Formula One 06
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PSP
| Formula One 06

Turn 8 of the Istanbul Park grand prix circuit is one of the great corners in motorsport. An F1 car will rocket through the mighty quadruple-apex left-hander at an underwear-soiling average of 170mph, subjecting the vehicle to some 4g of lateral force for what seems an eternity. No driver, despite having necks wider than most teenage girls' waists, is able to go through it for the duration of a race without resting their heads against a protective sidepad.

It's brutal, then, but it also demands the most delicate precision. Get the line into any of its sections slightly wrong, and you'll find yourself hurtling off the track at speeds that even a policeman 'testing' his pursuit car on the M54 in the middle of the night would find hard to match.

Sadly, the closest any of us will get to experience the unconditional thrill of nailing the said turn is when the TV camera switches to in-car and we ride on board with Alonso and company. Unless, that is, you own a copy of the only official 2006 F1 videogame.

Okay, it obviously doesn't quite replace putting on a Nomex-layered suit, sliding feet first into a cockpit barely wider than a poster tube and strapping yourself to a 900-bhp engine with a six-point harness but here's the thing: every time you fully commit to Turn 8 in the game, you do so with trepidation. And that's good – it's exactly the kind of emotional response you want from a racing game and it hints at the level of involvement you can expect from Formula One 06.

But only if you're playing in-car. Once you're viewing the action from outside the cockpit, things slow down dramatically and with them so does any real sense of excitement. Jump back in the car and it's all there again – the dizzying speed, the peril of a missed braking zone, the distress at losing a place to a competitor played against the satisfaction of gaining one.

The trouble with providing a vastly inferior gaming experience through the external, 'chase' cam, is that it effectively forces everyone to play using the in-car view – and many find the latter very tricky or simply don't like it.

There is some good news, though. Fully switched on, the extensive in-built driving aids make control in this perspective uncommonly accessible. While experienced players will find them unbearably intrusive and quickly switch them off, it's a great way for others to get used to the action.

And this is the area Formula One 06 mostly differs from real life in that it's actually more exciting than the sport it recreates. That's not hard, cynics will sneer, but the point is this game can be as stirring as you'd expect a category of motorsport featuring 22 cars with physics-mocking levels of grip, absurd acceleration and lung-collapsing braking ability to be – g forces aside, it's all in here.

Bypass the Quick Race and Time Trial options and any of the GP Weekend, World Championship or Career modes offer every facet of F1, from Friday practice and Saturday's three-tiered qualifying to fuel load strategy, thorough car set-up options, tyre temperatures, marshal flags and pit stops (which, brilliantly, require player input).

Indeed, Career goes further, forcing you to fight for a drive with one of the lower teams before the start of the season and, eventually, making your way up the F1 hierarchy.

Naturally, the level of realism is restrained on the track. Controlling an F1 car via a D-pad, let alone the analogue nub (its lack of sensitivity proves mostly useless for the task), could have too easily proved the perfect way to showcase the game's broad damage model, so while things feel reasonably challenging they are also relatively forgiving – still, the balance is aptly struck.

The equilibrium of your opponents' behaviour is another matter, and whereas some do at least make the odd mistake, others tend to remain easy to overtake into slow corners, even on the higher difficulty setting (their conduct does mean the podium hosts a wider range of characters than this season's Alonso & Schumacher Show has allowed, though).

That's by no means as disappointing as discovering the promised online play (and PS2 connectivity) as well as the chief engineer play option have not been included, however. It isn't, either, as grating as having to endure the loading times, which are more F10 than F1.

Still, all things considered, Formula One 06 is a very competent and engrossing racing game. It's just that maximising its potential will require the kind of commitment that sees drivers enter the eighth turn of the Turkish GP at triple-figure speeds.

Formula One 06

Not an ideal racing game for absolute beginners or anyone looking for quick arcade thrills – Formula One 06 demands considerable player investment but rewards generously
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