Formula One 04 PlayStation 2
by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Developed by Studio Liverpool
Released - Out Now
Price : £39.99
If you've been a fan of Formula One games for the last few years you'll notice it's been very quiet over the last 12 months or so. The reason for this is that Sony have exclusive rights to the Formula One licence and as a result the annual release of Formula One games has dried up because nobody wants games with fictitious drivers and teams or ones that are based upon a couple of seasons ago. Essentially then if you want an up to date Formula One title you're only going to find it on the PlayStation 2 and Sony's Formula One series is the only game available. That's not to say Studio Liverpool have taken it easy though and the game has some worthwhile additions this time around.
So what do Studio Liverpool have for us this year then? Well as you would expect details such as drivers/teams and circuits are all up to date and for the F1 enthusiast it would probably would be worth purchase price just for this alone but a rather large extra this time around is the Career mode. Career mode is where you begin as a rookie driver, without a team, and your goal is to make it to the top. You get to create your own driver too although the customisation options (in regards to your character's appearance) are rather weak. Let me just say that the Career mode isn't for casual gamers. It's quite difficult and it's going to take a lot of time just to be driving for one of the top teams. In my opinion it can be a little too punishing. Before you're signed up with a team you'll have to perform well in trials. However just coming off the track will end a trial (the same is also true for test drives) which in my opinion is a little too harsh. The initial teams you'll attract are the F1 minnows such as Minardi or Toyota and even when you're part of a team you'll have to impress to gain a place as a driver. You'll receive job offers and news items via email, faxes and news paper clippings and it looks very good indeed. In fact the Career mode is just what F1 enthusiasts need for long term play.
Aside from the Career mode the other game modes are split between Arcade and Simulation. The Arcade options are Arcade Race and Arcade Season. As you would expect the Arcade races are much more accommodating than the simulation ones and the handling also seems more forgiving. The Simulation modes are Custom Race, Race Weekend, World Championship, Time Attack and Test Drive. There is even an online mode this time around but disappointingly it isn't anything special. Essentially it's an online time attack mode against ghost cars. To make matters worse there's never a great deal of people playing as is the case with most of the PlayStation 2 online games. Still at least an online mode has been included this time around.
Handling is everything in a driving simulation and no matter how many features a game contains it all comes to nothing if the cars don't handle correctly. The game supports the latest Logitech steering wheels so if you're the proud owner of one of these you'll be delighted. Unfortunately we only have the standard Dualshock 2 as a method of control and although you can choose between three different control configurations you are resigned to using the analogue sticks to steer the car. Personally I've always found the analogue sticks a little loose on the PlayStation 2 controllers and in games such as Gran Turismo 3 I prefer to use the directional buttons as they give tighter control. You can't do this with F1 04 though (the directional buttons are reserved for handling traction control and brake bias) and I found the handling difficult to say the least. The one other problem I had with the handling is that sometimes it can be difficult to turn into tight bends (it felt as if the analogue sticks had a dead zone that's too large), even at low speeds. I don't know whether this is a limitation of the controller but it did seem strange. Even altering the handling sensitivity (you have a choice of just low and high) didn't seem to make much difference.
Graphically F1 04 looks good and it's probably about as good as a Formula One will look on the PlayStation 2 console. The frame rate remains constant and I experienced no slow down whatsoever which is what you need in any racing game. The camera angle options are just what you'd expect from such a title with a couple of behind car views, a slightly above the driver view (as can be seen from the lowermost screenshot) a no car view and the cockpit driver view (where you'll even see the driver's hand occasionally tear one of those transparent layers from their visor during a race. There is also some nice visual effects here too such as the heatwave that rises from the cars when they're on the grid although you'll probably not see this too much if you're using the cockpit driver view. The damage modeling is perhaps not as extensive as some would hope for but nevertheless it's fairly good.
Formula One 04 is OK for deaf gamers but there are some omissions that are unfortunate. In both Arcade and Simulation modes there are voice messages whilst you are driving and neither of these are subtitled. Whilst the voice in the Arcade races doesn't matter at all those in the Simulation modes are more important and offer information such as events that occur during the race, information on penalties you receive and much more. None of this information is available to deaf gamers (a penalty icon will appear but it does not give any details as to why the penalty has been given). The games HUD contains a decent amount of information although it's unlikely you'll be able to read it all in the middle of a race. There is also a minimal amount of commentary that isn't subtitled. You'll also notice directional arrows that appear as you approach a bend. These change colour (ranging from green to red) to indicate whether you're going at the right speed or too quickly for the bend in question. Outside of the races though everything is fine as all the information is in text.
Formula One 04 is another worthwhile addition to the series and despite the lack of competition from other Formula One games it still manages to impress with the addition of the Career mode. However the handling doesn't feel as good, using the Dualshock 2 controller, as it did with last year's game. We don't have a PlayStation 2 steering wheel at present (something we'll have to put right) so I can't comment on whether or not it's the same with a steering wheel. Most will want the game for the Career mode and to be honest if you are a F1 enthusiast you're going to lose many hours with this mode. The online side of the game is a bit weak but at least it's there and it gives you another use for your network adapter. F1 fans should definitely give it a go.
Game Rating: 7.3/10
Formula One 04 is definitely one for the F1 fans out there. The Career mode adds longevity and depth to the game too. However the lacklustre online mode and the questionable handling with the Dualshock 2 controller definitely take the edge off the game.
There are some omissions but thankfully nothing that makes the game unsuitable.