F1 2010, Codemasters’ official Formula 1 game, has finally arrived four years after the last licensed F1 title for major formats.
Appearing on the shelves as the most exciting F1 season in years heads for a thrilling conclusion, does the game give F1 fans the gaming experience they’ve been missing for years?
Behind the wheel
Not since the famed “Grand Prix” series by Geoff Crammond has an up-to-date Formula 1 game had an even halfway decent physics model. The previous generation of games, restricted to the Playstation only, were relatively easy to pick your way through providing you could point the car in the right direction.
F1 2010 is not a hardcore simulation in the rFactor/iRacing mould, but there is a impressive degree of realism in how the cars behave.
For example, it’s easy to spot the different in sensation between the option and prime tyres, or driving with full and empty fuel tanks. At slow tracks your car feels smothered in downforce. Trim the wings at Monza and it’s a different beast entirely – lightning acceleration but twitchy in the corners.
All of this assumes you play the game on ‘hard’ or ‘expert’ mode. Turn the difficulty setting down any lower than that and you’ll win with little difficulty even if you don’t know Eau Rouge from Rascasse. You’ll also completely miss out on the game at its best.
There are subtle differences in how the cars handle, too. As you’d expect, the Red Bull is quite forgiving to drive, HRT’s F110 less so.
There’s an array of settings for making the driving experience more or less difficult, some of which are essential if you use a gamepad instead of a steering wheel and pedals. See the F1 2010 checklist for details.
The car physics is tied into deeply impressive models for weather and grip. As in real life, the surface of the track is constantly evolving.
At the start of a practice session the track feels slippery, then as the rubber builds up it offers more grip. The effect is even more pronounced at non-permanent tracks like Monaco and Singapore.
The weather, too, is ever-changing. Drops of rain quickly send the cars scurrying into the pits en masse for faithfully-recreated intermediate and wet tyres.
The water effects are truly stunning. Racing in heavy rain is an intense experience which shows off “F1 2010” at its best. Clouds of spray from cars up ahead blur your vision, forcing you to duck out of their slipstream to get a clear view ahead.
And when the rain eases off it’s up to you to gamble on intermediates or slicks. In the meantime you can prolong the life of your tyres by hunting out the still-damp sections of track away from the dry racing line.
You can dive straight into a race with a randomly-assigned grid position, do an abbreviated race weekend (60 minute practice, 20 minute qualifying and a race of variable length) or the full monty: three practice sessions, three-part qualifying and full race.
The entire weekend happens from the point of view of your garage. When you’re not on track the mechanics busy themselves with your car while you thumb through the timing screens, check your tyre allocations and have a peek at what your team mate is up to.
You can fiddle away with the set-up, either using one of seven presets suggested by your race engineer or by diving in to the more detailed options and working out wing angles, gear ratios, camber and the rest for yourself (see the checklist for more).
In practice and qualifying you can fast-forward through lulls in the action but you’ll lose precious minutes on the track if you prang your car and it needs repairing.
As is the case everywhere in the game, Codemasters have paid close attention to getting the little details right. Such as the order the cars appear on-track in practice: the smaller teams go out first, using up every precious moment of testing time, while the big guns sit back waiting for the track surface to improve.
There’s not much of a challenge in getting away from the line quickly in “F1 2010”, which is a bit of a disappointment. However, Codemasters have addressed that typical racing game bugbear of being able to out-brake all the cars at the first corner. Rival drivers use the full width of the track so that even on the easiest modes it’s hard to gain a dozen places at once.
The negative aerodynamic effect of running closely behind a rival has clearly been toned down in the interests of producing a more exciting game. That allows you to test the artificial intelligence of your computer-controlled rivals, which is often impressive when it comes to racing for position.
As you move closer to them they move off-line to defend. Sometimes they seem a little too keen to block, with cars moving off-line far too soon when they’re in no immediate danger. A bit like Giancarlo Fisichella at Suzuka five years ago…
At other times the AI is less successful. In some instances your computer rivals appear rather dumb, queueing up behind you instead of diving past when you pull back onto the track after a spin. Brake-test a rival at 200mph and they’ll miraculously get on the brakes in time instead of having a Mark Webber-sized shunt.
If you run into the back of a rival you’ll often get slapped with a drive-through or time penalty. Do it too many times and you’ll be disqualified.
However the “F1 2010” stewards seem less concerned about you pushing a driver who’s alongside your car off the track or into a wall (a la Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello in Hungary).
Corner cutting is penalised too, so you won’t get away with cheating the exit kerbs at Hockenheim turn one or Istanbul turn nine, for example.
The game’s generally impressive attention to detail lapses somewhat when it comes to your race engineer. Simply put, there’s no shutting him up. You might be wrestling with the car at Spa in the rain when he starts waffling on about your engine temperature or, worst of all, points out that the track is wet, as if you hadn’t noticed.
You can mute him at the risk of missing his rare useful comments, such as when a yellow flag has been deployed or when you’re due a pit stop. But there are omissions too: switch to wet tyres during a dry race and he raises no objections, nor does he let you know how many of the cars in front of you are yet to make a pit stop.
You can also make adjustments at the wheel, tweaking your front wing angles and turning your engine up or down as needed. Running in the hot air of another car for too long can over-stress it and although reliability failures are not simulated a tired engine will be less powerful.
Pit stops are modelled – both mandatory and optional. You can select auto-pilot for pit stops or you can take control yourself and mow down your mechanics Kubica-style and cop a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane.
What strikes you most about the race mode is how it gives a much better impression of being in a real race than other games do. The crowd is bigger than on Friday or Saturday and you can hear the sound of other cars on nearby sections of the track.
Computer cars have races of their own and occasionally spin off, bringing out the yellow flags. If you’re at the back of the field being lapped you’ll be shown blue flags telling you to move over. As with the yellow flags, failing to obey them leads to a penalty.
Your F1 career
Career mode is where the game really comes together, giving you the ability to start with one of the three new teams for 2010 and work your way up into a top team.
Again, the experience is better if you commit to one of the more challenging difficulty levels. On medium level you can win easily in any car (I’ve just scooped the drivers’ championship with Virgin) but on the harder modes you have to focus on beating your team mate and hitting the targets set by your team.
The practice sessions take on a new dimension as the team brings upgrades to the car. Successfully beat a set lap time in practice and the performance boost is yours.
You are set targets for qualifying and the race, and the team are always keeping an eye on which of their two drivers are ahead. Fail to beat your team mate and he’ll get the upgrades instead of you.
As in real life, you need to keep on top of your engine allocation (not too difficult given you can’t blow them) and you have a limited number of tyres per weekend.
You have the usual career mode choices as different teams offer you contracts. On top of that are the “live the life” aspects of the game, where you are quizzed by reporters and your answers, along with your race performances, have a bearing on your future. In the early stages the press conference questions are very repetitive, but it improves as you get further into the season.
You’ve got a full set of 2010 cars and tracks to play with, including the new Korean Grand Prix circuit which looks rather better in the game than the glimpse of it we had a few weeks ago. Still you have to wonder how accurately they can represent a track that hasn’t held a single race yet.
The car models are from the start of the season so there are several current details missing. For example, Mercedes haven’t got their distinctive split engine air intake and ‘blade’ roll hoop. The performance updates earned during career mode don’t seem to have a visible affect on the cars.
The same goes for the liveries. For example, the HRTs have their early-season livery on with white stripes. Nor do ‘Bruno’ and ‘Karun’ appear on the sidepods, just the HRT logo. Despite these omissions the quality of the liveries themselves is brilliant.
The simulation of Monaco – always a challenge for an F1 game – is excellent. Bristling with detail, it’s narrow enough to give you claustrophobia and so undulating that, from the cockpit view, at times it’s hard to see what piece of track you’re aiming for. A wall-brushing hot lap around here is something to be proud of.
The Singapore night and Abu Dhabi sunset races are present and correct – the light transitions at Yas Marina are especially impressive. The updated Silverstone and Bahrain tracks are there too, the latter complete with that hideous stretch of extra tarmac that has thankfully been deleted for 2011.
Given the quality of the graphics it’s a shame the replay feature deprives you of the opportunity to truly enjoy them. You can’t cycle through other cars to see what happened elsewhere in the race and the external camera angles aren’t very good.
By Codemasters’ own admission the damage model in “F1 2010” leaves something to be desired.
Breakages are limited to the wings and wheels. Degrees of damage are simulated too – for example, you can knock an front end plate off but continue racing, turning up the wing angles to counter the understeer.
Lose the front wing entirely and the car refuses to turn at high speeds, which I discovered with spectacular consequences in the Monaco tunnel. The effect is toned down considerably in the easier difficulty settings.
But you need a very hefty blow to cause race-ending damage. I see Lewis Hamilton played “F1 2010” before racing at Monza last week. Perhaps that’s why he thought he’d get away with his first-lap contact with Felipe Massa.
Codemasters have said there are no plans to release a patch or download-able content for “F1 2010”.
This is a pity, as there are obvious avenues for expansion and improvement – driver moves, model and graphic updates for cars and tracks, and so on. Not least of which cutting 80% of what your race engineer comes out with.
Although the game seems to have had a thorough bug-testing there are a couple of glitches. Notably turn 19 at Valencia, where the computer cars slow down far too much.
Some of the drivers’ performances could so with a tweak as well. If Vitaly Petrov and Vitantonio Liuzzi performed as well in real life as they do in this game there wouldn’t be quite so many rumours about who will be driving their cars next year.
When it comes to F1 games you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
Economics demands the game appeal to as broad an audience as possible, so it can’t be overly taxing. But F1 fans and dedicated gamers want a challenging, authentic game with lasting replay value.
“F1 2010” goes a long way towards meeting those conflicting needs.
Rendered in high-definition with the best wet-weather effects I’ve ever seen in a racing game “F1 2010” almost looks better than the real thing on a decent television.
The developers have paid close attention to the rule book and crafted a game that observes F1’s complicated and ever-changing regulations, yet presents them in a manner that creates an entertaining game.
It’s high time we saw official F1 titles expanded to include earlier seasons and support races but licence restrictions mean it is up to FOM whether we ever see that.
Improved damage modelling and further refinements to the artificial intelligence must be top of the list for areas to receive attention for “F1 2011”, along with race suspensions and stoppages. These are what keep the game from a top score.
F1 has gone far too long without an official game of any kind, and even longer without a good one. Codemasters have remedied that with a game that should appeal to as wide a mix of casual players, hardcore gamers and dedicated F1 fans as is possible.
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“F1 2010” by Codemasters
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- Codemasters’ F1 game wish list
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