Great Old Gaming Gems – Formula 1 ’97 (PS1)

Now first I need to admit something. I am a life long Formula 1 fan and I love a good racing game. So you’d think with that I’m going to biased towards this game and to some extent you’d be right. However… Check back next week for a Formula 1 Fail to see I’m hopefully not that biased.

1997 saw the release of what is still one of my favourite F1 racing games of all time. The question, then, is why is this game still so fondly remembered that I play it every now and again even 20 years later?

To start with it’s fun to play. F1 can often struggle to find a balance between realism and arcade fun in their controls and this one got it spot on. There’s perhaps a little niggle in that I got this when I got my PS1 with a dual shock controller and you couldn’t use the analogue stick to steer only the dPad but as I said that’s a niggle. The opponents AI was challenging enough to make you earn your victories but forgiving enough for those, like me, who would often spin out at the wrong moment.

The graphics did the job well. The cars looked like what they were meant to look like, the tracks were spot on, and there was plenty of dynamic visuals like helicopters buzzing overhead just like at a real F1 race. Perhaps a graphically niggle is that there was a lot of pop up of trees, stadiums, and the like around the circuit. It’s glaringly obvious now but given it’s a PS1 they can be forgiven as it’s an issue that doesn’t impact on game play.

The in-car sounds were pretty basic. The cars sounded kind of like an F1 car. But a really basic one that had an accelerate and a break noise and that was it.

However what made this game a true classic, and one of my all time personal Gaming Gems, was the commentary. Yes this game had actual audio commentary from Mr Formula 1 himself Murray Walker. He’d commentate your race telling you how you were doing, tell you off for playing bumper cars, and just generally add to the immersion of the experience. From a technological stand point it was impressive. What’s more impressive is that, even playing it now twenty years later, there is actually an awful lot of sound samples in that commentary. It’s not a case of two or three repeated soundbites. There are hundreds of them in the game which helps it feel fresh.

When the game was released it was beset with a couple of legal issues. Firstly Driver Jacques Villeneuve was missing from the game as he’d copyrighted his own name and image and refused to let them be licenced. He was called “Driverone Williams” in the menus and “The Canadian” in Murray Walker’s audio commentary.

Secondly was the FIA logo. The game was officially licenced from the FIA (Formula 1’s governing body) but for whatever reason they asked for their logos being removed from the final game. This happened just AFTER the game was released so those who bought the game early got to keep it. The rest had to wait 6 weeks for a new cover to be printed. Random.

If you want to play this one today it’s a couple of quid if you can find a copy if that. Well worth a look though