Reviewed: April 27, 2000
Released: March 1, 2000
F1 World Grand Prix (F1WGP) is different than most of the other currently available racing titles for the Dreamcast. It is a hardcore racing simulation that never pretends to be anything else. There are no arcade modes or nitro power-ups or anything else that would be considered "fun". Instead you must configure your car and adjust many settings for each of the 16 tracks. Variable weather conditions will also affect how your car handles and your decision on tire selection, etc. You can adjust the race length to as low as 3 laps all the way to a full race which can take many, many hours to complete.
All of the drivers, their cars, and 16 tracks have been officially licensed and included to make this game as realistic as possible, but it must be noted that the stats are from the 1998 season. I was hoping to be able to download the 1999 season via the DC's modem and update the stats with my VMU but no such option was available. The new track in Indianapolis was also not included. This is a major attraction for the new F1 games by EA Sports for the PC and Playstation since this is the debut year for this racetrack.
Like any other of the racing games available for Dreamcast, F1WGP plays better with a wheel. While it's possible to play with the standard controller it doesn't feel natural and you will often have difficulty steering smoothly and braking with your left hand. Even without trying to brake you will have trouble arcing through the turns as the analog stick is simply too twitchy to handle these super-fast cars. Trying to master the gas and shifting with your right hand will prove just as challenging. Get a wheel if you plan on getting (and keeping) this title.
There are four game modes including; Time Attack, Practice, Match Play (2-player), and Championship mode where you recreate the complete 1998 season. Pick your favorite team, driver, and car or create your own. As with any other F1 simulation Michael Schumacher and his red Ferarri is the combination of choice.
There are six various weather modes, which can be selected, or you can set the weather to random and take what the computer gives you. The weather is locked down in the Championship mode, so if it rained in Germany for the 1998 race it's going to rain again for you. Weather not only affects your visibility but also the control and handling of your car. Selecting the proper tires is essential for keeping your car on the track in wet conditions.
Two-player mode is available and the designers have wisely chosen the option to let you decide if you want to split the screen horizontally or vertically. You are cramped in either view so it doesn't really matter. Split vertically and you have almost no peripheral vision, so you can't see turns or cars alongside you. Split horizontally and you are squished down so you cannot see very far into the distance - very dangerous when you are going 200mph.
Various camera modes can be selected during the race and there are even additional TV camera modes you can choose during the replays. The race cams range from nose-cam to a very realistic cockpit view to the near and far chase cams. Driving from outside the car is totally unrealistic and virtually impossible to control yet it seems to offer the smoothest action at 50-60fps. Move into the cockpit and your racing action drops to 30-40fps (still smooth to the naked eye - just not as smooth). This is probably due to the fact that you now have a detailed cockpit with animated driver arms grasping a working steering wheel and two rearview mirrors that accurately display what's behind you.
The graphics in F1WGP are good but not as good as they could or should be. The polygon count of the cars seems to be low and there are no glossy paint jobs or smooth curved surfaces. The cars all seem dull and boxy looking. The cockpit detail is above average with animated driver arms and steering wheel and even functional rearview mirrors.
Track detail and scenery are excellent. The track is bordered by all the usually sponsor logos and the occasional patch of foliage. Grandstands are full of cheering and animated fans and each of the world locations is accurately reproduced with the appropriate cityscape or landscape details for that area.
Special effects seem to be hit or miss. Your car leaves skid marks on and off the track and your tires smoke around the turns. They pick up sand, grass, and dirt when you leave the track then slowly fling themselves clean when you get back on the pavement. But there are some very obvious omissions. During the wet races there is an absence of spray coming off the cars ahead of you - even the Playstation F1 Grand Prix game from 3 years ago had this detail. The fog doesn't seem to be as transparent as it should. Instead of slowly revealing the objects and track ahead of you there is a very distinctive and limiting range to your viewing - you either see it or you don't. With the graphic capabilities of the Dreamcast the fog could have (and should have) been more "misty" and transparent.
The sound is perhaps the weakest part of this game. Let's start with the annoying and repetitive techno tracks that pound into your skull while racing. Music is great for arcade racers and intro movies, but when you are playing a racing "sim" you don't want to listen to some droning beat over and over for dozens or even hundreds of laps. Of course the music is there only to hide the pathetic sound effects hiding in the background.
Once you turn off the music you are left with some of the weakest engine noises I have ever heard. Those of you who have heard an actual F1 racer know the powerful sound it makes just at an idle. When it screams by you at 200mph it sounds like a F-15 fighter. Surprisingly, in F1WGP your car sounds like a 200watt hairdryer set on low heat. Race the engine up to 150mph and it sounds like the same hairdryer on "high". Sitting at the red light amongst 20+ other F1 cars should have your house shaking, but instead it sounds like you are being attacked by a dozen angry hair-stylists.
Oddly enough the sounds that mean the least sound the best. The fans in the stands all cheer as you drive by - louder than your car I might add. The sounds of power tools fill the pit area when you pull in for a tire change or repairs. There is no commentary but you are in constant communication with your team leader who will keep you up-to-date on your standing and the condition of the track ahead of you. Unfortunately he also has some very annoying remarks like "Try and stay on the track" and "Try not to hit the other cars - ok?" which get so annoying you almost want to turn the radio chatter option off.
How long do you play any racing game? Until you get tired of it I guess. There are 16 tracks, thus 16 races based on the 1998 season. Depending on your skill level and the difficulty you choose in the game options, winning the Championship mode can be as easy or as difficult as you want to make it. The two-player mode adds a bit of replay value if you can stand the squashed racing views. Modem play could have seriously helped this title but has once again been omitted.
If I had to put a figure on this game I would say you could probably expect 20-40 hours of use - whether you enjoy those hours is up to you and how low you set your bar for racing excellence. This is a definite rent-before-you-buy title and will probably end up being a rent-instead-of-buying title.
F1 World Grand Prix tries to be a serious racing simulation but fails in just too many areas to be enjoyable. You must have a wheel to enjoy this title but the game alone isn't worth the purchase of a wheel. Granted, there aren't a lot of racing games available for the Dreamcast right now, especially in the "serious sim" category. If you must play an F1 racing game then this is your obvious choice, but if you just want to have fun driving cars around cool looking tracks and competing with your friends then there are many other racing games out there that fit the bill such as Speed Devils.