Review: F1 2010

November 9, 2010, Author: Andy Corrigan

I must admit, I’m only something of a casual Formula One fan; I love to watch the races, have a general idea on who is competing for what each year but I have absolutely bugger all knowledge about the technical levels of which fans usually spend hours following and debating. So having last played an F1 game back on the PSOne, when it was announced that the license would be changing hands from Sony to Codemasters, I was a little intrigued on how it would pan out and how much will have changed in a decade. This is Codies’ first year bringing the franchise to the ‘big two’, having focused only on the handhelds and the Wii last year, so I was very much looking forward to seeing how they managed the precarious task of balancing fun vs. realism in a sport that people can be very particular about.

Surprisingly, there is something of a story here…
If you’ve played some of Codemasters’ other racing games you’ll be familiar with a lot of this setup. Upon starting the game you’ll be thrust into the media spotlight, facing the press eager to quiz you on your start in F1 racing. This is a pretty clever way of determining which difficulty you want to play, which team you’ll race for and how many seasons you want to compete in (you’re expected to win a championship in these seasons to ‘win’ the game). After this you are sent the trailer of your chosen team (which is individually decorated to suit the team), introduced to your agent and then you can browse what’s on offer as you want. This trailer acts as your hub in the game, allowing you access to the career races and standings, talk to the press, play one-off Grand Prix’s (where you can play shorter races than in the career mode), access Time Trials and head off into the various online modes. There are also detailed team and driver histories here for those looking to learn more about the sport, a nice little touch that I found both welcoming and interesting.

This setup has worked well for Codies in the past and it works wonders here again. It’s a simple but original way of managing a menu system but done in this organic manner it helps make you feel so much more immersed in the world of F1 and almost offers up a decent story where you are the major player. I mean, let’s face it; you play F1 games to be the guy in the driver’s seat of some of the world’s fastest cars and it’s amazing how effective this approach is at taking you beyond that. It’s not all glossy fluff either, as elements such as answering the press questions following races can have an effect on your team, your team-mates and even the other competitors. It’s a light system that doesn’t really amount to much in the grand scheme of things, offering only a negative, neutral and positive response to choose from but it’s a nice little inclusion nonetheless. This feeling of being at the centre of everything is very predominant in F1 2010 and I don’t fully know if these elements do show what being involved in F1 professionally is actually like at the most basic level, but it sure does feel authentic from the outside looking in.

The game doesn't look quite as good as this in motion, until...

Concentration is the name of the game…
Previously with Formula One games under Sony, the title was very much perceived primarily as a ‘sim racer’, with some of the iterations going as far as to offer two discs, with the second featuring a separate arcade mode for folks looking for a lighter experience. In a recent interview I did for another site, Codemasters’ iterated that their aim was to ignore the pigeonholing and simply concentrate on crafting an experience that was both authentic and accessible for everyone; personally, I believe that they have achieved that well. FORZA 2 was the first racer that finally allowed everyone in on the fun and in many ways F1 2010 has taken a lot of the cues from Turn 10’s series to help balance expectations and accessibility.

For example, when opting to take on a season race, you can choose a short race weekend or a long one, with the setup making each race feel like a real event. The Short Race Weekend option allows you to take part in one practice session, twenty minutes qualifying and then the race itself, the long weekend is a full F1 race weekend session with three qualifiers and a longer qualifying session. You can also look at doing full length races or 20% of the race distance; the choice really is yours. It’s worth noting here that the A.I. qualifying times are faked, or at best estimated; something that might be a bit of a sticking point for hardcore F1 fans and does seem to render the qualifying process a little pointless. I guess we just have to trust that Codemasters’ maths is in order to provide consistent lap times.

That aside, much like with Microsoft’s flagship racer, you can go as deeply or as shallowly into F1 2010 as you see fit. Want to be in total control of the team’s strategy? You can. Struggling with the difficulty and want to add some driving aids into the mix to help you through? You can do that too. You could tinker with the car’s performance yourself or just let the team engineer sort all that out for you. Formula One can be a daunting sport to get into at times, sometimes even unwelcoming and Codies have recognised that off the bat and made the game in a way that it can be tailored for the individual. This makes F1 2010 feel much more welcoming than previous F1 games and as such is far simpler to ease yourself into the harder modes once you’ve got a handle on things.

A lot of the changes you can make to your car are managed from within the driver’s seat in the garage during practice, qualifying and before a race, with all the car details and important stats on a monitor sat on the bonnet, all while the pit crew operating around you; once again, you’re in the centre of the experience. Another neat element here is that if you consistently beat your team-mate and decide to take on practice and qualifying challenges (which usually involvebeating a lap time), you’ll be ahead of him when it comes to earning car upgrades, meaning that your car will progress and improve as the season goes along. Obviously, being a motorsport where the money invested and the level of technical expertise plays a large part into who is challenging, you’re not expected to be competing to finish first or win championships should you be placed in the lower ranked teams. For example, in my first season with Virgin, my team was ecstatic when I managed to get points on the board at all, however these expectations will vary from week to week depending on how well you do. This gives you realistic goals to aim for and is refreshing in a genre where the only usual aim is to come first every time.

The driving itself is obviously very fast paced and ultimately has a harsh learning curve no matter which difficulty you opt for, and in this respect the game is pretty true to the real thing. At times it’ll be something of a twitch racer, where you have to utilise almost superhuman reactions to avoid collisions and corner tight bends properly. The racing and breaking lines included in the game are a great help for grasping the handling and the track layouts alike, however, because the cars are so low, that racing line can be difficult to read, especially with sharp turns. I do have one further complaint in that the cars feel almost weightless. I would love to be able to believe that this was simply down to the fact that Formula One cars are light as hell, however it’s a complaint I have about most of Codemasters’ racers so I’m a bit dubious about where it fits. Either way, once you get the hang of it, the handling at least feels authentic and it’s not something that detracts from the game at all.

Suffice to say that this is a game that requires pure concentration for lengthy periods and the slightest fault can put your race performance into serious jeopardy. I’ve lost count of the times I was performing well above my level holding it steady only for a late slip to cost me the difference between four or five places in the table. This might frustrate newcomers but the driving aids definitely do make a decent leveller; just expect to occasionally be frustrated at yourself here and there, especially when the weather is thrown into the equation. rains, then it looks awesome.

Speaking of which, the weather system that Codemasters have created is, simply put, an absolute triumph. We’ve seen weather conditions appear in racers before, often simply being a case of switching the rain off and on but here you are dealing with a realistic unpredictability. Say that you’re on Silverstone and there’s a 40% chance of rain but it’s held off so far, then it suddenly starts to drizzle. Do you risk pitting and switching to wet tyres to help you keep the pace on if it carries on or do you stick it out losing time in the hope that it stops very shortly? These are some of the questions that Formula One teams ask themselves every time they send their drivers to the track and this element is nailed in F1 2010. Some parts of the track might not get rained on thanks to a myriad of factors and maintain full grip in small areas, then should it stop raining, a dry racing line will start to appear as the cars power around the circuit. This is very nicely done.

Other factors play their part in the level of grip that you’ll find on the tarmac, including gravel or debris on your tyres or even the amount of rubber that’s been laid down over the course of the race weekend. Of course, the weather isn’t the only danger, as wearing tyres, punctures, collisions and debris on the track are also all other risks of the sport and as I’ll mention later in the review, are all visually represented in a way that is easy to read in the blink of an eye. Thankfully, to account for the harshness, we see the return of the rewind feature with the same three strikes system that was implemented in GRID and this system should offer those who need it (ahem…) the chance to redeem mistakes.

The game, at the time of writing, has just today been patched for some of the problems that were plaguing it post release, however pre-patch I can’t claim to have noticed any of them screaming out at me that heavily.

Red Bull or McLaren? That is the question!

Visuals requiring a steward’s inquiry
The visuals in F1 2010 tell two very different stories. The first few career races that you’ll partake in are free of the brilliant dynamic weather system and I must admit I was very much let down by the graphical shine all round. While not looking ugly it certainly looked flat when compared to the polish featured not only in other racers this generation, but also in Codemasters’ own catalogue. Then the moment I entered a rain-hit race I was amazed as the game suddenly sprang to life, with streams of mist from other cars obstructing my view, splashes of water hitting the visor; it looked fantastic and every bit the part. Surprising that this would be the case with less going on in the sunny weathered races but there is a notable difference.

The visuals, even when flat, can have a major part in the gameplay too, though mainly in a positive light. Over the course of the race you can see your tyres degrading rapidly, even to the point of quickly cutting up in front of your eyes should you spend too much time abusing them in the gravel (or if you have just picked the wrong tyre type) and this is really impressively done. The collisions are nothing short of spectacular, showering the track with car parts in a realistic fashion. Unfortunately there are some negative aspects, as the reflections on wing mirrors and on the cars chassis suffer badly from a choppy frame rate. This is somewhat understandable considering everything the game engine manages during gameplay with a mammoth twenty-four cars on the track but at the same time can be a little distracting on a game that requires the utmost concentration.

The game kicks everything off well with someone at Codies clearly having great taste when it comes to selecting soundtracks, as the dramatic strings from the U.N.K.L.E. remix of F.E.A.R. by Ian Brown instantly put you in the frame of mind that you’re about to experience something visceral and dramatic. Elsewhere the game impresses aurally, not only in the high-pitched drone of the engines but also by creating an authentic race day vibe from the clattering and whirs of tools in the pit lane, to the roar of the crowds during the important stretches.

In the place of commentary (that was present in some of the previous F1 games under Sony) is the interaction with the NPC’s that for the most part form up your pit crew. Regularly during the race, the engineer will feed you race updates, explain your strategies, tell you when you need to pit and what you need to change on the fly to get the best out of your car. A lot is made of your rivalry with your team-mate in the midst of a race and this comes into play here too. Should you have a fairly common name (and not something daft like ‘Jizzwalzzle’); everyone here will call you by your first name; a simple trick, yet another neat immersive element that helps draw you further into the experience.

An acquired taste online
F1 2010 comes packed with four enjoyable quick modes on offer. ‘Sprint’ is a simple three lap, dry race with minimal simulation settings. ‘Pole Position’ is a qualifying event where the dynamic weather plays an important part and as such means you have to be agile with your tyre strategy. Endurance races are pretty much the same as the career races, where you race 20% of a given track and have to pit at least once, with grid positions decided at random. Finally, Grand Prix mode is a seven lap endurance race which is preceded with a fifteen minute qualifying session. Aside from that, there is a custom race setup so you can tinker until your heart’s content.

This is a very solid, lag-free online mode where the only real displeasing factors can come from areas from which Codemasters cannot be blamed. As I mentioned above, F1 is a sport that attracts a very particular type of person and people who aren’t great at driving games may struggle to gain friends should they find themselves in a lobby of pure simulation fanatics. On the flip side of the coin, with crashes that can end a race, it’s also frustrating to enter a lobby where everybody ploughs into the first corner with reckless abandon, ruining the race as a challenge before it’s even started. I myself fell foul of both sides of this, so my advice to get the best out of F1 2010 online is to decide what you want from the game, then fall in with a like-minded bunch. Do this and you’ll find a lot of fun in this online component.

A very good first attempt
Codemasters have a decent lineage when it comes to racers and that experience has helped them craft an F1 game that is authentic yet just about accessible enough for most racing fans to find what they want from the title. It’s not quite all things to all men; never daring to let you stray too far from the realism of Formula One, although it’s never likely to get away from that very niche market the license has always served. That said, with F1 games usually being an unwelcoming experience for those simply curious, it’s nice to see one that’ll let the player take the game at their own pace and tailor it to suit their own needs. It’s not perfect and playing through it’s easy to see what areas Codies’ will want to tighten up or change for next year, but it’s a strong start to life for the franchise on both Xbox 360 and PS3. A solidly built racing game and an absolute must buy for anyone with an interest in Formula One.


How We Review Games