previews\ Dec 28, 2006 at 7:00 pm

Formula One Championship Edition - PS3 - Preview 2

The world of video-game racing is about to get a little deeper, a little more challenging, and a great deal more entertaining. Why? After a bit of a hiatus, the world of Formula One racing is returning to the United States on the next-gen console.

Formula One Championship Edition is not for the faint of heart. There will be some frustration, challenges at even the most rudimentary level in the career mode, online components, SIXAXIS motion controls, and real-world lighting that will drive you crazy at times.

Sony Computer Entertainment’s Liverpool Studios are behind the PlayStation 3 title. There are the usual suspects when it comes to the game modes – quick race, time trial, multiplayer, but the cornerstone is the career mode. In this mode, you will take on the role of a rookie trying to break into the F1 scene. You begin by running trials and hoping to catch on with one of the race teams as the test driver. Through your work on the track, you may be promoted to second driver, and then to the coveted first driver position. Fail and you will be relegated to driving the tracks under some of the more ‘testing’ circumstances.

Formula One Championship Edition Screenshot

You see, as the test driver, you do not always get the optimum machine to take a few spins around the track. ‘Test’ means exactly that. To that end, you will drive cars that have been aerodynamically altered, that have fuel loads varied, that have different tires … in short, the crew does everything possible to the machine that will lead to the right features when it comes to race day – which you sit on the sidelines and wait for the results.

The caveat is that if you do well enough in the trials, you may be promoted, or another race team may come along and snatch you up for one of their driver slots.

Begin on the easy setting to get a feel for the car. The courses wind from short sprint straight-aways, to hairpin corners that require you to go slow and then accelerate madly out of them. There is an optimum line, but with the changing lighting, sometimes seeing that line of attack is almost impossible.

The game’s lighting is both a blessing and curse (aka, a source of frustration). The best lighting of the day is usually reserved for the racing. As a test driver, you get to run the tests at twilight, or dawn, when shadows can leap across the track and obscure the turns, or a low sun will glare straight into your eyes as you round a corner for a dash down a straightaway. And while the F1 tracks are challenging, it is the street courses that provide the most severe test of driving prowess.

Formula One Championship Edition Screenshot

Through it all, you will have your pit crew exhorting you to go faster, telling you how much time you dropped in one sector, or how wonderfully you are doing in another. Sometimes what they tell you is just plain inaccurate … or not what they are looking for. Running a trial as fast as you can, consistently breaking your own lap times is not always what they want. Instead, they may be looking for consistent times under the desired lap time.

And just when you thought that trials were the most challenging, along comes the actual race with cars bumping, pit stops to deal with severe tire wear from the nudges you get, or spin outs when you are bumped onto the grass or gravel.

The game allows the option of using the motion sensors of the SIXAXIS controller to steer the car. It is an acquired skill. As much as you may have, in the past, tried to will body English into steering with the older PS2 controllers, now you actually can steer the car by moving the controller. The default is the left analog stick, with the X button as the accelerator. Moving to SIXAXIS controls defaults the accelerator to the R2 button. While intuitive, do not be surprised by the responsiveness of the controller. The car reaches high speeds, requiring a fine hand when it comes to steering. A wild jerk and it’s “hello retaining wall.”

The game’s graphics are first rate, and the sound is serviceable. There is not much in the latter that has not been heard before.

Formula One Championship Edition is slated to release in March of 2007. As of this preview, the game is on track (pun intended) to provide a visually strong and challenging racing vehicle.

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