The first F1 World Grand Prix game for the Dreamcast was something of a mixed bag. While it featured visuals light years ahead of its Nintendo 64 forerunner, several problems with the vehicle handling and frame rate made it appear to be nothing more than a slapdash conversion designed solely to line the developer's pockets. Fast forward a year and enter F1 World Grand Prix 2, a complete reworking of the original.
Based on the 1999 F1 World Championship, playing F1WGP2 now is like looking at a who's who of F1 drivers from yesteryear - it even features Damon Hill. But this is to be expected of any franchise that prides itself on having current real world stars as an integral part of its appeal. However, due simply to the game's sublime performance in every other department, the out of date driver roster matters not an iota.
OK, so F1WGP2 cannot match Electronic Arts' more modern F1 games in terms of sheer over the top razzmatazz presentation, big name soundtracks and stunning race intro sections, but on the flip side, I reckon that EA took a long hard look at this before going back to the drawing board after F1 '99.
The way the cars handle is excellent and the speed at which they travel is exhilarating - and coupled with the well implemented analogue accelerating and braking it really does test your skill as a racer, e.g. you really have to gradually squeeze the brake trigger or risk a wheel lock and likewise yanking on the accelerator out of a turn will result in a wheel spin and subsequent loss of control - just like in a real F1 car (I'd imagine!). Even the way the cars actually turn has been improved. In F1WGP, the cars seemed to turn on a sort of central axis, as if a pole had been smashed through the centre of the car. It felt highly unrealistic and made successful cornering a twitchy nightmare. F1 World Grand Prix 2 has commendably done away with this system so now the cars appear to turn from the front wheels, and it makes for a much smoother steering model.
The improvements don't end there though - the aesthetic aspects of F1 World Grand Prix 2 are equally impressive: the sound effects are really quite good, with lots of engine samples from real cars and some great ambient sounds of other cars racing around a different part of the track (preferably behind you!). The in-game music is a sort of dance sound track and while that may sound a little odd, it really adds something to the adrenaline rush of taking over a rival on a chicane at 200mph. Of course, if you'd rather a more true to life experience the music can be muted ad then it's just you, the screaming engines and the radio contact from the pit crew.
There are a multitude of in-game views and they range from the usual 'chase cam' to the 'nose' cam to some of the best cockpit views I've ever seen in a racing game. The helmet cam puts you right down in the action and you are treated to a cockpit environment complete with working speedometer dials and moving hands ad gear changes. The other in-car viewing angle is from just above the driver's helmet (where the air intake is located), gives you a wider field of view than the cockpit and you also get to see the driver's head bobbing about under the inertia from the vehicle's movement - for instance brake hard and he lunges forward, make a sudden swerve and the helmet will follow...it's a great little touch and adds to the realism of the rest of the game. But wait...there's more!
Let me explain something: if Formula 1 World Grand Prix 2 was released today on the PS2, you'd think is was a pretty good looking game. In 2000, it looked absolutely mind blowing. Everything from the cars, to the tracks, to the grandstands and even the sky is so accurate it's sometimes easy to forget that this game is over five years old. It looks stunning - the amount of detail packed in by Paradigm is extraordinary - there are even big screens dotted around some tracks with video clips playing on them! F1 WGP2 has it all: smoke plumes, flashing spectator cameras, waving flags, lens flares, fully modelled pit crews...I could go on, and everything is displayed in eye splitting high resolution with hardly a hint of slowdown. Even in the wet weather (an aspect of the first game plagued with ridiculous amounts of slowdown when there were too many cars on screen) F1WGP2 doesn't let up. Simply amazing.
There is so much to see and do in F1WGP2 that I'd probably go as far as declaring it as one of the best F1 games ever produced. Cars are totally destructible; races are tight; handling is superb; graphics are excellent; it features dynamic weather conditions that actually affect the proceedings; there is a great multiplayer mode; a museum (where you can view the cars ad read driver biographies); it features every F1 circuit and team from the 1999 FIA Formula 1 World Championship and almost every aspect of a race is customisable. If you hadn't already guessed, this is one hell of a game.