The biggest question for any yearly franchise is 'do I buy it this year?' A lot of the time, the answer to this question is a pretty tricky one to gauge. Are livery changes enough for you? Do you need a complete overhaul before you'll even consider dropping your hard earned cash?
For most, the answer lies somewhere in between - and thankfully with F1 2011, the tip the scales further towards 'complete overhaul' than 'bug fixes' (though there are plenty of those as well).
The most immediate changes are via the appropriate inclusion of KERS and DRS - two video game style systems implemented in full in the 2011 Formula One season which have created an overtaking frenzy in the motorsport.
Both work in F1 2011 exactly as they do in the real world - essentially they are turbo buttons with heavy restrictions - and their addition layers the complexity of an otherwise (relatively) simplistic motorsport drastically.
In fact, adding these to varying braking points, the ability to change your fuel composition on the fly, the necessity to manage your tyre wear as a result and the usual accelerating, changing gears, taking a good line and estimating when you should pit and you're almost looking at too much complexity.
Notice I said almost. KERS and DRS really were no-brainer additions to the game this year, but adding them gives the entire game a brand new feel - you find yourself more in the mind of your favourite driver more than ever before.
The changes to this year's Career mode means that favourite driver will be you more often than not. The team at Codemasters has created an Online Co-Operative Championship which is destined to ruin friendships as you and a mate battle for the position of 'First driver' - on your own though, the career mode feels a lot more dynamic than it did last year.
The interviews seem to play out with a fluidity that didn't exist last year, and the challenge system - where the team you're driving for sets you a place to attain each race - isn't terribly demanding. Hell, though I was driving for HRT straight up they ambitiously figured I would qualify at least 20th and place 18th each race.
Not everything is peaches and cream. The handling of the cars has changed. I haven't raced enough Formula 1 cars in real life to say that the handling is more realistic this year (sadly, my 'F1 cars driven' count is still zero), but I can definitely attest to the idea that the cars are harder to control.
Even with the difficulty turned to "Easy" I found it was a significant struggle to stay moving in the correct direction - prompting me to wonder whether in their quest to make sure the game 'feels' different the team at Codemasters didn't mess with the formula a little too much.
The idea is this - with any 'yearly' franchise game, the developers will make tweaks to the way the game handles. In Madden they tweak the timing needed for catches, or the height a player can jump to block a throw in an effort to force the player to rethink how they play the game a little (delivering the illusion of a new system).
Naturally Codemasters are working at creating a game which sits healthily between 'hardcore simulation' and 'fun arcade racer' - my feeling is that without turning all the assists on the game is probably too hard.
This isn't helped by the new AI, which races more realistically than it did last year. Yes, the AI makes mistakes this year, allowing the player the opportunity to make ground (they even crash out) - but they also adapt to situations on the track better, and it seems like they bumped up the difficulty of the AI all-around as well.
The thing is - I can't fault the game for these things. Sure, the cars are harder to drive - but these are the pinnacle of racing engineering, being controlled by the best drivers in the world. It comes as no surprise that I can't just sit behind the wheel and get my Ayrton Senna on.
I could also never lament the idea of making the AI better just because it made the game harder - that's ridiculous. If they made the AI worse and it made the game harder - I'd be all over it - but that's not the case here.
With practice and with concentration, I will get better at the game. The onus is on me, the player, to increase my skills and better myself to enjoy the game more - and as such the game's difficulty gets a pass from me.
All over, F1 2011 is a fantastic simulation of the greatest motorsport in the world. It's sacrificed a little more game in favour of a little more sim this year - but the spirit of F1 is there in oodles, and for any F1 fan this year's game is a must buy.