Read Stuart’s column every week in The Scottish Sun, where he shares his reviews, news and podcasts with the 99.3% of the World’s population not fortunate enough to be able to buy a physical copy of the paper. The following appeared originally in The Scottish Sun on Sunday 7th July.
Directing F1 2019
NO ONE knows their way around the virtual F1 paddock like Lee Mather. The game director on this year’s instalment has been with the franchise for 11 years but managed a real fan-boy moment with the legendary F1 technical director Ross Brawn. He said:
“We wanted to bring customisation to the game and we weren’t sure how best to do it because we can’t show favouritism to one team or make changes to the cars. So we came up with the idea of creating a car with Ross Brawn. Pat Symonds was involved too. Between our car team and the guys we created a car that is built around the letter of the rules. Then they helped us make it look right by tweaking the wings — it was a great opportunity and I think it gives use a grounding to build on the multiplayer side of things.”
It may not be as evolved as in the likes of Forza Motorsports, but Lee feels this is just the beginning. He said:
“The first step was to get a car we could customise then bring in a cool level of customisation which we have never had before. You have a number of skins and colours and you can also customise your suit, helmet, gloves and boots, which opens more up for the player. Something like the Forza system takes a huge amount of time to develop — it’s not just the feature, it’s also the moderation as well and, in a real sport like Formula 1, you need to be careful about what people are putting on the side of a Formula 1 car.”
One of the biggest changes is the focus on eSports and Lee believes it’s just a matter of time before a virtual driver makes it onto the real F1 grid. He said:
“That leap to Formula 1 is always going to be big but we are already seeing the likes of Brandon Leigh in a single-seat racer. That’s a huge move for someone who has never driven a car — winning the F1 eSports championship and jumping into a real car and showing skill in it. There is a whole new eSports area in the game plus we want to reward players for trying it out so you can unlock customisation items for taking part. It’s trying to get people to engage in the online side of things as well as seeing just how much fun it can be. When you see your game is changing people’s lives — that’s not something I never expected. That is really exciting and emotional.”
But Lee also admits the game helps racers whose careers have stalled because of a lack of cash, like Musselburgh’s Graham Carroll. He added:
“If you look at Graham Carroll and David Greco, there are drivers who have made it into a form of motor sport but haven’t been able to stay there and have taken a step into SIM racing. It keeps them relevant to what’s happening at the minute and it’s a great showcase of your talent. Graham is part of the Red Bull programme so that’s opened doors for him.”
TOP commentator David Croft admits he used his inner Disney to voice the new F1 game. Crofty — the voice of F1 commentaries on Sky Sports — voiced a character in Planes in 2013 and used that experience to help with the game. He told me:
“You have to use your imagination, as I recorded the script in January and the game isn’t finished. In fact, they are just getting the liveries from the teams so there is nothing I can really talk from. I was in a Disney film many, many years ago called Planes, so I know what it’s like with an animated character and match the mouth movements but this is just my imagination. Luckily, I have a vivid imagination so I can picture myself standing in the commentary box in Australia or overlooking the harbour in Monaco.”
He is also fortunate that Codemasters let him go off-script. He added:
“When I say something it normally leads into something else so there has to be a bit of a script or the game will not work, but I really love working with Codemasters because they say ‘If you don’t think you’ll say it, just don’t say it’. They want it to be the genuine Crofty.”
While most fans love his involvement as part of the F1 experience, Crofty, above, admits he doesn’t get the same respect at home. He said:
“It’s an absolute privilege because I get people coming up to me all the time when I am at races and they say ‘Crofty, I am playing the game all the time and my kids hang on your every word’ which is really nice as I wish my kids hung on my every word. My boys tend to flick past the bits I am on and give it ‘Dad, we have heard it all before’. In fact, they are brutal.”
This year’s game see the rise of the legends and Crofty believes this could be a real hit. He said:
“F1 has just celebrated its 1,000th grand prix, in China, and now is a very good time to celebrate the legends. Wouldn’t it be great to see Stirling Moss (left) and Juan Manuel Fangio? Stirling Moss is still the greatest driver never to have won a championship and Fangio won five. Maybe in F1 2020 we could get Stirling Moss the world championship he so deserves. There are so many legends in F1 like Jackie Stewart and some really great characters that can be brought to life, as well as some truly great cars. And, with the game having the F2 class, we should really bring back a time when F1 drivers drove all manner of different cars. That way we could also bring back Jim Clark, as a legend as well.”
Crofty is 100 per cent behind the eSports revolution. He admitted:
“I am involved in the Race Of Champions and there is an eSports team as well as a competition. The eSports guys like Rudy van Buren and Brandon Leigh (below) have been so impressive in how they have gone from eSports to track. I don’t think there is any substitute for real track time but you can hone your skills on the virtual track. Guys like Lando Norris have shown this year already. Lando went down to Australia and it was his debut in F1 and he’s never been there let alone raced there but he put his car into Q3. He’s been able to do that because he’s done 600-odd laps virtually on the SIM at McLaren as well as at home.”
F1 2019 (Xbox one, PS4 and PC, £45.99)
ANOTHER year, another F1 game. But unlike past years, F1 2019 isn’t just some reskin with a scattering of new drivers. It has a barrage of fresh features as well as getting an overall facelift — plus there are some new and interesting twists to the core game as Codemasters try to get you to down another £50 on the series for another year. A huge part of the game is the career mode, and you’ll spend a lot of your time there as you climb the ladder to become world champion. But in a first for the franchise, you start in the F2 class. And no, it isn’t just a rehash of F1, it’s a racing series in its own right. The cars may not be as fast as their bigger brothers but have bags of handling and this makes for some tight and up-close racing.
The game has also had an overhaul when it comes to the way the career moves forward. There is more of a story feeling than you just being thrown in the deep end and having to do a bit of press in between races. You are given a number of choices to pick from across each race meeting and these really shape your driving career in the paddock when you’re not behind the wheel. But beware, your career in F2 is a bit of a short-lived affair as you only get a handful of races before being fast-tracked into the world of F1. That is a bit of a shame as the F2 side of things feels fresh and interesting. In a way it feels like this is Codemasters dipping its toe into the water to see if there is interest in a more fleshed-out story mode. In fact, a lot of the new features in the game feel like they are really there to gauge interest with fans and are a taste of things to come.
As for the racing, its solid across the board. From F2 to F1 everything feels weighted and handles well. Returning fans will feel at home when they jump behind the wheel of any of the horsepower monsters on show but newcomers will also be able to jump into the action right away too. And once you get to grips with things you can then take your skills online and see how you shape up against the best in the world. It’s fair to say eSports, which now has its own section, and online racing is a big focus this year with a host of modes and events to get stuck into. That will bag you some sweet swag if you do well in customising your driver and car. Again this is a new addition but again it feels like testing the water (it isn’t as deep as the customising seen in the likes of the Forza series, for example). But it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
Graphically the game has had a nip and tuck and that photorealistic feel has been polished to a mirror shine with tonnes of little touches adding to the overall presentation — from the light beaming round the halo system in Bahrain to the rain beading on the camera lens as you barrel around the Monaco streets. Although character modes are improved they are still a bit odd looking at times. But the whole front end of the menu system has been given a fresh coat of paint and is arguably easier to use. Sound is solid as well, from the beefy engines to that dreaded thud of hitting the crash barrier. On top of the core game there is also a DLC which will add legends Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. It is available with the F1 2019 Legends Edition of the game or as a £14.99 download. This adds both legends as well as the McLaren MP4/5B and Ferrari F1-90 plus eight race challenges from across the pair’s epic careers and a few multiplayer car liveries and race kit. This really should have been part of the package out the box as it adds a real weight to the game and lets fans play as two icons of the sport. Again you get a feeling of it being a toe in the water and that this historic rivals idea could really take off.
Away from the DLC, there are also issues with the online side — it’s a bit clunky although we’re sure the bugs will be ironed out soon. F1 2019 is a great racer, no questions there. It has a lot of new features to make it stand out but does feel like Codemasters are playing it safe and just teasing what is to come. Fans will love it, though, and newcomers will find it welcoming but challenging. Is this the best F1 game ever? Yes — but if Codemasters flesh out the new features, F1 2020 will be something truly special.
Car Mechanic Simulator (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £24.99)
WE all know sims allow you to unleash your inner racer, train driver or tractor driver, but car mechanic? OK, it’s on the more bizarre side of sim life, but the creation from Polish studio PlayWay aims to let you fix motors and turn scrap cars into cash. There is no learning curve — you are straight in at the deep end. The tutorial is dreadful. Instead of learning about each tool in the garage and getting tips on the best way to go, you get a small bit of text — and even then only if you walk up to it. The two tutorial cars only need oil changes so not much insight there.
You start with a steady flow of jobs where you need to fix an array of problems on a range of cars. In many ways the game does what it says on the tin — it lets you be a mechanic, so you’ll spend your time fixing, tweaking and upgrading. Occasionally, you get to buy parts and do test drives. It has an OK look, with good detail on the cars. The menus are clear if a bit convoluted at times. But it is hard work if you want to get to fun parts like having your own car, a bigger garage or getting to the race track. The camera is also a bit dodgy. If you like Fast N’ Loud or Bitchin’ Rides then this may scratch a small itch.
Monster Jam Steel Titans (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £34.99)
IT’S pretty cool watching 20-tonne monster trucks do their stuff — so it’s no surprise to see them jump into the digital world. Rainbow Studios lets you jump behind the wheel of 25 trucks — but many are locked and can only be freed with cash from winning events. There are a handful of modes but most of your time will be spent in career — earning that money. When you’re not doing an event there is a sort of open-world playground with stunts and jumps as well as a few collectables. Career is a by-the- numbers affair where you work though a few championships but, sadly, most of it is in arenas rather than ripping up the wilderness.
Bizarrely, new trucks don’t have any stats so you have to upgrade them from the ground up. That is a bit of a pain when you need the maxxed-out version later in the game. It also sucks a bit that there is no multiplayer mode. The trucks are detailed but the handling and physics are twitchy. Monster Jam: Steel Titans is a fun break from your usual racer, but the lack of options will grind.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…