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F1 2011 PS Vita review: Proper Formula One, shrunk to fit

Proof PS Vita has the grunt to run racing sims

We know that the PS Vita is good at running driving games - it's one of the best-represented genres at launch. But can it do driving games that have pretensions towards being simulators?

Currently, the only way to find that out is to play Codemasters' F1 2011 - it's the only oasis of simulation among the myriad arcade racers at launch. As with an impressive number of PS Vita titles, F1 2011 is uncannily reminiscent of its big brother on the PS3. Although in its case, it did receive a bit of outside development help, with Sumo Digital handed the task of downsizing Codemasters Birmingham's efforts for the consoles.

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So it looks magnificent, albeit with slightly less elaborate textures. Much better than you would expect it to look on a handheld console, though, which is what we've come to expect from PS Vita games.

Structure and controls

Fire it up, and anyone who played F1 2011 on a fixed console will feel instantly at home: the main menu uses an identical typeface and has more or less the same options, including for online play - you can, of course, take on human opposition locally or via the Web.

Thus, you can jump into a Quick Race, opt to commit yourself to a full season (with you at the wheel of any of last year's cars so, for example, the green-painted cars are still Lotuses rather than Caterhams) or take on a full Career, in which various lowly teams will invite you to test their cars and, according to your ability, you can work your way behind the wheel of one of the front-runners.

There's also a set of Challenges which differ from those in the fixed console versions, and which might involving passing through as many checkpoints as you can, doing a lap while avoiding giant exclamation-mark-sign obstacles, or overtaking as many cars as possible in a set time.

F1 2011, slightly surprisingly, pampers you with less hand-holding in the early stages than the console versions did - when you boot it up, you do get to choose AI difficulty which includes an Easy setting that will render your opponents way inferior drivers than they are in real life, and will give you a straight-line speed advantage which is great for winning races at the wheel of an HRT but will breed contempt among Formula One purists. You can also pick your driver aids.

But you would expect F1 2011 to invite you to choose between the four control systems on offer, which make some use of the PS Vita's unique abilities - and it doesn't; instead you have to scroll down the main menu to Options. The default control system is the least imaginative, with accelerate and brake mapped to X and square. It's also the worst control system, because if you want to use KERS or the DRS, you have to take your thumb off the accelerator.

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The system which uses the triggers for acceleration and braking makes much more sense (although you don't quite get so much analogue feel from the triggers as you do from the buttons). And there are two systems which use the rear touch-pad to ape the paddles you find behind the wheel of a real F1 car - in one, you accelerate by touching the right of the touch-pad and brake by touching its left side, and in the other, the touch-pad is mapped to the gears instead of the throttle. Both are something of an acquired taste.

Look and feel

Where F1 2011 really scores above rival driving games for the PS Vita is in the car-handling feel that it somehow manages to communicate. You can really sense the difference between Option and Prime tyres, and between cold and fully warmed-up tyres. Hit the DRS while you're still turning and the only likely outcome is an almighty tank-slapper.

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