F1 Championship Edition for the PS3: HD on the cheap

  • A few years ago we stared into tubes displaying grainy TV pictures. Today, we have TVs that weigh less than half at twice the picture size, present lifelike pictures and audio systems can pump out cinema-rivaling sound. Not just TV and video, also games gain from this development: The PS3, for example, promises a world of HD games – and delivers. Well, at least sometimes.

    Take for example some of the launch titles for the PS3. Blazing Angels has trouble of keeping its animation running at a smooth frame rate, but paints stunning, movie-like pictures of World War II plane fights on the TV screen or take Major League Baseball 2007 which is among the most realistic sports games on the market today. And of course, the Gran Turismo HD trial is a must for any PS3 owner who wants to see what his $800 investment (console, HDMI cable, at least one game) is capable of.

    But if you have seen such graphics and realism, the problem really is that suddenly there are some pretty high expectations and there is a good chance that you will encounter some disappointing titles that fall below a certain standard. The just released F1 Championship Edition, one of the most anticipated game titles for the PS3, is such a case. If you are playing with the idea to jump into a Formula seat in front of your TV, it’s not a good idea to expect Gran Turismo HD quality graphics.

    Yes, the new F1 title is a solid car racing game, which delivers what you normally would expect from a video game – fun. It’s up to you how much time you want to spend with the game. You can learn the major controls and get a feel for the behavior of your car within minutes and start in quick races right away. Weekend GP’s walk you through an elaborate testing, practicing and qualifying session according to the 2006 F1 rules and you can, if you want, invest several hours in such a race. And then there’s, of course, the entire GP, which could technically provide playing fun for weeks, if you take this game serious.

    In essence, the game is an evolution over previous F1 titles for the PS2 and you can engage into realistic, tension filled races.

    But the game got me thinking. Fun is really the essence of a video game, but we have three consoles out there, all of which are designed to provide slightly different types of fun. And I would assume that most people who were willing to shell out the cash for the PS3 are getting an extra kick out of HD resolutions and not just DVD-quality graphics.

    What is troubling about F1 Championship Edition is that it really is a mixed bag out of truly amazing designs on the one side and rather embarrassing graphics on the other. F1 cars, drivers, track, weather and heat effects are done extremely well, but everything that is off the track is just terrible. Background graphics such as buildings, support vehicles or vegetation is on a level that has been exceeded by some PS2 games. There is just an apparent lack of detail, which can impact your gaming experience; it is clear that these objects have not been a focus of the development. In replay mode, shadows and lighting could have used some extra work, as cars appear to floating on the ground, rather than driving on it.

    Interestingly, the graphics are several grades better when it comes to track advertising. You can read vendor logos and names from far away, while spectators on the side of the track blur into one colorful mess and support vehicles such as ambulances are about as recognizable as vehicles in Microprose’s Grand Prix 4, which was released five years ago.   

    Developers also appear to be struggling with the use of the Sixaxis controller of the PS3. While the motion sensing is supported in this game, it is virtually impossible to control a car at extremely high and very speeds by simply tilting the controller. I have noticed a similar problem in Blazing Angels and it is quite obvious that what works well for the Nintendo Wii does not work for the PS3. The PS3 motion sensing still has to find a niche in which it offers extra value and fun. F1 Championship Edition is not it.

    You can call me picky, but this F1 game is disappointing. It would have been a great title for the PS2, for which the graphics would have been more than appropriate. For the PS3 and its capabilities, it is an almost forgettable title. For $60, I am expecting more.