EA Sports' F1 Career Challenge (PS2, Xbox and PC) is as the name suggests, an F1 game published by Electronic Arts. The game follows on from EA's F1 2002,
which in turn follows on from F1 2001 etc etc. So why aren't you reading about F1 2003? Well the problem is that EA don't have an official licence for 2003. Due to their apparent
need to release a 'sequel' every year EA have provided us with Career challenge instead. Fortunately it's rather good...
The main focus of the game is obviously the Career mode, in which you start as a rookie driver at the start of the '99 season and endeavour to work your way up the ladder
to become world champion within four years (remember that EA have the official licence for the years 1999 - 2002). After the obligatory "customize your character" type
stuff (you get to choose a face and a helmet design) you will undergo a series of tests. These cover aspects like braking, cornering and wet weather driving. Upon
successful completion of the tests you will be issued a superlicence which allows you to take part in Grand Prix events. Job offers from a few of the smaller teams are then
received - choose a team and you are ready to race! Depending on your reputation you will receive offers from other teams at the start of each season or even halfway
through the year. The better you do in the races, the higher your rep and the more chance you have of getting an offer from a top team. Your results will also determine how
many points you get. Points can be used to obtain things like improved engine and perfect pit stops in the next race. Purists will probably ignore this in favour of realism
as with improvements you can in fact take several seconds off the real life lap records with ease. Casual gamers will doubtless lap this up as it does make things much
easier, particularly in the later stages when you are competing for pole position. The second way to improve your car is through the various test scenarios. Real F1 teams
rack up thousands of kilometres each year in testing but you only get one lap for each test (and not every event has one). The objectives range from simple overtaking and
brake tests to completing a lap without a front wing (not as bad as losing the rear one!). If you do well (Pass or Ace) your virtual engineers will have good data to
work with. This results in improved performance in that particular area (eg braking, aerodynamics etc).
Aside from Career mode, you have Quick race and Multiplayer modes. Quick race allows you to choose a year, team and track and go for it, while multiplayer is much
the same except that you can select to race with no other cars on the track. Race length can be from 4 laps right up to Full race distance (usually 60-70 laps depending on
the track). Other options include Difficulty, Fuel use/Tyre wear, Interactive pit stops and the option to race under full FIA Rules. One obvious area that doesn't grace
this title is a practice mode. In a game which takes racing so seriously and encourages (demands) that you know the track inside out it seems stupid that no game mode
caters to this. The only practice sessions in the game are the one hour sessions before qualifying in career mode.
Possibly the first thing you'll notice about driving is how twitchy and difficult to drive the car seems. It's not actually that hard, it's just very different to any other type of
car game. That's right, Your Gran Turismo skills are worth naught in this game. Give the controller a gentle nudge and the car will turn. Until you're used to it full lock will most
likely see you spear off the track into a wall at speed. Oh, and you'd be surprised how late you can brake - get used to it 'cause your lap times will suffer badly if you slow
too early. My suggestion is to use the full automatic gearbox at first or you'll also have (up to) 7 forward gears to worry about as well.
F1 is an exact sport. The difference between qualifying first and second is often measured in tenths or even hundredths of a second. This marks the second big difference
between this and less 'serious' racing games: You really need to be committed to every corner in order to be as fast as possible. Spend to much time clipping the curbs in
your qualifying lap and you may lose that vital half second, carry too much speed into a corner and the add braking required will result in less exit speed, again damaging your lap time. To win a race on 'hard' you have to know the track down to the smallest detail and have the concentration to nail it lap after lap. While this might seem to
alienate the 'casual gamer' it's not a total sim either. While the handling feels about right I find it hard to make an accurate judgement as I can't say I've ever driven
anything even vaguely resembling an F1 car. It does however feel satisfying - incredibly precise steering mixed with rock solid stability, just like it should be.
The computer opponents can be difficult to beat (on hard that is) but not as difficult to beat as there qualifying times. After a while you will find that, even though you may
only qualify 10th or so, you can be somewhere in the top 3 by the second lap. Possibly the best time in the race to overtake is the start, where it is possible to gain up to about
8 places if you're good, but 3 or 4 is more reasonable. The only other problem I have is that they're not a careful as they should be when it comes to avoiding collision. Brake to
early with someone close behind and you can expect to be rammed. Keep focused though and you shouldn't have too many problems. Finish in the top 3 and you will see a
somewhat lacklustre podium cut scene. If you watch the sport on TV you may notice that the drivers all have their actual faces! This would be great if only they fitted on
the bodies a little better... As it is you get a kind of strange bobbing that appears to have nothing to do with the body's movement.
Cut scenes aside the game features very slick visuals, with a real sense of speed and acceleration complimented by a slight blurring of the screen under heavy braking. A
similar effect can be seen in the Moto GP titles and works surprisingly well at conveying the neck snapping forces at play every time you dab the stop pedal. The cars
sound whiny yet powerful, true to form. Hardcore racers will be pleased by the complete lack of in-game music. Others might find it odd.
If you like F1 and don't have a previous EA F1 game - buy it. If you have F1 2002 there isn't too much here to justify $100 as the game looks and feels very similar and you
don't get the 2003 season. For others it might be worth a rental but don't expect to finish it (or even become good at it) in a weekend - just like the real thing. Personally I