Given the video game landscape is dominated at the moment by Codemasters and their F1 series, it’s always fun to go back and play some F1 games from years past.
And if you can overcome some obviously dated graphics and the fact it isn’t as ‘real’ as modern day F1 games, then the likes of F1 Career Challenge is great fun, as our guest reviewer, and host of The Qualifying Lap radio show, Ben Waterworth, writes exclusively for the RichardsF1.com website…
The game came in the heyday of EA Sports and their involvement in F1 and turned out to be the last F1 game created by the company. In a sense, it is really a simple update of F1 2002 but there is so much more to it than just a name change. Sure, the graphics, handling and everything else is basically F1 2002, but the selling point is the fact, as the name implies, you can make a career as an F1 driver and do so over numerous seasons.
Starting off in the 1999 season, you have to pass numerous driving tests in set times before you are offered a drive with one of the lower-ranked teams. Do the tests successfully in super fast times and you will generally end up with a drive at Williams or Benetton, pass them on a lower grade and you’ll get a drive with the likes of Prost, Minardi or Arrows. As your career progresses and your reputation increases you’ll be offered drives for better teams over the course of four successive seasons (so beautifully recreated, which we’ll get to shortly) you’ll find yourself starting off at the bottom and ending up in a Ferrari or McLaren if you are good enough.
As with an F1 game you can modify the basic parts of your car through the downforce, steering and minor details such as gear ratio and ride height as well as adjusting the difficulty of the AI and race length in quick race modes, but unfortunately it is pre-set in the career mode.
You’ll find, however, that aspects such as damage and AI start off fairly easy in the 1999 season before steadily increasing in difficulty over the course of each season. The steering and controls – as always seems the case with EA titles – is very touchy, and takes a lot to get used to. This is particularly the case if, like me, you were so used to playing the Codemasters series that you forgot how renowned EA was for its oversensitive controls.
Graphically and audio-wise the game won’t blow you away. It is very ‘cartoony’ in its presentation and the sounds just sometimes don’t sit right with you as you play. It almost sounds like it should be on a Saturday morning cartoon or an episode of Rory the Race Car in the way the audio bounces out of your speakers. But again, these are minor details from a game that is approaching a decade since its release.
One thing that did surprise me on playing this game for the first time in a while is the occasional moments where the graphics surprise you. Driving a Ferrari F2002 through Eau Rouge on a sunny Belgian day, I was surprised at the light reflection and colours produced from the car that almost made me think it was a newer title. It only lasted for about three seconds though!
Other notable aspects of the gameplay include interactive pit stops and the ability to use ‘points’ achieved to buy upgrades such as better helmets, pit babes and even making races take part at night. Maybe the guys at EA knew something about Singapore before the FIA?
If, like me, you are a sucker for detail, then you’ll LOVE this game. It’s all well and good to have a career in F1 2011 last five years, but by the third year don’t you get tired of every team having the same drivers, the circuits being the same and nothing changing except you getting a drive at another team?
Well, this where F1 Career Challenge rocks! Each year the game advances, the various changes happen that happened in the real world. The liveries change, the circuits change, the driver line ups change. Even the teams appear and disappear (no Prost in 2002, Toyota starting off in 2002) and such is the detail that after the British GP in 1999, Mika Salo drives for Ferrari instead of Schumacher before leaving the team by the time the Malaysian GP comes around!
It’s minor details like that which make this game amazing. It also gives you the ability to have four F1 games essentially in one, as not only can you do four seasons as your own personally created driver, you have the ability to then do each season separately as your favourite driver. A great choice, especially if you are after having every single season of the last decade or so represented in your F1 video games collection.
Another great aspect of this game which I am yet to explore is the ability to mod and change to future seasons. On the PC version there is a large online community available in which you can download mods and upgrades for seasons old and new, and adds a whole new element for the game. I played it on the PS2, but it is also available on the Gamecube (remember them?), X-Box & as mentioned, PC.
The Pros: Amazing attention to detail over the four seasons, great ‘retro’ factor for fans of the late 1990s and early 2000s F1 world, essentially four F1 games built into one, mod-ability on the PC version
The Cons: Tricky controls that can be frustrating, cartoon graphics and sound, rare game to find
Why Play It? Getting the chance to race over four different seasons with great detail and have four F1 games built into one
So what does it get out 5 chequered flags? Using the RichardsF1.com ‘Chequered Flags’ rating system, I award F1 Career Challenge…
OUT OF A POSSIBLE FIVE.
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