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F1 2002

Video Game Reviews

Ratings are based on a five-point scale, in homage to the the late, great Next Generation Magazine.

Magic Pockets, for Electronic Arts
Gameboy Advance

Rating: * * *
F1 2002 - video game reviews
F1 2002 screen shots - click for closeup, eh

April 21, 2003

Electronic Arts is not always a name that oozes quality and imagination as much as consistency. You may not be seeing something special, but you are guaranteed to see something good. That's never been more apparent in the company's lineup of titles for the Gameboy Advance. These are all good games, but for the most part, not great ones. Of course, with EA, you are promised that next year's version will be better, and their many software studios will be working on it.

That's an important thing to keep in mind when you spend time with F1 2002. I enjoyed this game, I liked this game, but I can't honestly say I loved it. I wasn't excited of hooked the way I was with Moto GP and Motoracer Advance. Still, on a handheld system with one too many cartoon racers, we must be happy with what we have.

This title captures the world of Formula One racing, with authentic cars, drivers, and racetracks. Players begin by registering a name and signing with one of the racing teams, and choose a car and driver. As far as I can tell, there isn't any difference between any of them; a Ferrari drives just the same as a Jaguar. It all comes down to which color you like.

Then, once you're ready, you can compete in a championship, a full season, or a quick race against a friend. Why more than two players can't race together is beyond me; four players should be the absolute standard in every racing game, and it's sorely missed here. There's really no excuse, and, yes, I will point this out every time a game supports only two players.

This title goes to great lengths to make racing as easy as possible on the Advance's unjustly tiny screen. Each race is previewed with a map of the course, clearly labeling all turns, as well as the ideal speed necessary to successfully navigate them. During the actual races, there are the usual signs off the side to tell you how close the next turn will be, and an on-screen icon appears to warn you when it's time to slow down. This is a common feature in rally games, and I really appreciate it here. Thank goodness most everyone has the sense to include these icons in their Advance titles.

I enjoyed the look to everything. The tracks are all flat, devoid of any hills or dips, but the roads are wonderfully detailed. The red stripes to the side, the well-worn asphalt that guides you to the best racing line, the saturation of the browns and greens during sunshine or rain; everything just looks terrific. The backgrounds include photorealistic pictures of blue skies and clouds, which are perfectly sharp and without dithering. This is much closer to what one expects on the modern consoles, and is continuing evidence that this little machine has yet to reach its full potential. Much better than it's "portable Super Nintendo" reputation.

The racecars themselves look great, but here's a problem I have. Their movement tends to be a little choppy. This is no doubt a concession to prevent needless blurring on the color LCD screen; there are also twenty or more cars on the road at a time. So smooth animation is sacrificed for overall speed. This is more noticeable during turns; it seems your car only has a few frames for turning. Add in twenty cars all doing this and everything starts to look, frankly, a little cheap. Maybe I'm just being a trite picky, but I would willingly settle for a slightly slower game to have cars that didn't look like they were cut and pasted.

This tends to transfer to the handling of the vehicles. The steering is very fine, especially when you consider how lousy it can be in so many other games. The movement of your car feels a little greasy; quick, responsive, perhaps a tad light. There isn't as much traction as there should be, especially for a car that's flying by at 300 mph. Again, this is possibly just a concession because of the platform. It still bothers the hell out of me.

It may seem that I'm waffling; that may be true. There is much about F1 2002 that I enjoy so much, and yet there are things that just stick in my side. For instance, I like the fact that the computer-controlled cars aren't perfect automatons. They often make mistakes, crashing, spinning out. I don't like that you can quickly dart out to the front of the pack before the first turn. This is supposed to be a simulation, and I don't need any help, thank you very much. I like that you can actually make contact with the cars without spinning out. I don't like it when I crash, but the other car just drives off, unaffected. I like the club music that's played during the menu screens. I really don't like listening to all those engines' high-pitched buzzing. Sounds like I'm being chased by hornets.

According to the credits, this game was the work of Magic Pockets, who should be commended for their efforts. F1 2002 reminds me a lot of Super Monaco GP on the Sega Genesis many years ago; many players remember that title fondly, and rightfully so.

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