OverviewPlatform: Xbox 360
Can Codemasters create an F1 game that appeals to Joe Gamer while satisfying the lofty requirements of the F1 fan?
It’s been 3 years since the only previous HD F1 game, but now after 2 years in development, Codemasters are bringing the sport back to PS3 and PC and for the first time on Xbox 360. The only official Formula 1 game brings you all the teams, drivers, rules and circuits from the current season. It also runs on Codies’ brilliant Ego technology, which has previously powered both DiRT games and GRiD.
Like the other recent Codemasters racing titles, F1 2010 places you in the role of an up-and-coming racing driver and tasks you with building your reputation in the sport in order to progress from minor teams, to the championship challengers. You can choose either a 3, 5 or 7 year career mode and depending on which length you choose, your options of starting team will be slightly different. Shorter career modes give you access to midfield outfits, while the 7 year career limits you to the new boys; Virgin, Hispania and Lotus. Unfortunately, even if you choose the 3 year career it is not possible to start with the top 5 teams; Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault. Fans of these teams might be put off by being forced to grind through career for sometime in order to access them. Of course, these fans could choose to play in F1 2010’s Grand Prix mode, which lets you pick any team of your choice in either a single Grand Prix Weekend or a custom season.
After qualifying sessions and races in the career you will meet the press and be asked questions about your performance and outlook for the season. Choosing particular answers from the 3 on offer will affect your relationship with your team and with your rivals. Though, sometimes it can be difficult to measure the effects of your responses, until another team suddenly offers you a contract.
One of the most interesting aspects of the career is how Codemasters have removed the emphasis on winning every race that has dominated the racing genre for years. Your first priority in F1 2010 is simply to beat your teammate in order to progress towards “no. 1 driver” status in the team. This then allows you to choose the development path for your car, helping to develop the car over the course of the season in a way that suits your driving style rather than your teammate’s. You can also complete R&D objectives in practice sessions in order to develop new parts more quickly, though these are limited to simply completing laps under a certain time and the time given is usually extremely generous.
For some players, the issue with career mode in F1 2010 will be that you cannot race distances lower than 20% of the real races. This means that the game can be a serious time investment, even if you choose to run “short race weekends” rather than full ones. Short races weekends reduce practice and qualifying to 1 session each, rather than the normal 3, but it can still take around an hour to complete each race weekend. With 19 races in a season, progress will feel slow for more casual F1 fans.
Current F1 rules which require drivers to use 2 different types of tyre in dry races; a soft rubber slick tyre and a hard rubber slick tyre. Unfortunately F1 2010 does little to help newcomers understand the differences between the two tyre compounds or help them to choose when to use which one. The same problem occurs with the game’s car setup options. There are a variety of preset setups available to choose from, but they are based on different weather conditions rather than different circuit layouts. For example, the preset setup for hot weather has extremely low downforce, which is fine if you’re racing in hot weather at Monza, but useless if you’re at Monte Carlo. On the other hand, die-hard F1 fans will love the amount of setup choice that is on offer and revel in finding extra tenths of a second by making small tweaks to the car.
The Ego Engine has had substantial work done to make F1 2010 both a great simulation and also a more comfortable experience for casual players. On easy the assists include breaking help, ABS and traction control. However, with the assists off everything is much more twitchy and the game requires supreme concentration. Alternatively you can create your own custom difficulty, picking from one of the four AI levels and turning assists on/off individually. This is hugely important in a game where consistency over the full race distance is the key to success.
F1 2010’s biggest achievement is its simulation of varying grip levels across the race weekend. Over the course of a dry weekend the track gets more and more grip as the cars put more tyre rubber down on the track. This rubbering-in effect makes the latter stages of each race incredibly realistic as you must follow the racing line with increasing precision, as tiny marbles of rubber off the racing line can cling to your tyres, causing understeer.
Of course, if it rains, grip levels change significantly making the cars much harder to drive, even on wet tyres. The game is at its most challenging during uncertain weather conditions, when rain comes and goes during the course of an event. Tyre choice becomes increasingly important. Do you use the intermediate tyre during a light shower, or do you put on the full wet tyre in anticipation of a heavier downpour? Timing of decisions like this can make or break your race. The weather system even takes the location of each circuit into account. It never rains at the Bahrain circuit, but conditions are incredibly hard to predict at the Belgian GP.
Compared to previous Ego Engine titles F1 2010 isn’t quite as visually impressive. In normal, dry weather conditions the game can look a little flat in terms of lighting, but in some ways this is an improvement over GRiD and DiRT’s extremely saturated graphics. Car models look superb and very lifelike, but at times the palette can seem slightly dull. It’s in the rain though that F1 2010’s graphics really come to life. The spray from other cars is brutally realistic, making it feel almost impossible to see when driving close behind other cars. Of course, this makes a well executed overtaking manoeuvre in the rain feel all the more satisfying.
Online races range from 3 lap sprints to 20% distance Grand Prix, giving plenty of scope for new F1 fans to have fun, while still catering for hardcore players who want to include an element of strategy when racing their friends. There are leaderboards for lap times, though times are not filtered by car choice or assists used, so it’s difficult to judge where you really stand relative to people playing with similar settings. Though there is no split-screen option, friends on the same sofa can take each other on in hot-lap mode where players take turns to set lap times. Unfortunately this mode suffers from ridiculously strict rules where slight mistakes will render times invalid. The loading times between turns are also very intrusive.
F1 2010 is a terrific first attempt for Codemasters and provides the developer with a great foundation to build upon. It’s one of the most entertaining F1 games ever made and is certainly the best simulation of the sport on consoles. There are some bugs and glitches to be addressed, but F1 2010 remains the most complete version of the sport and one of the best racing games released in recent years.