F1 Pole Position

The N64 s first F1 racer just doesn t have what it takes

Publisher: Ubi Soft
Developer: Human Entertainment
Genre: Racing
Origin: Japan

What s always been the most likable aspect of the F1 series on Super NES was it s balance of strong F1 racing qualities and arcade forgiveability. Gamers could experience fast, grand prix driving in those exquisite grand prix cars, and still not have be a professional to drive them and win. UbiSoft s 64-bit F1 Pole Position maintains that same likable quality and brings a new graphic crispness and polished look to the Human-developed racer (which appeared in Japan as Human Grand Prix Racing).

F1 Pole Position, however, is good example of UbiSoft s efforts to turn a mediocre game into a decent game. UbiSoft acquired an official F1 license (FOCA), included all of the actual drivers and their cars, trimmed out much of the game s introductory cut-scenes to make for more room in other areas, and polished the rough graphic look to a shiny finish. The unfortunate thing is that despite the company's efforts, the game should have been altogether scrapped and completely re-developed, not just tuned, polished, and upgraded.

Under the hood, the game packs a decent frame rate of 30 frames per second, and manages to bring as many as 10 or so cars into the screen simultaneously, a feat worth noticing, especially for other Nintendo 64 developers. The graphics load much faster onto the screen, so the once-awful pop-in of the Japanese version, is now not as noticeable (though still not great). The polygonal cars zip along their courses, creating an excellent sense of speed, and control is sensible and learnable. But if you look really closely at the cars themselves, they re an awful mess of blurred anti-aliasing edges and low-polygon counts, and despite UbiSoft s work on the game, UbiSoft should ve used a better brand of wax. The cars still look rather crude.

The sound effects are pathetic. The car you're diving sounds worse than the ones coming up from behind you (which sound quite realistic, in fact). But your car rings in your ears like a super-charged sewing machine with a turbo-propeller running through a sewage pipe. And the music? Well, it's a generic kind of electronic thing that's not memorable in any way.

There are three play modes: World Grand Prix, Battle, and Time Trials. Grand Prix pits you against the entire league of pro racers, and you ll race in all of the real courses all over the world. Battle enables you to choose which course you race on against a particular racer, and Time Trials obviously enables you to post your best time (this later can be saved to the Controller Pak). There s also Roster, in which you can check out the competition, Records, where best laps and such are listed, and Configuration, listing interesting ways to change the races themselves.

Sporting an exceptional list of modifications and options, F1 Pole Position 64 will indeed lure the most dedicated fans, if only they can forgive the game for its many flaws. It s still letter-boxed, and still the most fundamental of racers. However, you ll like the way you can completely alter your car, lowering its weight with less gasoline, turning the rear air foil down, adjusting your car for rain, sunny skies, etc. The rain affects your performance, but not nearly in the way that Top Gear Rally s cars are affected, which is to say, not much. Also gamers can change elements in the Configuration menu, changing difficulty levels, collision damage, computer level (AI), machine touch, computer accidents, radio communications, and Controller Pak.

The game s biggest disappointment is it s lack of multiplayer capabilities. That s right, only one player can race against the computer. Period. Racers can save data from several modes to the Controller Pak to challenge friends, but that simply doesn t match up to the adrenaline rush you ll get beating three of your friends in Diddy Kong Racing (or Mario Kart), or two of your friends in San Francisco Rush.

In the end, F1 Pole Position is a better game than its Japanese brethren, that s why it gets the extra star. But it s not a game I ll want to play, or even remember, in two or even one months time.