Codemasters claim “F1 2010” will be “a departure for F1 games”.
F1 fans have been waiting four years for a new official F1 game for the latest generation console formats. In the last 12 months we’ve had hundreds of comments on this site discussing what should be in the game.
F1 Fanatic put your questions to Codemasters at their launch event in London today – and was among the first people to play an early version of “F1 2010”.
Senior producer Paul Jeal promised “F1 2010” would offer “authentic, predictable and consistent handling.” I sampled a ‘pre-alpha build’ (‘early version’ in non-gamers lingo) of the game to put that claim to the test.
Even in this early version the handling feels more convincing than the decidedly arcade-style “F1 2009”. Stamping the throttle and throwing the car around do not work here. Drop off a Monza kerb with the accelerator down too far and you pirouette in an instant.
But nor did the game feel punishingly difficult. I quickly got a feel for how the car behaved and got into a satisfying rhythm within a couple of laps.
This is not a bleeding-edge hardcore simulation – it feels more like “Gran Turismo” or “Forza” than “Grand Prix Legends”. It’s easy to pick up but requires a bit of concentration to master.
They have toned down the realism when it comes to following closely behind another car. The handful of videos Codemasters showed us of the game featured more overtaking than the whole of the Bahrain Grand Prix – and that’s probably for the best.
You do have more control over the car settings than in previous games. The driver can alter engine management settings to get more power at the expense of fuel economy. Use up too much of your engine life an you risk falling foul of the faithfully-recreated limit of eight engines per season. And, of course, you can tweak the adjustable front wing.
But I couldn’t find a button to control the drivers’ knee to operate the McLaren’s infamous F-duct.
Rain and rubber
Codemasters are especially proud of their track simulation which they call ‘active track technology’. This re-calculates the grip levels on the surface for every 30cm the players’ car travels, taking into account build-up of rubber, marbles from the tyres and, of course, the weather.
This has a clear effect on your car’s handling. Not only do your tyres pick up dirt if you go off the track, but braking off-line is trickier. Go out on the track in the first minutes of Friday practice and you’ll find it’s ‘green’ – low on grip – making your lap times slower. You’ll have to pay attention to how the track develops to pick the best moment to set a time in qualifying.
When rain falls the track gets greasy and eventually puddles develop. If the rain stops a dry line begins to emerge and you’ll have to look after your tyres by seeking out damp patches of track.
We saw some video of the rain effects and they look genuinely impressive. Clouds of spray billow off the cars and reflections shimmer in the puddles on the track.
Codemasters promises a more sophisticated car damage model than we’ve seen on previous games. As well as knocking off wings and wheels you can damage your suspension which unbalances your handling. Debris from collisions can land on the track and cause more damage.
Some of this can be fixed with a quick visit to the pits but make sure you stop on your marks – one video they showed us featured a car knocking a team member down.
Your driving style can provoke damage too. Repeatedly lock a wheel and you can see blisters and flat-spots develop on the rubber. Keep punishing your tyres and they’ll eventually burst.
Artificial intelligence is one area where F1 games have fallen down in the past, with drivers either weaving across the track absurdly or making no attempt to defend their position at al.
In “F1 2010” cars defend their positions and try to break your tow. Interestingly, the team say they’ve tried to model the characteristics of individual drivers, so some are better in the wet than others, and some do better at certain tracks, such as Felipe Massa at Istanbul.
Your relationship with your team mate plays a bigger role in “F1 2010” than in previous F1 games. No longer is he just the guy in the other car – you have to fight and beat him to get the team on your side. Finish ahead often enough and you’ll have access to performance upgrades before he does – just like in real life.
Codemasters’ brand manager Paul Waters believes “F1 games have always done having the cars on track very well”. He explained the team set out to do more than just simulate F1 racing, but allow players to take control of their virtual career in a way they’ve never been able to before.
In career mode, your time outside of the car plays an important role in the game. You’ll go inside your garage and the team trucks – which are modelled for the first time in an F1 game, they say.
How well perform is reflected in how many journalists are camped outside your motorhome waiting to ask questions, and how many fans turn up to your autograph sessions.
You can even criticise your team in press conferences which will do you no favours if you’re a struggling up-and-comer.
Multiplayer and more
So what’s missing? The team admitted that the safety car – one of the most requested features in the comments on F1 Fanatic – will not feature in the game. According to Codemasters it added to little to the playing experience to merit inclusion. However the full range of warning flags will be simulated including red flags for race stoppages.
Nor will players be able to drive the formation lap – again the team said they felt it added too little to the game compared to other aspects. However this feature and the safety car is being considered in the 2011 version of the game.
Because of license restrictions you can only play with the 2010 season cars and tracks. Codemasters say they looked at adding feeder series to the game but decided it would take too long to do.
The timing of the game’s release means it will be on the shelves before the cars have raced at the new Korean circuit, meaning that track will have to be built without data from the race weekend. However the team are confident that can build it accurately and have no plans for a post-Korea patch to improve the simulation.
Up to 13 people will be able to play at once in online multiplayer. Curiously, the team said they had been advised by FOM to leave the slot for a 13th team free in case one appears later this season.
The version of the game we played today which you can see in the pictures below is still in the early stages of development. Although some of the aspects fans might want to see won’t appear in the game the early signs are very encouraging. But we won’t know for sure how good it is until the game finally arrives this September.
Codemasters F1 2010 screengrabs
Codemasters F1 2010 video
This video shows ‘pre-alpha’ code which uses unfinished graphics and last season’s cars. The final game will use the 2010 season cars, tracks and drivers.
This second video was shot at the event and, again, features pre-alpha build code. Look out for Raikkonen going over the top of the Red Bull: