Psygnosis & Bizarre Creations
Close your eyes, dear reader. Now, I want you to imagine a room. Perfectly square, two royal blue sofas facing an ancient, wooden, analogue TV. The room is dark; the enormous clock in the top right corner of the room reading 2.30am. Face the television again. To turn on this television, you will have to press heavy-duty buttons into place, and crank weighty dials to change channels. Go ahead, try it. Flickering into life, the screen gives off a haze of greys and blacks.
Yet suddenly it bursts into life as the first Australian GP at Albert Park, Melbourne, signals the start of the 1996 Formula 1 season. That was me, at five years old. This memory is the first one I hold of Formula 1, leading to a dogged fascination with all things motorsport over the next 15 years. I was lucky too, because not long after this day I received a PlayStation, and not long after that I came into possession of what was, at the time, my favourite video game: Psygnosis and Bizarre Creations’ officially-licensed game, Formula 1.
The game holds several distinctions. It was the first 3D Formula 1 game to hold a full license for use of copyrights: previously, only some licenses were acquired. It was possibly the most complete simulator ever created at the time (ed: what about MicroProse’s Grand Prix 2, even though that was a PC game?), with all drivers and tracks from the 1995 season fully represented, even those who only drove part way through a season. You know what this means, don’t you?
Formula 1 is officially the most Rejectful video game ever created. What other game can allow you access to an unenviable roster of drivers including Giovanni Lavaggi, Pedro Lamy, Domenico Schiattarella, Ukyo Katayama , Luca Badoer and even the infamous Jean-Denis Deletraz? Where else can you drive truly dreadful marques in the form of Forti and Simtek and Pacific?
Where else can you grace legendary and sadly missed tracks including the epic Adelaide street circuit and the classic Hockenheim, as well as the pitiful Aida Circuit, home of the Pacific Grand Prix? If you passed up the opportunity to pick up this game, let us delve into all the other reasons why, almost 20 years later, it’s still one to pick up and play.
I begin with the graphics because, and I am not being biased, they still stand up to scrutiny. In Grand Prix mode, the detailing on each car is visible and realistic, from the Williams’ iconic striped design to the hints of yellow on the Ferrari. Certain sponsors are nodded to throughout the game, although alcohol and tobacco ones are removed in most releases, as well as the classic Tag Heuer sponsorship for timing.
Each circuit is lovingly recreated, with every kink and curve as close to the real things as they possibly could be: I especially like the chicane featured in the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve, as well as Silverstone’s helicopters. Everything looks like it was carefully crafted, most likely because there was no need to rush the release. Overall, the game’s graphics engine is very impressive.
With all of the engine noise discussions of 2014, one wonders whether there is more life in the engines in Formula 1 than there is in real life currently. In the game, the engines’ whine is a high pitched squeal which is truly lovely to listen to. What’s more, accompanying every race are the dulcet tones of Murray Walker, who must have spent hours in the recording booth for the amount of dialogue, Murrayisms and other one-liners that feature in the game.
That makes the game far more than a simple re-creation, as everything has been put in place to make the experience as realistic as possible. What’s more, the developers scored a coup by collecting the licences for three tracks by Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, allowing for races to become that little bit more epic, and to top it off, Bizarre Creations’ in-house music team Overdrive contributed several more music tracks that certainly add to the production value of the game.
Regardless of the game’s age, the creators certainly did not miss anything out. On top of the ability to race as every driver (yes, even Jan Magnussen and Gabriele Tarquini are raceable), the options available to you are extensive. One can race alone, two-player or with friends over connected televisions, in either the quick-fire Arcade Mode or the full Grand Prix mode.
In the latter, one can contest a full season in the championship mode, or a single race, depending on how lazy or committed you are. Here, you can take part in practice, qualifying and the race itself, which is nice. There’s even an interesting ladder mode, which forces you to overtake a marked contender in each race, eventually forcing you to come first.
Car options include an ability to change downforce settings, the ability to change the weather conditions, whether to allow the use of car damage during proceedings, changing the amount of laps, to the steering and brake assists: this game truly is both for novices as well as those who are experienced.
And one thing that I do find to be top-drawer is that the grid lineups are as accurate as can be, with those who should not be there swapped for their replacements. This includes, amongst others, Mansell for Hakkinen in the Australian Grand Prix. Such nods to the reality of the 1995 season truly make this a sublime simulation, especially as the very first of its kind.
There are certain criticisms that I can levy at the game, however. Car damage is limited to front and back wing removal, while in Arcade Mode cars just seem to bump into each other and go flying, which is a shame. The pit stops are also pretty awful too, as watching a car floating while being invisibly refuelled is a little disappointing.
For the purists, certain aspects could grate: in reality, Simtek took voluntary liquidation after the Monaco Grand Prix, however in the game one can select to race as a Simtek driver through the season, even though the other car will be removed from the other races. A little issue, but one some may find fault with.
The biggest problem and one that, to be fair, many racing games still suffer from is the lack of adequate balancing. One can absolutely destroy the competition with any car, regardless of the car’s true performance. Any fan of Delatraz, Andrea Montermini, Pedro Diniz or Jean-Christophe Boullion can see your fantasy come to life as they take the championship without breaking a sweat.
And the worst part is that overtaking is a breeze, thanks to simply knocking cars off the road without any sort of punishment coming your way. At least the grids are formed in a realistic pattern: Schumacher and Hill at the front, Bertrand Gachot and Lavaggi at the rear but again, true fans may be taken aback.
Every game has flaws, and every reviewer must find them; regardless of these, the game holds a special place in my heart as one where you can truly be a Reject winner. As the game is dirt cheap to buy as a physical copy nowadays, I would definitely try to pick it up, simply to bask in the glory of racing your Minardi to the chequered flag. Enjoy yourselves!
Originally published on Formula One Rejects in 2014.