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F1 Championship Season 2001
Score: 98%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Games
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Racing

Graphics & Sound:
After finishing the PlayStation version of EA's rockin' F1 Championship Season 2000 I was just waiting for the PS2 2001 release. Better graphics and sound were the least of what I expected, and although the PlayStation graphics were good enough to almost make this PS2 version an anticlimax, the big difference in graphic presentation is framerate. As if the simulation elements didn't rack up a severe challenge, added framerate and polygon-pushing power in the PS2 version make for a much more intense experience. I thought it was control at first, but everything is just flowing that much faster. Reproduction of engine noise and trackside announcers is still solid, if a bit more clear. Favorite visual: The Pit Crew!

One of the only real disappointments for this conversion to PS2 is the loss of Scenario Mode. If you ever played the PS version, Scenario brought in race challenges from the actual F1 season that had to be played out and completed in very specific ways. I can't imagine why this was dropped, unless people found it too hard and not rewarding enough. Granted, it didn't have the depth of Championship Mode, but it was great for solo-play. Though Scenario is gone, Championship remains in all its glory. Both the standard F1 Championship is playable, and where you could stack a custom grid in F1 2000 on PS, now a fully custom Championship series can be designed. GP Weekend Mode has become Single Grand Prix, watered down a little because of a much more in-depth Championship Mode.

Multiplayer definitely benefits from having more horses under the hood. Split screen runs smooth as a baby's bottom, and although you and your friends race one track at a time, Time Challenge Mode lets up to 22 (whew!) players do a round-robin with the controller in an attempt to nail the best time. PS2 Multitap is needed for more than 2 players in Split Screen, but Time Challenge just goes one-at-a-time. Without anyone to compete against, Single-Player remains the deepest racing experience (my opinion...) on console right now. EA made few changes to the interface, mostly different settings for how you customize a car. Not difficulty settings, but options for what parts can be modified, leading to more or less of a 'sim' experience. Pitstops, flags, engine and tire blow-outs are all part of the experience, and mastering tracks comes slowly and with much practice. I was really surprised at how many different small features were added for this release, especially when a straight conversion would have made most people happy.

Hopefully, by not mincing words, I've impressed on you how hard F1 can be. F1 2001 is not a casual racing game, and it's not like there's a combat element to break the tension or give you an artificial edge on the guy in front of you. It's about the most pure racing style I can think of. However, comparing something like PS2's MotoGP to F1 2001 shows a fundamental difference in scaling and balance. Although F1 makes you focus and work on form, mastery does come. If you have the patience to hang in and learn each car and course, you'll be pleasantly rewarded. And, you can still choose to let the CPU control most or all of the hard stuff if it's just fun racing you want.

Game Mechanics:
Very few of the inner workings of F1 2001 were changed for the transition to PS2. This is good, because the PS version was very much not broken. Some fine-tuning for this release includes a more defined way to choose how you set up the car. Before, you could pretty much change anything, but now there are 3 levels of detail. Basic gives options like tire choice, gearbox, and suspension. These all make sense to most racing fans, and drastically affect how the car performs. Medium and Advanced levels start to bring in elements like the foils and stabilizers that control aerodynamic response in the car, and also result in more discreet performance changes. If you really know your stuff, this is great, but most of us can get by with the Basic settings. Setting up the car eventually takes a back seat to trying out the track. A number of settings outside the car make a huge difference in the racing experience, including weather conditions, damage, and things like penalties or engine failures. Most often, in the Championship and GP Mode, all features outside the car are set automatically, but there's plenty of replay value in just trying different weather combinations on familiar tracks. Analog control is reliably smooth, but if ever I would consider buying a steering wheel, it'd be for this baby.

F1 Championship Season 2001 is truly perfection, and although the audience may be somewhat small for this niche, don't miss a chance to try this if you own a PS2. Apart from the loss of Scenario Mode, EA Sports didn't miss a thing in the translation, and you won't see a better precision racer for a long time on PS2.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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