|Dolby Digital, DTS, 5.1LPCM, 7.1LPCM
With F1 2011 Codemasters continues to refine the solid foundations laid down by last year's game. The handling mechanics have been improved, crafting an experience which is even more authentic than before, while the AI has been refreshed to ensure that seasoned veterans receive a strong challenge. The changes aren't particularly drastic but they do have a positive impact on the game: F1 2011 is easier to play for the casual fan whilst containing plenty of depth under the hood for those who go looking.
F1 2011's graphical upgrades are also delivered with the same kind of subtlety: enhanced weather effects and a small increase in track-side detail bring about a more polished look to proceedings. The raw aesthetics seen in the previous title - giving the game a clean, almost clinical appearance - are left practically unchanged from an artistic perspective, and this is once again backed with a constrained use of lighting compared to other EGO engine games such as DiRT and GRID. To all intents and purposes the lighting scheme works well even if it lacks some of the shiny bloom effects which made Moto GP 10/11 such a pleasure to look at.
Less pleasing are some of the bugs and glitches that users are reporting on the official Codemasters forums. Common complaints include various game freezes, intermittent crashes, corrupt save files and a number of online-related bugs affecting all three versions of the game. While we didn't encounter any issues when playing the console versions of F1 2011, installation of the PC game hanged at around the twenty percent mark - a common problem it seems - but after waiting some forty minutes (!) the installation moved past that point and completed.
There have also been some strong comments surrounding the graphical quality of the PlayStation 3 release, calling into question Codemasters' latest attempt at delivering a solid cross-platform conversion. This makes for a somewhat interesting state of affairs bearing in mind that last year's F1 title actually featured some beneficial optimisations to the EGO engine on the PS3, resulting in a small performance advantage: the first and only EGO title to offer a genuinely smoother experience on the Sony platform. Feedback from PS3 owners points to that not being the case for the new game - a puzzling state of affairs.
Closer inspection reveals that both image quality and performance takes a hit when directly compared with the 360 version, although as our triple-format comparison gallery and head-to-head video demonstrates, the general artwork is a match between platforms.
In terms of the basic image both versions of F1 2011 render in native 720p, but while the traditional 4xMSAA (multi-sampling anti-aliasing) set-up remains on the 360, the alternative Quincunx solution on the PS3 gets the boot in favour of an implementation of MLAA. This change results in a noticeable impact with regards to overall image quality where the PS3 game is concerned: many edges are heavily aliased, with sub-pixel shimmering and pixel popping being a real issue. Things don't look too bad in still screenshots, but in motion the difference is clear, as our comparison video shows.
It's also apparent that the MLAA has an impact on the handling of alpha-based textures. Dithering artifacts on the foliage are highly visible on the PS3 - caused by the use of alpha-to-coverage (A2C) in rendering transparencies. A2C results in a screen-door like effect on objects that use it, with high levels of MSAA required to blend away these artefacts. Simply put, the MLAA does very little - if anything - to help in this regard.
On the other hand, there are no real complaints with the 360 release: the use of 4x multi-sample anti-aliasing (MSAA) provides an excellent amount of edge-smoothing, and things look very clean with the artwork being presented in the best possible light given the game's grounded visual style. The dithering artifacts of the A2C surfaces are also nicely blended, so don't really stand out when playing the game. It's business as usual for the Microsoft platform.
But why the unexpected change with the core rendering set-up on the Sony platform in the first place? Given that parts of the PS3 code see some subtle improvements with regards to the core artwork, putting it on a par with the 360 game in this area - along with featuring some additional graphical detail over the last game - perhaps memory and fill-rate issues are the cause here. With regards the inclusion of MLAA, it may well have been the case that Codemasters have SPU time left-over and thought to use it to lighten the load on RSX. Regardless, the overall conclusion is that whatever tinkering Codemasters has done under the bonnet has resulted in the performance advantage PS3 enjoyed in F1 2010 disappearing in the sequel, and 360 commanding a noticeable advantage.
Our first performance test comes in the form of several extended gameplay clips taken from various tracks at the beginning of the race. This allows us to get a good indication of how well the game performs over range of different situations, from being bunched up with other cars on the starting line, to areas in which the action is less 'heated' on screen.
As with the majority of games this generation, F1 2011 goes for a 30FPS update and employs the common method of dropping v-sync when the engine cannot meet that target. The advantage is that frames are display in the quickest possible way to the user, resulting in the fastest controller response available and lower levels of judder.