F1 Challenge is still an ambitious Grand Prix sim 30 years later

By | April 3, 2024

F1 Challenge is still an ambitious Grand Prix sim, pictured 30 years later

F1 Challenge is still an ambitious Grand Prix sim, pictured 30 years later

Sport gaming It used to be just more interesting. In the days before licensing exclusivity, you had a number of different developers experimenting with the same glasses. Even though the results were not equally good everywhere, each of them had their strengths. Many of us grew up playing Bizarre Creations’ formula 1 series on PlayStation, but Sega’s ill-fated 32-bit console, the Saturn, gave us one of the most interesting Grand Prix sims of the day – one that you’d think Electronic Arts might be wise to look to for inspiration.

I’m talking about F1 Challenge, an often overlooked F1 game from 1995 that doesn’t have much to offer at first glance. While Sony’s F1 games feature all the teams, drivers and circuits from the 1995 season, F1 Challenge had only three real circuits and seven cars. There’s no formal championship mode either, and visually there’s not much to look at apart from the wonderfully low-poly car models. After all, the Saturn was a bear to develop for.

But take in a race at Hockenheim, Suzuka, Monaco or one of the game’s fictional Neo City circuits, and there’s a lot to enjoy. First you’re treated to a rather charming garage scene, where you can make some changes to your car’s tire, aero and fuel settings before the lights go out. This is about as serious as you’d want from a racing game from 1995, and from then on you should have no trouble getting used to the game’s tight, predictable controls. As your tires wear, the grip gives way to oversteer, but it’s never truly out of control; It’s damn fun to break out the tail in every corner, almost like you’re deliberately drifting into it Daytona USA.

However, it is the soundtrack that has endured as one of the films F1 Challenges best qualities. Hockenheim, Monaco and Suzuka each have their own themes, racing ’90s gold with ominous synth melodies, soaring guitar riffs and swelling piano. If you’ve ever heard “Truth,” the hit song by Japanese jazz fusion band T-Square theme for F1 broadcasts in the country, F1 Challenges score hits the same note, just without the electric flute. Best of all, because music in games at the time was usually saved to disk as Red Book audio, you could throw the game into a CD player or, a few years later, rip it to your PC and play the tunes yourself. could take. epic rides.

That is real F1 Challenge In short, and it’s already an enjoyable trip down memory lane. I’ve always felt that retro F1 games, or really any racing title dedicated to recreating a particular discipline or series, lives on as a time capsule of the culture and storylines of the era, like an old magazine. The thing is, that’s especially true of the Japanese version of F1 ChallengeF-1 Live Information– because that release has one big difference: the music during the race is completely discarded for commentary.

Sports games often have commentary, but racing games usually lack this. The best you’d get in the ’90s was some stilted, almost robotic ones excerpts from Murray Walker, may he rest in peace as he shouts “It’s Alesi!” when the Frenchman was in the wall. Even today, Codemasters’ F1 games will feature some pre-race commentary, but it’s never particularly specific or notable.

F-1 Live Information, on the other hand, takes this aspect of the experience very seriously. Firstly, the game was not actually licensed by the FIA, but had the support of Fuji Television, which held the regional F1 broadcast rights at the time, and FOCA, the Formula One Constructors’ Association. The Fuji link also means that the voices you hear are those of real television announcers who would have been very familiar to Japanese fans at the time: Masaharu Miyake and Jun Imamiya. (If you’ve ever seen the tear-jerking video of Japanese broadcasters announce the death of Ayrton Senna live on air, Miyake is the man in the middle and Imamiya is his colleague to his left.)

Now, unfortunately, I don’t know Japanese, but thanks to YouTube’s built-in translation feature, we non-speakers can at least vaguely understand what Miyake and Imamura are talking about while playing. Crucially, the commentary is much more extensive than random exclamations; the men talk throughout the race, and the appearance of a particular car or driver in the game’s picture-in-picture window can spark a conversation about their performance from last season, or about adjustments engineers made to the car to meet new requirements. regulations for 1995. There has also been a lot of circuit-oriented talk, such as about the importance that Hockenheim attaches to engine performance, when it was still a real circuit. I can’t tell you how natural it all sounds, but the fact that it’s so specific and based on what was actually happening in the sport at the time means that the clips probably come across quite smoothly, at the risk of becoming quite repetitive as the game only had three real locations.

Personally, I’m not sure I could give it up F1 Challenges sick songs for F-1 Live Information rather creative and ambitious use of disk space; perhaps developer Bell Corporation should have offered an option where the music could play softly among the commentators, or given players the option to choose what they wanted to hear during the race. Regardless, it was a really cool idea to go all-in on commentary at a time when gaming hardware could finally play detailed audio, and I wonder how much more immersive today’s games could be if developers invested in getting it right recreating the spectator experience.

A few weeks ago I watched the 2010 Senna documentary for what I estimate to be the 12th time while I’m doing my Ayrton Senna MP4/4 Lego set. It made me nostalgic for a time I never experienced. I also recently finished the latest installment of MLB the show, with its Derek Jeter mini-campaign, packed with historical commentary to re-immerse players in the Yankees’ many pennants through the late ’90s. If you want to relive a bygone era of your favorite sport, whether that’s auto racing or baseball, you can always watch old footage and YouTube videos. But I would recommend also playing old games like F1 Challenge And F-1 Live Information. And if you can actually understand what’s being said, well, even better.

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