Badger was lucky enough to get a sneak peak (and hands on test) of Codemasters sequel to their hit of last year and new game F1 2011 this week. While myself and Jimmy Von Weeks were able to go along, we are handing over to guest writer Nigel Normansell – trainee games designer and Xbox maestro – to give his thoughts on what will be a sure fire hit.

There’s been no shortage of Formula 1 games over the last decade, but it’s safe to say none of them have been stand out titles. The games industry needed a Formula 1 title that captured the sport better than the rest when putting the player in the cockpit. Then last year, after claiming the official licensing, Codemasters Birmingham released F1 2010, sending them to the front of the gaming grid. Wowing critics all over the world it was clear they had nailed the sport more than any other developer in recent years. With the help of experienced driver Anthony Davidson, Codemasters have upped the realism when at the wheel, whistling past Canada’s Wall of Champions or blasting through Becketts at our very own Silverstone.

This year however, Codemasters are set to raise the bar yet again with their (surprisingly) newly titled F1 2011. With the game not slated for release until September 23rd, Badger GP was lucky enough to get a sneak preview at a recent press event held in London. After a cheeky free beer we entered the gaming hall, full of at least 20 different screens, each with the game running on Xbox 360’s, a gamers heaven. A stage filled the front of the room where members of Codemasters and BBC Radio Five Live’s David Croft would take to the stage and demonstrate the game followed by a short Q&A session. Above all of this, Team Lotus were kind enough to have one of their Formula 1 cars on show too!

On picking up the controller for the first time it doesn’t take long to realise this isn’t just last years game with a few tweaks. The menu system, although similar to last years has been overhauled which adds a subtle layer of depth. The main menu is set in your own paddock, which changes depending on what team you (the driver) are currently signed with and depending on your location in the world. Getting on the grid is where the real fun and differences shine through though. New tweaks to the game engine mean more detailed environments and better lighting effects, giving the game more realism. Parc Ferme celebrations are a new addition this years installment, showing the top three drivers celebrate and interact with each other in front of onlooking team members, and yes…we’ve been told that Sebastian Vettel’s finger will feature in the game. We’ll let you decide whether you like that or not. The only real disappointment is no safety car or formation lap.

When the red lights turn off and the cars get racing, you can really feel how the handling has changed from 2010. The first thing you notice is that the cars feel more planted and more responsive, allowing a more refined ability to correct steering mid-way through corners with less risk of spinning. The same can’t be said when racing in the wet however. F1 2010 had the most advanced weather system seen in a game, that’s no different with it’s sequel. For example you could be racing in, let’s say, Montreal. When the cars are waiting for the red lights to disappear the track could be dry, but as you race, the heavens may open. Luckily, since this is a game, the race wont be red flagged followed by a two hour wait to get it going again! Saying that, the rain will force players to change tyres, as well as their driving style, as back ends could fly out with the slightest bit too much throttle exiting a corner. It’s hair-raising stuff, as exciting as last year’s game, but with the improved handling characteristics, more rewarding.

Driver Artificial Intelligence (AI) has also been built upon, with each AI driver effectively being described as having 6 separate brains, each brain thinking about where the racing line is, which gaps to go for in order to overtake, where to place the car in defence etc. This plays nicely with the beefed up multiplayer, with up to 16 players racing at one time and the rest of the grid made up by AI controlled cars. Instead of being one or two cars racing in last year’s game, there now will be every car available to race against online. We even got a chance to try this new multiplayer out with 16 Xboxs all linked up for a few races, including one special guest…

But, alas, my racing debut against a Hamilton was put on hold as Nic only lasted one race (which he won convincingly) and when I got to take a seat, he was long gone.

Immediately, it feels so much better in terms of stability when racing like I mentioned before. There are loads of little tweaks that make the experience better too. There’s a green KERS battery on the screen just like the onscreen graphics in real life, complete with it filling back up again at the end of a lap. The DRS light blinks on in yellow if you can use the system, and switches off again when you lose the chance. Tyres can now be picked by coloured circles instead of just the words “prime” and “option”. The racing line, a driver aid that in 2010 was green for “go” and red for “stop”, now raises and lowers itself depending on how much you need to brake for example. It’s all very polished and very well thought out even with a few months left until it’s released.

What else can I say? The game is a great! It’s built on a brilliant foundation that was F1 2010 and will be another smash hit for Codemasters. So, like the tagline reads, “Be the driver. Live the life. Go compete.”. Badger will see you on the track!