away through the dust. All this detail is why Grand Prix 4 is the best you’ll get in the field.
Some niggles are present though, this is the buggiest release I’ve seen for a while, repeated desktop crashes need to be fixed soon or I’m sure I will go mad. Setting up a joypad is also a nightmare, its almost as though Mr. Crammond doesn’t want me to map out my buttons at all.
The area I feel the game could have been improved the most though is the season mode, why do we just do race after race and collect points? Surely by now we can get concurrent seasons that see you take on a career, move between teams, see teams improve their cars, form rivalries with other drivers…something to add a bit more flavour to a straight faced genre that can only really improve in terms of graphics. Codemasters have this covered in TOCA Race Driver it seems so hopefully this future title will inspire others.
OVERALL SCORE: 80%