Formula 1 has arrived in full 3D glory on 3DS, and it’s every bit as fast and impressive as I hoped! The physics are good, sense of speed fantastic, and the game is not plagued by bugs like the latest console versions. Unfortunately, there’s some bigger fundamental problems that make it a hard game to spend time with.
The controls are a disaster. With DRS + KERS boost and gear changes all at the same time, the game has you pressing all 4 face buttons on the straights in a hilariously awkward game of finger twister. That’s AFTER I custom assigned the acceleration to the R trigger, which feels odd itself. The R and L buttons just don’t have the tactile feel needed to be the primary buttons for these monstrous pedals. It’s functional sure, but not very satisfying. There’s only one thing I like about these controls and that’s the sensitivity of the 3DS analog nub. With the gentle ease of tilting it provides, it gives a lot of control through the fast sweeping corners when you only want to turn the steering wheel a little bit.
For those unfamiliar with F1, the KERS boost is a kinetic energy recovery system where the car collects power under the braking forces and stores it for an engine boost at the press of a button. DRS is much more powerful, and involves opening the rear wing to remove downforce on the straights. Make sure to close it before the corner though, otherwise the car will sail wide on the corner without the grip of the rear wing pushing the car down. F1 2011 does a pretty good job changing the downforce on the fly; I tried to do a full lap with the wing open and it was difficult.
The sense of speed is amazing. I wish I could capture footage of 3DS gameplay because nailing a perfect lap, hitting all apexes and braking points, and using KERS and DRS at the right time is boner inducing. There’s something about the small screen and the 3D effect that makes it feel a lot faster than it actually is. It’s rigorous, unforgiving, and the corners approach at blinding speed. The sensation is something that would make even Kimi Raikonnen crack a smile.
Unfortunately, this sensation is a fleeting one. The flashing speed also makes it a lot more difficult, and not in the good way. I mentioned the smooth adjustments possible on high speed corners, but every other corner is a nightmare. To turn the car in properly after braking you’ve got to really smash the analog nub consecutively from the middle to the edge. The adjustments you have to make at low speed while turning have to be really furious and quick to keep momentum, and I find my thumb sliding from the center due to how gentle the surface of the 3DS analog nub is. The brutality of an F1 steering wheel does not translate to the 3DS at all, but they tried anyway. Jenson Button would be on the radio complaining about it every lap. The constant see-saw of full lock that’s required has you destroying the analog nub in a way that makes Mario Kart feel organised.
The next huge flaw of the game is the actual racing. The 3DS shits itself as the cars launch off the grid, plunging the framerate into a single digit slideshow. This is a REALLY bad time for the graphics to fall apart, as most F1 fans will know the start is the most difficult and awkward part of every race. In F1 2011 the cars go all over the place in a manner that has them teleporting left and right and flashing all around the track. It doesn’t help that all 24 cars seem to want the exact same piece of track on the first corner. It’s so unbelievably bad that I keep about 5 car lengths distance between them just in case; the best place to start is last place as half the cars will drive off the road and you can sail through the carnage cleanly. Even starting 1st, a car can just decide not to brake for the first corner, sending you flying into the gravel without a rear wing. Then the game hands you a drive-through penalty for being hit, because every incident is the players fault.
F1 2011 makes the 3DS look bad. They’ve taken console game principles and applied them to a conventionally different control setup on a handheld. The 3D effect adds immensely to the experience, but still lacks the depth and intensity of every other 3DS game I’ve played. This is fundamentally the Wii version of F1 2009 with upgraded physics and the Wii Wheel controls slapped haphazardly on the analog nub. It’s not a horrible game, but due to the crap AI and uncomfortable controls it’s only really fun in qualifying. Even then it’s very awkward, and I would prefer to play this game on Wii because the core driving physics are very good and completely wasted in this game.