You might be aware of Need for Speed or the Asphalt series. But did you know that racing games as we know them today have largely been defined by the first generations of console games? The PlayStation Classic – the dominant console of its time – delivered an array of virtual racing games that continue to be influential today.
Many of the greatest F1 game titles were released during the 90s to early 2000s, which is considered as a golden age for F1 games. The decade saw game development companies acquiring licenses from the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) to display real driver names, teams, and tracks. Just imagine the giddiness many have felt using Gerhard Berger or Ayrton Senna on the racetrack. While the pixelated portraits of our favourite F1 drivers may have required a bit of imagination, they were still a far cry from the fictional drivers of previous games that were harder to relate to.
F1 2000, the first of EA Sports’ F1 series, was one of the more popular games in the genre. The 2-player split screen mode is a classic, and the full telemetry interface added another dimension to the game. There were also highlights, and your opponents even commit errors, making the game more realistic.
Another memorable title is Ubisoft’s Monaco Grand Prix. It managed to license Formula One’s iconic sponsors including Schweppes and Castrol, all of which added authenticity points. But what struck a lot of fans the most were the camera angles and the 1950s retro mode. Even the cars’ handling felt different and the tracks were really detailed.
Of course, who would forget Bizarre Creations’ Formula 1? The first of Sony’s Formula One series, the 1996 game took the genre’s realism to the next level. It was the first F1 game to have a running commentary, and featured the voice of no less than legendary F1 commentator Murray Walker. Hearing an actual commentator of the motorsport hype up your performance was incredible, while Joe Satriani’s guitar playing in the background was also a nice touch. But while Formula 1’s realism blew players’ minds, it did not take itself too seriously, as it featured an unlockable fantasy lower-level city circuit. The game’s controls and mechanics were also less finicky and more arcade-like, making the game easier to pick up and enjoy with friends. It was a perfect balance of realism and fun.
More than just games
You could say that a huge part of the appeal of these F1 games came from their immersiveness. They came at a time when first-person views in racing games were still a fairly new innovation. They were also the first generation of F1 video games to successfully simulate the sport as it is in real life. In addition to the drivers and other notable persons, racetracks and place names were rendered to give players the experience of racing on the actual tracks. Players raced on memorable circuits such as Monaco, Magny-Cours, Suzuka, Sepang and others.
More importantly though, the result was that more people became aware of these awesome places and the F1 scene in general. Monaco, for one, is a tiny 202-hectare city-state that made a name due in part to its association with F1. The Monaco Grand Prix, in fact, is one of the most prestigious events in the world, and a part of the ‘Triple Crown of Motorsport’. Racing fans were able to cruise through the city’s streets through the F1 video games. Malaysia also became a part of every F1 video gamer’s imagination, as the prestigious Sepang International Circuit (SIC) was a mainstay in most F1 games until last year. This feat generated more awareness on the motorsport community in the country. Expatbets discussed the vibrant racing culture in Malaysia, and highlighted how there are only a few forms of pari-mutuel betting allowed in the country, including professional car and motorcycle racing, as well as horse racing. Racing events on the SIC have propelled Malaysia to international fame, and the Malaysian Grand Prix even contributed to the annual 4.3% increase in world tourism in the country since 2003. Malaysia cemented its global status as one of the premier venues of motorsport events with the help of the SIC’s inclusion in F1 video games.
It’s great to look back at these games, but more than anything, it tells us that not everything that is old should be left in the rear view mirror. Most of the innovations that these PlayStation games developed are still used today. The latest titles may have better gears and wheels, but they all owe a big part of their appeal to where it all started. For more stories on retro gaming, check out other posts in That’s Not Current‘s Gaming section.