When Codemasters first announced that the studio would be developing a racing game under the official FIA Formula 1 license, many people including me expected an authentic, realistic and fun racing experience. Codemasters had previously delivered the TOCA, GRID and Colin McRae series which is now better known as DIRT in the US. The studio’s recent games have been more on the arcade side of the spectrum and that clearly was not an option for an F1 game of the caliber people expected.
Going into this review I had some elevated expectations of the game as well as a few concerns regarding the most important aspect of a racing game, the handling of the cars on the track. That is what it comes down to when making a successful racing game. One could compare the car handling to shooting mechanics in a First Person Shooter, it is absolutely essential and for the most part Codemasters has done an excellent job. Driving an F1 car is difficult and a skill to be mastered, this is conveyed very well by the game as taking a car around the track at high speed requires an immense control of steering and careful playing with the throttle in order to hit the racing line perfectly. Knowing the tracks inside and out is a fundamental need in F1 2010 because each turn becomes a combination of skill and memory which results in the second nature required to run fast lap times. All this would not matter if the game was not a great rendition of Formula 1. While the game is not a complete simulation, it finds an outstanding mix between arcade and sim which can be modified to lean either way depending on the settings. The cars show loads of grip around the track and trade the arcade style floatyness from Dirt and Grid with precision handling.
The game is build on an evolution of Codemasters’ propitiatory EGO engine developed for Dirt and Grid. F1 2010 looks absolutely fantastic and runs very smooth with the occasional slowdown during very intense moments with many cars on screen. Cars, tracks and environments have been beautifully rendered with tons of detail and fan service along with great dynamic weather effects and lighting. One significant feature missing from the game was the safety car which would only have added to the presentation. Players familiar with racing games and especially Formula 1 games know the different views available in F1 2010. There are several view points including the bumper and trailing cams but the cockpit is how the game is meant to be played since Codemasters did their due diligence of showing how extreme the conditions in an F1 cockpit really are. I played through the game using the camera mounted above the helmet on the air intake as it allows for great immersion and a better view point.
After players boot up the game they are met by a nice young lady in a press area who asks questions about the players name, country, gender and which team he or she will be driving for as well as the length of the career which can last between 3, 5 and 7 seasons. ‘Be the driver, live the life’, that is the tag-line and underlying theme of F1 and interviews are an integral part to the glamorous F1 experience. The quick interviews between races or practice sessions provide a nice authentic touch but since the answers are not really influencing the attitudes of peers and teams during race-weekends the feature falls just short of great.
When not busy whipping a high tech Formula 1 car around the turns of fun and challenging tracks such as Monaco, Shanghai, Catalunya or Suzuka at blistering speeds, players can hang out at the paddock. The paddock is nicely designed and interactive central location and serves as the main menu. Players can check the standings, driver bios, look at contracts and move move on to the next event. The main menu is a mobile home reminiscent of Dirt 2′s camper except that it has been remodeled to reflect the style and class of the F1 circuit. A nice bit here is that the background changes from event to event.
Once through the setup process the player has the typical choices of race types – Career, Grand Prix, Time Trial or Online Multiplayer. In the case of F1 2010 the career mode is the biggest feature and players should jump right in. There are 19 races in each season and players will start out in one of the lower tier teams before working their way up to a cockpit in the prestigious Red Bull, MacLaren, Mercedes or Ferrari teams. This is all part of the F1 experience that has been so lovingly crafted by the British developer. Each race-weekend starts with 3 practice sessions where the drivers can start learning each track, do some R&D to improve the car throughout the season and create custom setups in order to get ready for qualifying. Car setups can be tweaked in the main areas such as aerodynamics, gear ratios, suspension and so on. I have found that creating a custom setup works well but players will have to put in the time to understand which effect each setting and adjustment will have on the car per given track or even specific turns. For the most part the pre set setups work well enough.
While the practice sessions are a bit more relaxed, it is a different story with qualifying as it is set up in 3 sessions that ultimately decide if there is a chance to win as grid position is extremely important. In between sessions, players will sit in the car’s cockpit while in the garage area. Here the player can check the weather and current standings, change the car setup and ask the interactive crew chief about pit strategies and setups. Again, the F1 immersion has been very well executed here with the interactive menu, pit chatter and roaring car engines when leaving the pits. During each of the 3 sessions drivers need to qualify with a certain grid position in order to move on to the final stage where 10 cars battle it out for the pole position, this is where the hard preparations from practice pay off and it feels highly satisfying to grab the top spot. The crew chief will remind players to remain competitive throughout the season as the the goal is to ultimately beat the teammate, sign a new contracts with better teams and win the F1 Championship. In addition to the crew chief the player’s agent will provide advice and news updates in the paddock area.
Race day is where everything comes together. Having spent the time to get the car ready and pull the last little bit of performance out of it is ultimately rewarded by a nice spot on the starting grid and the lights are counting down to the start. 24 screaming engines power down the straightaway to the first turn just before the instant replay shows shows wheels flying through the air and carbon fiber breaking into a thousand pieces after a massive turn one crash. The race is over, unless players use the rewind feature we have come to know from the Dirt and Grid series. Depending on the difficulty setting there are several rewinds available to the player which can be used to get back on track after a mishap.
There are several difficulty settings in F1 2010 which provide good options for rookies to F1 and racing games and some that will challenge experience racing fans. One thing Codemasters allows players to do is customize their settings. Everything from car assists, AI difficulty, number of rewinds and race length can be changed to cater specific needs.
Once players make it past the first turn the race for positions is on and the intensity as well as blood pressure rise with each lap. The AI drivers are some of the best I have seen in a console racing game to date as opponents reflect their real life counterpart’s driving style on the virtual tarmac. While a Felipe Massa will let players pass more easily, Michael Schumacher will fight tooth and nail, causing valuable lost seconds before barely leaving room to squeeze by. The one time I have found the AI to let down a bit is during starts as cars jitter from side to side for a second or two trying to find a good line. Even though it was a noticeable bug it was certainly not a major issue with this excellent AI. The intense racing experience was elevated when the dynamic weather affected the race in form of rain. The weather effects are the best in any currently available racing game. Not only is the rain stunning and realistic but if has a true effect on the race and nudges up the adrenaline. One of the greatest times to be had in F1 2010 is a competitive race that goes from sunny over drizzle to outright monsoon like rain.
If the career mode is too much of a commitment for players there are Grand Prix and Time Trial as previously mentioned. Those modes allow for taking on just a single Grand Prix of choice or set some fast lap times in Time Trial. Codemasters did include a multiplayer mode in the game but unfortunately only managed to allow for 12 player races. The online mode is fun and works well but getting a full race was a bit difficult at times.
F1 2010 has managed to live up to the high expectations the combination of ‘Codemasters’ and ‘Formula 1′ has created. Playing F1 2010 is an absolute pleasure as the authenticity of the Formula 1 experience is distinct and well executed. This authenticity combined with excellent racing elements that keep players at the edge of their seat and AI drivers hard to match in the current market, ultimately make F1 2010 the best racing experience on a console to date.
Score: 9 / 10
F1 2010 was developed by Codemasters Birmingham and published by Codemasters for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on September 22nd. A copy of the Xbox 360 version was provided to us by Codemasters for reviewing purposes.