F1 games of the past have largely been hit and miss. In the late ‘90s, annual F1 games were sultry staples of the racing genre, but ever since Sony acquired the license there has been a steady decline in the quality and level of interest towards the genre. Then there’s the sport itself which, to be honest, has done little to captivate me over the years. More often than not, I will watch the opening laps of a race only to nod off or vacate the TV as the initial bustle dissolves into an uneventful ritual. I’m, therefore, not what you would call a hardcore enthusiast.
2010 has seen a major turning point for F1 however with revised rules and racer rivalries, and as popularity for the sport has been reignited, Codemasters picked their timing well for the release of F1 2010, the direct sequel to the Wii-exclusive F1 2009 and the first F1 game on the PS3 since the mediocre F1 Championship Edition.
It’s been four long years since Championship Edition, but since the license was handed over from Sony to Codemasters in 2008, anticipation for their first foray into the glamorous world of F1 has been mounting for its deprived fans. Renowned for their consistently critically acclaimed racing titles such as Race Driver and the more recent DiRT series, can Codemasters’ take on the sport deliver the same racing thrills of the past for both seasoned F1 followers and rookie racers alike?
Fans of last year’s DiRt 2 will be instantly familiar with the game’s elaborate menu system, which again places you directly in a racing motorhome and works just as well as it did before. Like existing Codemasters titles, you are also prompted to choose your name for the game to refer to you as – while DiRT 2 insultingly referred to me as “Mart,” F1 2010 doesn’t even feature my name at all. What a total travesty.
Codemasters have attempted to stay as faithful to the current season of F1 as possible, including all 24 drivers across 12 licensed teams and all 19 tracks from the championship (including new additions such as the night time race in Singapore) are duly present. F1 2010’s career mode commences by asking you to select from three, five or seven race seasons with the option to adjust the length of each race weekend. Even the short weekends still require you to attend practice and qualifying sessions before the race itself however (though these can be skipped altogether by fast forwarding the race from the pit lane but your grid position will obviously suffer) and each race is typically an enduring 10 laps at a minimum.
On the other hand, full race weekends up the ante by including three practice sessions, an extended three-round qualifier and the same gruelling full-length races from the actual competition, if the race length is cranked up to the maximum. The option for customisation is certainly welcome for those who don’t fancy in excess of 70 laps to contend with, but even the easier option remains daunting to novice drivers – each season is 19 races alone, so you can only imagine how long it will take to complete seven race weekends.
The official rules and regulations also apply in each race, meaning you will incur stiff penalties if you cut corners or come in contact with other drivers, and yet for some reason safety cars are never deployed. Despite obtaining the official license, the game is still lacking a layer of authenticity – the BBC graphics are nowhere to be seen for example, nor is Martin Brundle’s commentary and trademark tendency of interrupting interviews.
Speaking of which, interaction with the media features as an all-new game mechanic, but sadly its execution leaves a lot to be desired. Upon finishing each race, lifeless drones that represent the press will ask you stilted questions that differ depending on your performance. From here, you can answer from a list of predetermined text-based answers of varying arrogance which will in turn affect your relationship with the team. It’s an interesting addition, but at this stage the implementation feels too mechanical, shallow and tacked on, though it remains a possible area for expansion for F1 2011 nevertheless.
Your choice of team also drastically affects career progression – selecting the longer race weekend will restrict the selection to Lotus, HRT or Virgin who will have less demanding objectives than say Ferrari who will constantly pack on the pressure to achieve podium positions. These team objectives consist of qualifying and race position targets and new contracts from rival teams will be offered as your reputation increases – the objective is to ultimately reach the top teams such as Ferrari and McLaren. If you perform consistently well against your teammate, additional perks such as upgraded car parts will also be made available.
To fully immerse you into the role of a racing driver, every race starts from the pit lane with you sat in the cockpit whilst officials actively linger around your car to prepare you for the race – selecting the nearby engineer will then start the race or you can prompt the pit crew to change the tyres. Your engineer acts as a vital guide throughout the duration of the race too, offering verbal tips of when to pit in or how the opposition is performing. It all helps to inject a bit of character into the game without ever feeling intrusive.
Out on the track, Codemasters once again demonstrate their expertise in performance car handling. While probably not quite a true simulation, the ferocious F1 cars handle with the degree of fidelity you would expect and strike a comfortable balance between sim and arcade in the same vein as DiRT 2. The sense of speed is equally gratifying, and is a particular treat when applied to the cockpit view – it gives you a vivid vision of how exhilarating these monstrous machines can be as you hurtle down straights at scintillating speeds.
The handling model is tight and most certainly enhanced by the addition of a steering wheel peripheral, yet there is still the feeling of fragility to the cars when you try to push them to the limit, so don’t be surprised when you frequently spin-off the track. Leaving the game’s default braking assists would therefore be a wise option to newcomers, although it’s not very ideal for late breaking scenarios if you’re after the fastest times. Fortunately, DiRT’s flashbacks whereby you could rewind the race in real-time prior to mistakes have returned, but, given the average length of the races, there’s still little room for error.
Truth be told, I found the opposing AI to be a tad too easy to beat even on the medium difficulty settings – according to the game I was consistently faster than Lewis Hamilton. Notch up the difficulty, and it’s a different story however as the races become intensified by the increased diligence of rival racers that monitor your manoeuvres to defend their position, whilst exploiting any overtaking opportunity. If only real-life F1 was as remotely exciting as this.
It’s a shame then that the graphics don’t quite live up to Codemaster’s track record. They are by no means ugly, and the cars and tracks maintain a respectable amount of detail thanks to the renowned ECO engine that powered DiRT, but the visuals sport a decidedly washed out appearance even on clear sunny days that should look a lot more vibrant than they do. Likewise, glancing at your side mirrors reveals a lowly detailed image with a stuttering frame rate.
There are some neat touches however; I particularly like how gravel will become visually trapped in the wheels if you venture off the track. A dynamic weather system is another highlight that boasts some of the best rain effects seen in a racing game to date. Sudden spells of heavy rain can have a drastic effect on a career race that will force you to adjust your driving style considerably – water droplets linger convincingly across your visor and the cars in front will kick up a realistic spray that will actually blind you momentarily. As a result, negotiating the famously narrow Monaco circuit is a suitably terrifying task, made even more problematic in the wet.
In addition to the career mode, a single player Grand Prix is available which essentially acts as a single race mode, although you can participate in up to 19 races to make up a full Grand Prix. Online multiplayer completes the package for up to 12 players, with one player representing each team across four ranked modes: Sprint comprises of a simple three lap race whereas Pole Position focuses on qualifying. As the name implies, Grand Prix is a more fully fledged experience comprising of qualifying and a seven lap race with a mandatory pit stop and Endurance is a single race at 20% of the full length.
The release of F1 2010 has been anything but a smooth ride however, as a quick visit to the official Codemasters forum will reveal a spate of bug reporting topics from riled members of the community. While I didn’t find an excessive number of problems, I did encounter an unfortunate glitch where the dawdling pit crew won’t let you exit the pit lane until all of the AI cars have left, forcing you to watch helplessly as you drop into last position. Fortunately, Codemasters are said to be currently working on a patch to resolve the issues at the time of writing.
Still, it would be unreasonable to expect Codemasters’ first venture into F1 to reach pole position on its first lap but they have still managed to put on a fine performance nonetheless, setting the scene for a promising new era for the genre. The franchise is in very capable hands indeed.
F1 2010's graphics maintain Codemaster's usual knack for detail, but the colours appear too washed out, lacking vital vibrancy.
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The core racing experience is solid and exhilerating, though attempts to introduce media elements fall flat.
All you really hear during the race is the pulsating roar of your engine and instructing voice of the race engineer: this is exactly how it should be.
The authentically extensive career mode will more than satisfy F1 veterans.
Codemasters have done it again. Their racing pedigree has resulted in one of the best game adaptations the sport has seen in years.