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Sixteen years ago, back in the days when the Amiga 500 computer enjoyed the equivalent popularity of today's Nintendo Wii, my older brother purchased, what was then, a revolutionary Formula One racing simulation game. Now, this is back in 1992 when the Playstation had not been thought of and Formula One games were few and lacking quality. A jewel in the crown emerged, Microprose created the best motor racing simulation game of its generation - Formula One Grand Prix.
Suddenly, an obsession began... my early teens consisted of playing this game endlessly - racing hard and winning hard-fought championship after championship. Inevitably a new dawn began and the Playstation era kicked in, sending the obsolete Amiga into its box and into a cupboard. I ended up not playing Microprose F1GP for about 7 years. In the intervening period I played F1 games on the latest consoles, but something was missing. Recently, after scouting around on Ebay, I purchased the PC version of F1GP for £3. The game is precisely the same as the Amiga version, hence although I am reviewing the PC version, I am essentially reviewing it in all of its formats.
This game is the superb creation of Geoff Crammond, and was released in a period when Formula one reached its peak for excitement and popularity. Ayrton Senna had just won his third World Championship crown, being closely contested by Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost. All of the race tracks were fast and original, overtaking was frequent and more risks were taken... the ghost of this era is captured in the game.
Formula One Grand Prix is based on the drivers, teams and tracks that featured in the 1991 season - therefore, a few of the circuits will come as a blast from the past, such as Phoenix, Adelaide and Portugal.
When you insert the disc into your computer, you are taken through a animated sequence of cars racing off the starting grid. After watching this, you are then presented with the menu screen. On this screen, you can:
- Edit Driver / Team Selection - this is where you can select the driver you would like to control in the race. You can also edit driver and team names... more of which is explained below.
- Start a Championship Season - which involves racing the full 16 circuit season in chronological order.
- Race a Non-Championship Race - here you can literally race on any of the 16 circuits, starting from Practice, Qualifying and Pre-Race Practice to the actual race.
- Options - In the options menu, you can tailor the game to how you want to play it, for instance you can race the full 72 or so laps (dependant on which race) or race the shorter 7 laps, and you can either play as a rookie, if you are a novice, or as a Pro, where gameplay is far more challenging.
Playing the game
You can either play F1GP with a joystick or you can use the keyboard. Either way, you will get a good feel for the handling of the car. I have never driven a formula one car so I am not in a position to judge the accuracy as to how the car handles - what I do think is that the race car on F1GP negotiates circuits like a dream.
Moreover, unlike the vast amount of modern Formula one games, on F1GP you can have huge shunts which reflect reality. If you crash chassis-first into a concrete wall or are collected by a fast car when you spin, your engine will cease to run and your car will be 'Out of the race' once it comes to a stop. Unless you put your car in 'Indestructible mode' where it cannot be damaged, bits of debris will normally fly off your car on impact with another car or the wall. This is a detail which I have not experienced on many racing games - normally, the way damage manifests on the car is unrealistic, a nose cone normally just flies off instead of numerous amounts of shrapnel scattering everywhere, and cars on other games are seldom written off and unable to continue.
Personally, this is my favourite feature in F1GP. As a player, you are able to edit the all driver names and all team names - meaning you can be the named driver of a McLaren in Ayrton Senna's famous yellow Nacional helmet. This increases the level of enjoyment you are likely to have with the game - you are able to rename all 35 drivers to names of friends and family. You can also rename teams into names that are more personal to you, like 'Team Oxonian' for instance.
The great thing about some computer games is a sense of escapism. Due to the customisation feature, you can create your own reality within F1GP, e.g. when you are playing in championship mode and you are racing your rivals, you can imagine that rival is someone you know. It is quite a unique element that I have not come across in any other Formula One game, and it allows you to feel a bit more personally involved in the action.
The graphics were the primary reason for F1GP's popularity. The evident 3D graphics give a strong experience that you are there in that cockpit. The detail is excellent for its time, where the polygons give a strong sense of depth to the cars. The colours on the cars clearly highlight those of the team, such as the unmistakable red and white colours on the 1991 McLaren. You do not see the sponsors scattered all over the cars like in contemporary games, but again this does not massively take much away from the overall realism.
As for the courses, their design match those of the 1991 circuits virtually curve for curve and bridge for bridge. The signs around the track have no writing on them, but given that this is a simulator, this is not a fundamental detail. The fact the signs are there give a good sense of atmosphere.
Again, back in the glory days when Formula One was on the BBC, the introduction music was based on the latter part of 'The Chain' by Fleetwood Mac, and similarly this is the music that plays during the opening animation of F1GP - exuding the ghost of how real-life Formula One used to be.
Other than this, music does not often feature very strongly in F1GP. The only other instance is when you retire from a race and there is sometimes a very short musical piece which sounds very jazzy with a motor racing feel.
Looking at this game objectively, not taking into account the tremendous number of F1 games on better consoles that have succeeded it, the sound effects are very realistic. As I have said, I have never driven a formula one car, but the incredibly noisy sound effects of the car when it revs up at the starting grid and throughout the race emulates that which you hear on the TV, more so than the FIA associated games that have been released since.
Overall, there is a strong feel of magnitude and gravitas in the sound effects which convey reality quite strongly - e.g. when you crash into a wall at speed, there is a very heavy sound of mangled metal.
I have played well over twenty Formula one games in my lifetime - a couple of which pre-date F1GP, but more so that succeed it, which include those on the PS1, PS2 and Xbox 360. However, none of them, in overall playability, compete with F1GP.
The most important feature of the game is the edit capabilities, where I have traditionally taken the role of Ayrton Senna's team-mate, and have input the names of my son, fiancée, father, brother, sisters, mates and other people. It just makes the game that bit more enjoyable and personal, than racing the actual drivers.
Overall, I believe F1GP is a hugely enjoyable, revolutionary, realistic and timeless motor racing simulator, which, after nearly two decades of playing, my interest has not waned. Real life Formula One has changed a lot in recent times, and before Lewis Hamilton came along, it has been a chore for me to watch over the last 10 years. I must admit that I enjoyed Formula One before Senna's death, when racing was exciting and circuits were faster and hazardous, and F1GP reflects this era.
I would thoroughly recommend F1GP to anyone who wants a realistic, adrenalin-fuelled and enjoyable driving simulator, whether it is because you like Formula One or just driving very fast.
It was released nearly 20 years ago but is still available to buy on Amazon for £14.99, though I am sure you will find a much cheaper deal on EBay.