Look at this! Look at this!
Well, you've got to admit it. Psygnosis has balls. They have thrown down the gauntlet to us in asking (nay - demanding) that we compare their newly released racing simulator, Formula 1, with Electronic Arts' excellent sim Andretti Racing. They have gone so far as including, with their release kit, a video which is designed to convince us that Andretti racing is left sucking grit in their wake of their product. And you know the galling thing about this blatant self-promotion? They are (for the most part) right!
Here's why. I recently reviewed the above maligned Andretti Racing, and was pretty complimentary. Gave it a B+, as a matter of fact. But something held me back from giving it an A. And now I know why. The sheer realism wasn't there. Now it is, but it's to be found in Formula 1. As I sit in front of the monitor it is a small matter to fool myself into thinking that I really am screaming down the back straight at Hockenheim, peering into the far distance, trying to spot that early landmark that warns of the Bremskurve chicane's extremely precipitous approach. And therein lies the crux of the matter. Somehow (oh, believe me they go into a great deal of detail explaining exactly how); somehow they make it convincing. And that is enough for me.
But in case it is not enough for you, let me address a number of comparisons in turn.
1) Graphics. Well here, there is really no comparison. Compared side-by-side, Formula 1's graphics are clearly superior. This includes the cars, the track and the scenery, all of which are based on actual video footage. The game designers have put a lot of work into making the immediate trackside landmarks as smoth as possible, and they have succeeded. I have never seen am more lavishly rendered Monaco circuit, for example. And that includes the arcades. The frame rate seems to be superior to that of the "other game", again enhancing playability.
2) Commentary. Especially for a die-hard F1 fan brought up on the BBC, Psygnosis scores again here. The 'voice of Formula 1' (or perhaps I should say the excited screech of Formula 1), Murray Walker has provided extensive sample of his common epithets which can be used, without too much reptition, in providing a constant commentary throughout the game. While I will be only to aware that I have just hit the barrier at 100 plus, it is nevertheless quite fun to hear Murray have yet another hernia over it. And his regular updates on the race order actually does come in useful. (Another note regarding graphics; the times, race order, distances etc. are all constantly provided at the bottom of the screen in the manner that any F-1 watcher will be used to. PAY ATTENTION. It is important information).
3) Drivers. Unlike ANY previous racing game I have encountered, every single one of the other drivers on the track have their own Artificial Intelligence programmed in, based on their actual driving styles. I must agree, different behaviours are apperant, usually consistent with real life. This is a welcome addition to the game. It really makes you feel you are actually tracking Damon Hill or Gerhard Berger and adds to the realism of the experience. This point extends to your driver choice...you can be any driver in the '95 championship - with their car and all its faults and advantages. Andretti Racing provides a generic Indy or Nascar; and you can only be you (hard luck)!
4) Weather. This is another point where Formula 1 really scores. Try Monte Carlo in the wet. HAH! Good luck. Grip down, performance down, view way, way down. But boy is it fun! You can choose the weather conditions, or let fate (or a simple algorithm) decide for you. Unfortunatley, as far as I can see, if you choose the latter option, there is no way of knowing before the race. Sucks if you are on slicks.
That brings up the faults. Formula 1 is not devoid of them, by any means, and at times suffers in comparison to good old (all of one month old) Andretti Racing. As far as I can see (although Psygnosis' spin doctors claim quite the reverse, in fact) the driver views in Formula 1 are fewer. Oh, the car views are more, but try driving your car looking from the car behind (or in front!) and see how far you get! F-1 does score on the race replay though. You can review the entire race from a variety of angles, including all of the Fuji television camera sites.
The initial setup options in Formula 1 are fewer, although you have more options in the pit. This makes for exciting pit-stops, since you control the work done, it is up to you to hone the times. Andretti racing provides the option of racing stock-cars, which does provide an entirely different driving experience. Without stock-cars, Formula 1 can't compare there. Andretti racing allows you to pursue an entire career; F-1 only a single season.
A more important point is that Andretti racing lets you use split-screen to race one-on-one with a pal. For F-1 you need two linked Playstaions. Finally, the instruction manual (that's a overstatement...let me say the instruction pamphlet) provided with F-1 is a little sketchy, to say the least. This is a criticism of many of the Playstation (and Saturn for that matter) games. Just because your game is a CD it doesn't mean you have to fit the instructions inside the CD-case!
There is only one thing that mars the otherwise impeccable graphics in Formula 1. Little black and light blue horizontal lines tend to flicker in and out along the roadway ahead of you. It is reminicent of the 'polygon overlap' problem you see in some fighting games, and probably a result of the high level of detail in the graphics.
However, despite the above flaws, Formula 1 wins hands down. Buy it! As you manouver your way round Maggots at Silverstone, trying to pass Jean Alesi (that little French git), who is making his car as wide as...something very wide; as you meanwhile desperately attempt to stop Gerhard Berger (that big Austrian git) get past you; as you listen to Murray Walker have yet another apopleptic fit in the commentary box - you will be glad I told you to.