When it comes to content F1 2009 is immediately impressive. You can choose from single races, a three season career mode, various challenges and naturally competing against your friends. Alongside career mode, the challenge mode is the strongest part of the game, because challenges are both plentiful and varied. You can for example see how many cars you can pass in one lap, set different time limits, or try a course in the rain with dry weather tires.
The core of the game however is the compelling season mode. The player starts out driving for an obscure team and the goal is to, over three seasons, become the king of formula racing. The team assistance is surprisingly helpful with this goal, and I was positively surprised that occasionally the team would for example advise me to adjust my car for better acceleration to improve my lap times. I did and sure enough, I immediately scored the best lap time in the race. My earbud came alive with congratulatory messages and I felt like part of a real racing team. The press naturally takes an interest in the newcomer, and headlines depend on how you do in the races. Along the way you will also encounter jealous rivals, who will diss the rookie without shame until the rookie beats them on the track.
If by now you think the game deserves nothing but praise, don't be fooled. F1 2009 is a decent driving game, but a terrible formula one simulator. This is largely down to technical limitations. The steering is terribly unstable, because the analogue stick is far too sensitive. Even adjusting the sensitivity down didn't stabilise it - at the lowest possible sensitivity the car regularly took off-road detours. There's no chance to experience the thrill of racing when almost every turn in the track will push you off it. In some other type of game this might be pardonable, but when you're supposed to be driving a barely controllable missile in ground level flight, and every turn becomes a battle for survival, the problem stops being a minor one.
Mercifully the game supplies some steering aides that make it marginally easier to stay on track. Unfortunately, they also leech all the challenge out of the game and create whole new problems. First, the car suddenly rockets forward as if it were on rails. Second, it really does handle as if it were on rails, which means passing other cars is nigh impossible because naturally they're riding the same exact rails. The rails let up only on long straights - and sometimes at random points in the last part of a curve, which means the player will almost certainly be thrown off the inside track. Auto-steering also makes it almost impossible to make pit stops. You may have flaps loose, tires disintegrating and be all but out of gas, your team mates may be begging you to stop, but the steering aide adamantly rolls you back on track and plunges on.
The other drivers fall more or less in this area too. All of them stick slavishly to the same optimal driving solution and occasionally poke a rear flap off your car. There's nothing human about any of their actions, and races quickly start to feel more like pre-programmed time trials that dramatic struggles for mastery of motor sports.
The main feeling that F1 2009 leaves me with is annoyance. In season mode the game has a little of that pleasant "just one more race" -compulsion, but poor controls and idiotic AI-adversaries suck all the fun out of playing. Even if you have waited a long time for a Formula One game on PSP stay away from this one.
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