Formula One eh? That’s the one where cars get raced around and around for two hours isn’t it? I happen to have been a fan of F1 for what must be 15 odd years now. So you don’t have to worry about me not knowing the difference between Downforce and G-Force.
Last year I was one of the few who actually bothered to review the Wii exclusive F1 2009 from Codemasters: http://wiigamereview.com/reviews/formula-1-f1-2009-for-wii-review/ . I knew at the time that the game was just an over ambitious beta test for the 2010 title, but funnily enough; it’s still the second best racer on Wii after Mario Kart: http://wiigamereview.com/reviews/mario-kart-review/
Now just under a year later Codemasters return with the official F1 2010 videogame for PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3. Have they managed to deliver the true F1 simulation we’ve all been waiting for? Or is this another arcade style racer that lets you smash into walls at 200Mph and still win the damn race?
Let me provide you with a few snippets from the back of the game case for a moment. These may give you an idea of what is being promised, and will be a good basis on which to judge if the game delivers or not.
- Experience the exclusive world of the F1 paddock
- Battle the elements with the world’s most advanced dynamic weather system
- Experience Jaw-Dropping damage and rewind time using flashback
So, some strong promises there, and I won’t beat around the bush: when it comes to the presentation, F1 2010 is all about it. The first time you boot the game, you’re put face to face with a room full of journalists asking you questions. The press not only want the basics; your Forename, Surname and Nationality – but also which team you are planning on driving for. This initial media shower is compulsory, but there is no reason to be scared, this is just a novel way for you to build your driver profile ready for the Career Mode. More on this later!
If you’ve already played last year’s Dirt 2 title then you’ll already be familiar with how F1 2010 is presented. Instead of boring static menu screens, you’re given a realistic behind the scenes look at the F1 Paddock. You can enter your trailer and chat to your agent, speak to the press about your performance so far, or just head off towards the track. There are even a couple of ‘pit babes’ hanging around outside your trailer; however – there appears to be no way to invite them inside to snort cocaine. Is this a sign that this is not the full-on Formula One simulation we were expecting?
Formula 1 2010 features a plethora of single and multiplayer gaming modes for your racing needs. First up comes Single Player:
- The aforementioned Career Mode sees you take a seat in a slow Formula one team in a bid to become a successful racer. If you prove your worth in one of the crap cars you may be invited to sign a contract with one of the middle or top tier teams and earn megabucks.
- Grand Prix mode is similar to the Career Mode but without all the career stuff. Instead, you get to pick one of the real drivers – such as Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso or Sebastian Vettel – in a bid to help them win the season.
- Time Trial, as the name suggests, is a trial involving time. Simply race around the circuit and get the fastest lap time you can.
Next up is multiplayer:
Those with more than one Xbox 360 may be thrilled to hear that F1 2010 is System Link capable; meaning you can do full screen and, more importantly, lag free local content on multiple TV’s. Of course most of you will be playing across Xbox live like I had to.
- Sprint Mode is a very quick race, consisting of just 3 laps. You’ll need to be very proficient in racing to score a win in this mode.
- Pole Position is similar – a cross between Time Trial and Normal Qualification. All players have twenty minutes each to set the fastest time in this session. Thankfully you do not have to worry about someone spoiling your lap, because everyone else is in a ghost car that cannot bump you off the track.
- Endurance is technically a straightforward real grand prix race at 20% distance, but feels more frantic than you’d expect – pit stops are mandatory.
- Grand Prix Online is the top racing mode to choose. Here you race just a handful of laps in real F1 conditions that include 15 minutes of qualifying to set the grid. Pit stops are mandatory here too.
As you complete online Xbox live racing (not system link) you’ll earn XP and climb the ranking system. Apart from supplying a number next to your name, this sadly doesn’t offer too much else. There are no perks such as a Nitro Boost or Camouflage steering wheel to unlock here.
So – the game; for starters it’s very Formula One’y. The career mode was where I spent most of my time, but I did give the other modes a good bash as well. F1 fans will probably be more interested in just a couple of aspects, and those are what I’ll concentrate on here.
Anyone reading this already knows that nearly every F1 game released up until now has been disappointing. They’ve almost all suffered from a flawed model, which results in AI opponents following the track around like robots, and crappy physics that allow the human player to take the car around a corner faster than is technically possible. All this, and more, has resulted in F1 games that just don’t do the business. It’s just not fun to fling a Formula One car around a circuit as if it’s glued to the ground, only to be bumped off by a blind CPU car. The problem is that Formula One is a terribly hard sport to simulate. Building a decent racing game is hard enough, but designing one that simulates the pinnacle of motorsport and technical development is quite another.
Even the simplest aspect of a tire touching the tarmac is a million dollar business in Formula One. Everything from the rubber compound the tire is made of, to the way it warms and cools, is all so critical to the racing that the teams hire people solely to look at worn out tyres all day. How can you possibly recreate this level of dedication in a video game when it’s much more tempting to just make it look pretty instead? So, we’ve always had games designed to strike a balance between realism, and the inherent technical and time constraints. F1 2010 is no exception. It’s definitely the most realistic F1 experience I’ve ever played, but was I fooled into thinking I was a real F1 driver? No, I wasn’t.
F1’s racing itself is very customisable. Noobs can take to the track with a large number of helpful assists that take over much of the driving. Braking, ABS, Gear Shifts, Traction Control and even Pit Stops can all be managed by the CPU for you. If Mario Kart is your only racing experience then this is what you’ll start off using. More experienced players can turn off those assists and drive a much more demanding car. Even with some help, keeping a car with almost 1000 horsepower under control is not easy. If you have a Wireless Xbox 360 racing wheel then you can certainly make use of it here for extra realism. I found F1 fine to control just with the pad, so my advice is not to buy the wheel, especially for this game.
Regardless of the assists you choose to use, when you’re in the pits waiting to start a practice session or race, you can extensively set your car up. Feel free to meddle with the downforce, change the gear ratios, feck about with the brake bias or even just take a default setting from your race engineer. Does this actually make the cars feel realistic and drive differently? Yes – it sure does. The right balance of grip and speed are essential in F1, and trust me – messing about with the settings when you don’t know what you’re doing will not help your cause. Your race engineer has setups available for Wet, Adaptive and Dry racing – they work as described, and are good enough to win you races. With the right level of grip you can race around the track like a god; with too little, you’ll go wide into the gravel, losing time (or worse – be penalised for corner cutting).
One feature carried over from the Dirt series is the ability to trigger a flashback; this allows you to go around 10 seconds back in time to avoid a disastrous mistake. There are only a set number of flashbacks you can use per race, so don’t waste them too early on.
The racing is very fast, and almost fluid. For the first time, F1 2010 has forced me to concentrate hard on a Formula One game in order to succeed. Unlike in previous F1 titles, the circuits have been very well recreated; it feels as if every bump and slope has been mapped into the game, and it’s all the better for it. Learning the perfect line around a blind corner and avoiding those bumps in the braking zone is more crucial than ever.
When they’re not on the default easy setting, the AI opponents are actually quite fun to race against. They really will attack and defend their position. They will also make the occasional mistake, bump into someone, and spin off. Just be sure not to out-brake them too late – because if there’s contact – it’s you who will see a black and white flag for dangerous driving.
That brings me neatly onto the rules. As we know,F1 2010 is aiming to be realistic, which means you’ll have to abide by the law. You’ll encounter the basic Yellow and Green Flags, as you’d expect, but a full range of penalties for bad driving are here. Pit Lane Speeding, Dangerous Driving and Corner Cutting will see you spending precious time on the naughty step, so try your best to avoid them. Strangely, the rule that prevents cutting the pit exit line has been omitted, even though the safety lines have been drawn on each and every track.
Visually F1 2010 for Xbox 360 is absolutely stunning. This is sometimes to its detriment, as there is an occasional drop in framerate when things get busy. Almost every detail you can imagine has been included. I can’t mention them all here, but when you see the heat haze rise from the engines as you wait on the grid, you’ll appreciate how much effort has been invested in making the game look good. Spectators move and take photos as you drive past the grandstands, and the sun blinds you as you emerge from the tunnel at Monaco. The dynamic weather system subtly changes a bright sunny day into a tropical storm almost without you noticing, until the rain drops start covering your visor. Not to mention the damage modelling, which sees cars crash about in all manner of scary collisions – wheels and carbon fibre fly everywhere. It’s a shame there’s no Safety Car but that’s just a small niggle.
I feel bad having to mention the downsides of F1 2010, because for the most part it’s such a damn great racer. Firstly, I should note that even three weeks after launch, a bug that causes you to lose your entire save file is still unpatched. Secondly, the stewards will often give you a penalty for even the slightest contact in a proper hard racing fight. If Michael Schumacher had been penalised F1 2010 style for every bump he made during his career, there’s no way he would have won the world championship seven times, that’s for sure. Thirdly, and most sadly, notwithstanding the attribute of feeling substantially different from each other, the cars are tricky to handle (despite the huge effort that has been invested in their design). Also, it still feels like you can race so much faster – and brake later – than you could in a real life car. That arcade racer feel from the Dirt series is still here underneath the heavily disguised exterior.
F1 2010 is officially the best F1 game ever. It’s in no way perfect, but if you want some decent single seater racing against intelligent AI (and less intelligent 12 year old boys on Xbox live), then this is the game for you. The extensive career mode is very in-depth, and will suit F1 fans down to the ground. The online offering lacks a real full length grand prix, but is still decent enough if you have a large group of dedicated racing buddies to play with. Despite the (almost game breaking) corrupt game save bug – which should be patched any day now – F1 2010 still manages to secure pole position on my gaming shelf, and is awarded with 8 out of 10 points.
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