F1 Online is split into many smaller slices, all of which compliment and feed into one another. You’ve got the official, licensed teams and tracks to race on one side but these are locked off stringently from the custom team creation, management and racing, which is the real meat of the game. The licensed cars and tracks are currently still from the 2011 season but share assets with the yearly releases, so will shift up to 2012 in the coming months, and cater for future years too. They’re great for a quick burst of racing at full speed, which is hugely faster than early custom cars but have an added appeal of giving you rewards to supplement your custom team, should you manage to accomplish the race objectives.
On the custom side of things, the first thing you’ll have to do in the game is create your team. You can pick one of a small selection of liveries for both car and driver helmet, and switch colours around, but here you get the first glimpses of the game’s income stream.
Further patterns can be unlocked through in game achievements, such as winning races, or simply meeting your objectives and levelling up but you can also purchase many of these cosmetics via micro transactions. Thankfully, there’s no simple button to buy your way to the top in the game, so micro transactions won’t be affecting the balance of the racing itself, they’re merely an option if you want a different look right away, or want a temporary boost in the development of your team.
To improve your car, you’ll need to build up your Team HQ. In this area you have a pretty nice 3D view of your headquarters, which is split up into four departments, Research, Production, Race & Commercial, and here you can really start to forge your own plan for the development of your team and car. You can build up each department together, and have a well rounded car all the time, or perhaps have a narrower focus and let some of the other development areas catch up a bit later.
Racing itself is actually a surprisingly hands-on affair. From a 3D overhead view, which can push a fair bit of graphical niceness to your screen, you have direct control of the car, far removed from GT5′s B-Spec. You use your mouse to point in the direction you want to go in, and left or right clicking to accelerate and brake respectively. KERS and DRS also make an appearance via your keyboard and round out a simple to play but very tricky to master play style, which is only added to by unfamiliarity with the tracks. You have warnings of the severity of corners, but until you learn them in the context of this game, you won’t be getting a perfect lap any time soon.
You can either do single races from the official F1 section, or you can head to the Race Hub and choose to take part in a Time Trial, Quick Race or even a Championship. In Time Trial, you can go up against the clock and your own or friends’ ghosts but when you head to Quick Race or Championship, you could be going into a full field of 24 cars all with real world rival players. You’re matched up against vehicles in the same class as you, get to view the track and make any last minute changes to the set up of your car, and then sent racing. You’re given specific targets to try and achieve in the 3 lap races, based on your comparative performance level and should you match or beat these, you’ll get a bigger prize pot out of the racing to help further your development plan faster.
From what I’ve seen of the game so far, it’s got a lot of good points to it. There’s plenty of longevity with the team management and car upgrade path, which is nicely broken up by the online racing. A hardcore management simulation this is not but it’s got a fun factor that could keep people checking in each evening for a quick race or two, and to unlock the next upgrade package for the next day.
Codemasters are currently sending out waves of closed beta invites to those that signed up, with the open beta scheduled for mid-June.
You can read full review here.
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