F1 '06 is the latest annual update in EA's licensed formula one franchise. Does this version merely contain a new layer of spit and polish, updated team and driver names and colours or is it a radical improvement over last year's instalment? Gentlemen start your engines..............
Not really applicable in this type of game; all the drivers, teams and colours are here creating the atmosphere of the F1 sport and culture.
I was let down by the graphics - they are just a touch bland and the cars are not as detailed as I would have expected. Also backgrounds and the trackside in races is particularly sparse. Car models however are pretty good and the game animates smoothly with all of the tracks being true to life and maintaining each of their own familiar characteristics. Outside of the game though, as you would expect from EA the game, is superbly presented in terms of menus/options etc.
Sound is functional rather than outstanding for the cars although probably not as loud as it should be - it doesn't really give you a sense that you are in the cockpit of an F1 beast. A big plus point however is the commentary and your team radio which keep you updated on your performance throughout the race and dispense helpful tips and the positions of your opponents.
Gameplay in my opinion has greatly improved over last year's offering; most noticeable is the change in the physics of the car, rather than being able to throw your car into corners arcade style you have to drive much more realistically this time round. The game forces you to adapt a driving style more akin to real life, adjusting speed into corners, slow in fast out, and not braking and turning at the same time. Also cutting corners and looking for shortcuts Mariokart style is a big no-no - you will pay dearly if you try this!! It is possible to leave a racing line marker on the track in practices and races which will help you understand the correct racing line and speed required at certain points, this really helps you to progress more quickly in the game and record better lap times.
Another big change from previous years is the damage engine - cars are now much more fragile and hefty crashes will result in huge and potentially terminal damage to your car, again this encourages you to drive more realistically and not use other drivers as barriers to keep you on the track if you enter a corner too quickly.
Also for all of the petrolheads the setup options are far reaching and will drastically impact your lap times from track to track so a bit of mechanical knowledge will greatly aid your progress otherwise it may be a case of trial and error until you stumble upon a set up that works.
The AI of the opponents has also been increased this year with opponents actually driving like they want to win races - you will be pressured, blocked and frustrated by other drivers which add to the sense of competition.
The game follows the normal career/season mode and also a quicker single race option. You can set the race length based on percentage of a real grand prix - 20% being a manageable amount - however for the sadists you can take on a full GP - make sure you have plenty of food and water close by!!
F1 '06 is a well made game and certainly an improvement over last year. The realism in the game has also been cranked up a notch making the F1 experience more life like. This however is a double edged sword and where some fans may be put off - while diehard F1 fans will love the realistic driving engine and the car setup and tweaking options this may put fans of other driving games. The driving does take some patience and you can be severely punished for being too aggressive or not having the correct set up of your car. Not everyone knows the ins and out of F1 set up and aerodynamics and some will want a game that they can pick up play and start winning races from the get go. As such it may not appeal to all.
7.5 out of 10