F1 Challenge: App Review

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Codemasters has a multi-year license to produce Formula One video games, and has been releasing major console titles for the last few years. Now it has turned its hand to mobile. The game is F1 Challenge, and it appeared inside the iTunes App Store last week. Can a complicated F1 game work on mobile, in a genre dominated by casual titles or those filled with in-app purchases?

To Codemasters’ credit, it has done an amazing job with F1 Challenge, perfectly bringing together the excitement of the sport and the immediacy of mobile gaming. It was always going to be a tough job, so how has Codemasters achieved it? The clue is in the title, as it breaks the game down into quick, easy to play chunks.

These mini-missions consist of you piloting a car either against the clock, in qualifying, or against another driver, recalling some of the license levels in games such as Gran Turismo. Before starting the game, you pick the team for which you want to drive. The big names are all there, such as Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari, Lotus and Mercedes, plus the midfield and back marker teams including Williams, Sauber, Force India, Toro Rosso, Caterham, Marussia and HRT.

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Anyone who follows Formula One will know HRT is no longer in the championship, and sure enough, the game doesn’t focus on the 2013 teams and drivers, but rewinds the clock to 2012. This means drivers who’ve disappeared from the sport this year are back, including Michael Schumacher, Bruno Senna and Kamui Kobayashi. Now, none of this makes any notable difference, as during the time trials and qualification challenges, all the cars and drivers perform identically.

Each level can be passed with either one, two or three stars, depending on your performance. The game is quite easy, and getting three stars on each one almost straight away isn’t a problem. These stars are then used to unlock new levels, but, once you’ve driven four of five levels for, say, Red Bull, you find yourself needing maybe 50 more stars to unlock the next level.

It’s here you think, oh, here come the in-app payments, and sure enough you can pay for quick access to the later levels. If you’d rather not, then you move onto the early levels for other teams, and build up your stars that way. This method is confusing, and even when you’re three-quarters of the way through the game it still feels like you’re going to have to pay up again.

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So how about the missions? For the most part, they’re excellent. You view the track and car from above, and only have control over the car’s steering, as braking and acceleration is automatic. The controls are a bit strange, as you don’t get a virtual steering wheel, like in Reckless Racing, but a vertical slider on the right of the screen. It’s accurate enough, but the position is a little uncomfortable. The only other thing you get to do is tap and hold the screen to activate KERS.

The racing is surprisingly realistic, as it makes a difference to stay on the racing line, and learning the track helps no end. There is an active map at the base of the screen to show what’s coming next, but it’s easy to focus on this too much, and you end up missing every apex.

F1 Challenge looks fantastic, with beautifully rendered cars on the menu screen, and the tracks are accurately reproduced. It’s fast, but there is some stuttering when the action is moving quickly. The sounds of F1 are also there, plus a few music spots, one of which shares a distracting similarity to the music from Masterchef.

At £1.99 it’s not the cheapest app around, and it is a bit cheeky to put in-app purchases in after paying the original price. If you’re an F1 fan, you’ll love F1 Challenge though. It’s lots of fun, all the cars and drivers are there, plus the racing is exciting, fast-paced and close enough to the real thing to keep you entertained. The nature of the quick missions means it’s suitable for casual play, and it’s compatible with the iPhone and the iPad, but another level of difficulty would have be nice, along with a clearer method of progression.

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