This game has evolved so much since it was released, and whilst it comes with seasons 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 it is possible to download modifications to the game so that it is updated with additional 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 seasons, along with various other seasons that have had modifications made for them. The graphics aren't bad, the cars look and sound realistic and driving feels nice, like you are driving a real F1 car. The game has the usual 17 tracks but there are so many possible tracks released on the internet to add to the game so that you can race on tracks like Istanbul, Fuji, Shanghai and Bahrain which are tracks that Formula 1 moved to after the 2002 season. What I am saying is that this game can be easily modified to become any racing simulation, so if you buy it you are not just buying one game, you are buying many making it supreme value for money!
I waited with baited breath for F1 Challenge 99-02. This was going to be EA's culmination of years of f1 license-holding, encompassing 4 years of tracks, drivers and teams. No doubt it would look the part, drive the part, and hopefully play the part. And in many ways, it didn't disappoint. And at the risk of making the review sound negative, in some ways it didn't. As with any driving game, you need the right equipment to fully appreciate it. I am fortunate enough to have an Thrustmaster Enzo steering wheel, a decent graphics card and surround sound. But if only one of these was available, the most important is the wheel. I cannot stress enough how much more you get out of a racing game with one. And they give a much more balanced view of the game that controlling with the dreaded keyboard. Installation is standard, and EA also include the 3d setup options in the Start menu folder, which is good. The menu system inside the game is fairly simple, although can be frustrating as it doesn't put names to buttons, but has tooltip icons instead. Once you learn your way around, it's fine. You will also notice a lot of options - sound setup, force feedback level, various graphical tuning options, and a decent enough button configuration menu. There is also a load of options regarding the sensivtivity of various controller axes, all of which ended up being as close to zero as possible (more on that later). One tip - the head movement option sounds interesting - your head moving with acceleration, braking and turning - but for me just proved confusing. I turned it off. The graphics are excellent when compared to other F1 racing sims, such as Grand Prix 4, and track textures and pit lanes very nicely rendered. The cars themselves are beautiful, and look as good, if not better, that this game's closest rival Grand Prix 4. The game offers various camera angles - something regular followers of F1 were treated to la
st season - and all are great for replays. My own personal preference is the standard cockpit view. This view offers information as you would expect - fuel guage (in litres and laps remaining), speed, damage, gear change indicators and split times. One good feature here is the changeable LCD screen in the steering wheel. While this is unrealistic, it offers LCD views of detailed split times, tyre temperatures, pit instructions and driver assists. This is easy to navigate and is very useful for setting instructions on your way to the pit stop. A great little feature. In addition to the myriad of setup options that Grand Prix series veterans will be familiar with (dampers, suspension, wing settings and diffs), you can chop and change as much as you like (if you have the patience). The game's sound is one of it's strong points. Engine noise is fantastic - turn it up load and it really is excellent. Not just quality but variety, each car has a distinct sound, and each year's cars are different. The 99 McLaren sounded much lower and throatier than the 02 MP4-17. Add the growl of traction control and it makes for a very immersive experience, despite the fact the traction control doesn't do it's job (see below). They really seem to have spent time on this, and is definetely one of the game's high points. And from a high to a low. The handling, arguably the most important factor, can be described as frustrating at best. I felt oversteer right from the beginning, hence me tuning all sensitivity options to 0%, but this made only some difference. The car feels as though it has permanent oversteer, and I challenge anyone to put their foot down out of a corner and not have to correct it. The traction control sounds as if it is going mad, but still not mad enough. Having said that, I occasionally ran with it turned off and it was nigh-on impossible. More than one of my friends who have played this say the same thing. Re
turning to Grand Prix 4, I had no such problems. One person described it as "like running permanently on ice". And they're right. Perhaps I'm being unfair, it's not bad enough to be unplayable, but it is frustrating. The multiplayer option is excellent. I have spent many an hour racing with folks on the web, and there's nothing like wheel-to-wheel racing with real people, albeit on a computer. This certainly adds longevity to the game, despite the championship options in single player. Conclusion ------------ So to sum up for people who just skip to the end, it's a good game and I would recommend it. It does oversteer, but it sounds great, it looks great and it feels like f1. As Vincent Vega once said, it's the little differences, and F1 Challenge 99-02 has them. Your own pit lane speed limiter, a formation lap and the steering wheel LCD make this just a little bit better than your average. You can get it now for around £10-£15. If you see it for that price - buy it.