Reject Games: F1 Career Challenge

Since 2010, Codemasters has been the sole company responsible for producing Formula 1 games, but between the late 1990s and early 2000s, F1 game enthusiasts were spoiled for choice. Different developers and publishers had access to the much-coveted FOM license, meaning that there was plenty of competition across the major consoles.

Sony Computer Entertainment Europe produced a raft of games for both Playstations 1 and 2, while Nintendo’s F-1 World Grand Prix offerings and Geoff Crammond’s sporadic-but-brilliant Grand Prix series all offered a range of experiences. Starting from the year 2000, EA Sports also got involved, bringing their F1 series to a variety of platforms.

The first offering, F1 2000, was a very strong contender in the myriad F1 games available. EA continued in that vein to produce some high-quality games which, while not amazingly in-depth and detailed, presented good graphics and straight-forward, fast-paced gameplay. EA also produced F1 Manager, a loveable-but-flawed management sim which held its own against Microprose’s much-vaunted Grand Prix Manager series.

From left to right: EA's console versions of F1 2000, F1 2001 and F1 2002

From left to right: EA’s console versions of F1 2000, F1 2001 and F1 2002

EA’s license came to an end in 2003 after exclusivity was granted to SCEE. Rather than produce F1 2003, EA decided to produce something quite innovative in its final instalment. F1 Challenge ’99-‘02 was the final PC release, and boasted the advanced gMotor engine from developers ISI – which is still in use today in the rFactor series. “F1C” offered realistic physics, plenty of customisation options, and plenty of longevity.

F1C’s console counterpart, F1 Career Challenge, was altogether less successful.

The two games with slightly different names both adopt a common theme, a four-year career from the 1999 to the 2002 season. F1 Career Challenge was evidently the poorer of the two, and barely even stacks up against EA’s earlier console offerings. While F1C was farmed out to ISI, F1 Career Challenge was developed by Visual Sciences, the company behind the less-than-stellar Formula 1 ’98. The bar certainly wasn’t raised very high, then.

First impressions are that the menus feel outdated. Compared to the bright, functional menus of EA’s series so far, the choice of dark blues and generic font does little to fire the player up. But that’s all completely forgivable if the actual game is good; sadly, it’s anything but.

The visuals are really nothing special. Personally, I think F1 2001 looks better.

The visuals are really nothing special. F1 2001 looks far more appealing, quite frankly.

Jumping straight into a race, there’s the unmistakable feeling that something’s rather…off. Instead of a conventional racer, where you rev the car up for that optimum getaway, you instead have to time the first press of the accelerator with the moment the lights go off. Juddering off the line sets you up for the pure chaos of the start line action; the AI flails around with no discernible spatial awareness, and the over-dramatic tyre smoke hinders all vision as you attempt to find the first corner.

Oh, about that first corner – good luck picking that braking point correctly. If you’ve played enough F1 games, you’ll know you need to accelerate up to the 100m board, hit the brakes and deftly flick down the gears until you’re able to cruise through the corner. F1 Career Challenge is a bit different. You’ll hit the brakes and come to a complete halt almost immediately. Cue driving test flashbacks when you’ve just been invited to perform an emergency stop.

The steering is also diabolical. It’s honestly impossible to daintily steer into sweeping corners with the analog stick; in F1 Career Challenge, you’re either steering or you’re not. It’s binary, it’s either-or. Even on the lowest setting, the handling’s barely capable of responding to the nuances of F1 car control. It’s a very frustrating process to get used to it, and you’ll be see-sawing at the controls like you’re in control of a particularly wayward boulder.

One of Sony's official screenshots, which is testament to the graininess. (Sony)

One of Sony’s official screenshots, which is testament to the graininess. (Sony)

It must be said that the cars appear to be in the right ballpark with regards to styling, although I’d suspect that many of them are recycled (and compressed) assets from previous games. This being said, the graphics themselves are very average, and offer no real step up over PS2/Xbox games from three years prior – it’s all very grainy and over-saturated. Gran Turismo 3, released two years prior on PS2, offers FAR superior visuals.

The career mode itself is perfectly functional, albeit in a very arcade-like fashion. Getting good results comes with the reward of credits, which you can spend on single-use car upgrades, new helmet designs and different “grid babes” – the latter reads like something from Wayne’s World, and one could draw horrifying connotations of purchasing women with points. This could create a potential firestorm, at least if anyone cared enough about the game.

With better results you’ll get more offers from larger teams, but the cars still feel dreadful whichever way you cut it. Managing to get through all four seasons of the career mode should offer some kind of reward, and I lost interest far before I could ever get as far as 2001 – just call me Pedro Diniz.

F1 Career Challenge was certainly ambitious in its scope, but lacks far too much detail and honestly looks worse than EA’s previous offerings on the same platform.

By far the most frustrating factor is the controls; they’re absolute dire and strangely inconsistent. Apart from that there’s nothing really to talk about; something with a tangible career progression should excite, but just fails to hit the mark in most facets. Unless beset by incredible boredom, there’s no chance I’ll voluntary touch this game again. Not for all the grid babes in the world.

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It’s like this. Sometimes, you struggle to remember this game existed. Then you remembered that it replaced something that could have been a far more tolerable prospect. However, there are no known instances of F1 Career Challenge holding up David Coulthard at Monaco. Shame.

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