September 23, 2010
Despite Lewis Hamilton making the F1 high-life out to be all about Pussycat Dolls, multi-million sponsorship deals and honours from our gracious Queen, the action on the track and in the pit lanes is a lot less glamorous. There, the drivers are more keyed into that wavelength of perfection and obsession, where every split-second counts. Lewis knows that. Codemasters know that. And thanks to F1 2010 – the first next/current generation formula 1 racing title – we know that.
Making use of Codemasters’ famed – and utterly flexible – EGO engine, F1 2010 looks to not only throw you into the on-the-track action of the Formula 1 scene, but also to give you a sample of what it’s like to “be the driver” – as they would put it. Unfortunately, what gains the gameplay makes on the tracks, is severely let down by what goes on behind-the-scenes.
F1 2010 allows you to step on the frontline and take yourself out onto the track in the cutthroat world of formula one racing. The fully licensed title includes the current crop of all 2010 drivers, allowing you to set up a standard season and jump into the shoes of your favourite star, play a series of your favourite Grand Prix races, delve into the time-trial mode, play online – more on that shortly – but the crux of the gameplay will stem from the career mode, where you become the star... if you have what it takes.
While Codemasters was keen to promote the whole “Be the driver, live the life” motto pre-launch, it’s unfortunate that that’s much more of a marketing line than an actuality. After choosing your name, chatting with your agent and choosing your helmet, that’s as far as that aspect of the game goes for the vast majority of your time with the game. If you manage to snag a podium spot, you’ll be invited to the winner’s press conference and asked to answer similar multiple choice questions with the interviewer sounding like she phoned the questions in before she ran off to count her cash. You don’t even see the champagne celebrations if you win – what a jip! If you fail to make the podium, you can get the same interview experience with BBC’s 5 Live’s Crofty in the paddock and honestly, it doesn’t sound as phoned in.
Starting from the bottom of the barrel – Virgin Racing we chose if you must know – you must push the team and yourself into the stratosphere by racing your little heart out. With 19 races set across the calendar, with which you can choose to take place in a long race weekend – 3 lengthy practice sessions, 3 short qualifying sessions and the main race – or a short race weekend – 1 of each; there is plenty to obsess over. Whether you have the patience to shoot for the long weekend though is another thing, but in all honesty, I did find myself using all three practising sessions, rinsing the qualifying sessions and preparing for the race. Practice makes perfect, huh? It’s a good job you can preset the length of the race itself as well – 20% of full length to full length – otherwise it’d take you 8 hours to do one weekend.
The practice sessions every so often allow you to complete R&D challenges as well – research & development – which are the primary method of improving the car for the long-term in F1 2010 and consists of beating lap times, doing endurance runs, etc in exchange for key car improvements.
There are also a ton of options to help keep you challenging yourself, whatever level of skill you are as a driver, including driving assists like traction control, ABS, driving lines; manual pit-stops; the severity of rule breaking; tyre wear; fuel consumption; the opponent AI; and the damage model – full damage is a messy – and incredibly realistic – affair when high-speed collisions occur.
There is a disappointing lack of emphasis on the rivalries between the drivers – especially teammates – and for the most part, my teammate didn’t care that the team’s second place driver was outperforming him every race and then abusing him in the press conference. Part of the way through the season, you will get the chance to take on a championship rival, but like everything else of the “live the life” aspect of F1 2010, it seems lacklustre and poorly implemented.
Eventually, you’ll be given the chance to progress your career and whether that’s by moving teams and choosing a better car or becoming your starting team’s number one driver, well, that’s up to you. In order for this to happen though, you have to beat your teammate, meet your qualifying and race-finishing targets and not upset your team too much with your press conference antics. Only then are you likely to get that coveted multi-million dollar contract.
As a Formula 1 racing simulator and from a physics standpoint though, I don’t think I’m too over-the-top when I say that Codemasters really have outdone themselves with their latest racing title. It puts every other racing game to shame with the crazy physics side of things – downforce; tyre deformation, including some impressive marbling effects; the weather engine - which is one of the most incredible pieces of technology I’ve possibly seen in sometime - and so on. And the best thing? It's all there to see with your very own eyes.
Before I stray too far away from the subject, if I can just stop and elaborate on my praise for the weather system. F1 2010 is the first racing game – to my knowledge – to not only feature a dynamic weather system, but one where you can see the effects of the rain – both on your visor and kicking up off an opponent or on the track – and have to change your strategy accordingly. If it’s raining, it’s time to stick on the wet tyres, but if the track is drying up, you might be best switching to the intermediates. “Wow, big deal!” Wait! If you’re feeling brave, after a few laps and the rain has passed, you can see the racing line start to dry up from the excessive heat radiating from the tyres, you can even slip back on your option or prime tyres. The first time you experience this – especially if you experience the tail end of a heavy rain storm and the weather brightens up – I guarantee you will step back and marvel at what a fine job Codies has done. The puddles, the rain-affected handling and the track drying... it’s a technical masterpiece.
For a true F1 fan though, the extent of the car’s setup doesn’t just extend to which tyres you have on the car. Oh no, you can delve deeper and change any number of options including the aerodynamics, the alignment, the balance and so on, with handy hints along the way informing you what consequences might arise from your actions. If you can’t be bothered with all that, your engineer will do it for you. Usually, I couldn’t really care less about such things, but with an emphasis in F1 on perfection and squeezing that extra tenth of a second out of a lap, I found myself oddly compelled to delve into a lot of depth here. Tweak, then a couple of practice laps; and then rinse and repeat until I was happy with my setup.
The whole game is about mastering each course, learning braking points, lying patiently in wait to overtake your opponents and working out your strategy; and in that respect, F1 is an undeniable success. The flashback system makes a comeback here as well, allowing you to rewind time a certain number of goes per race, meaning that perfection is closer than you might think.
Unfortunately, your engineer’s race strategy is never the greatest and when he asks you to pit early and at the same time as everyone else, and then fails to get you out in a decent position, well, you start to learn to ignore him and pit when you want. Sure, he can be a great deal of help on the track by informing you of the action happening around you, telling you to tweak the wing direction on the fly or take it easy, but strategy isn’t his strong point. If he was looking to win points for being the most enthusiastic person ever, then congrats, he’s just won the lottery. Dear Codemasters, please can we keep the drugs away from the engineers next year.
If you have your fill of the career, you can always head online and take part against some more reactive AI – a real-life human being! I say a human being, but the etiquette that currently exists online – bashing, blocking, ramming – is hardly one of F1 ilk, so human being might be a tad generous. Not Codemasters’ fault obviously, but hugely frustrating nevertheless.
There currently exists 4 modes to tuck your teeth into: Pole Position, a 20 minute competitive time trial session; Sprint, a 3 lap race; Endurance, a 20% race with dynamic weather and pit-stops; and finally, the online Grand Prix, consisting of a 15-minute qualifying round, 7 laps of dynamic weather and pit-stops. Admittedly, the scope is fairly decent for a licensed game, but jumping into ranked matches may prove more frustrating than enjoyable.
The achievements? Gosh! They’ll keep you going for some time, especially if it takes you well over an hour to get through a race weekend like me! Hard achievements – or time consuming for the most part – are not such a bad thing, and Codemasters do a lot right in trying to tempt people to be a little more adventurous – win with heavy rain on, use manual gears, take the assists off (which is stupidly hard by the way). In all, it’s a list that shows a little originality, a fairly good balance, but ultimately, puts too much emphasis on grinding out the final few achievements. Expert career? Sure, we’ll give it a try. 7 career seasons? Hmmm, next.
For an F1 fan, F1 2010 is a dream come true. The physics and weather effects are phenomenal, the courses are for the most part accurately represented and the racing is second-to-none, but for everything the game does right, it fails to liven things up between races. It fails to give you a reason to race, other than to set another best lap-time, meaning, that it quickly descends into monotonous repetition. Yes, we understand that’s what F1 is like, but when you tease players with what’s behind the looking glass, be prepared to deliver on that promise. That being said, as an F1 racer, it doesn’t do much wrong. As an F1 experience though? No, certainly not this year.
After being teased with Ian Brown’s lyrical prowess during all the trailers, it’s disappointing to not hear music of this ilk throughout. There’s an odd sprinkling of some indie rock when you’re fast forwarding time in the practice sessions, but nowt else. Other than that, the interviewer’s questions in-game are horrible and your engineer... well, he doesn’t sound human. If he is, he needs to lay off the drugs! The engine sounds are massively realistic, but will soon annoy players with the constant wailing.
In a word: stunning. The tyre marbling effects can knock you back a little and the rain? Oh my, it’s marvellous. The cars and the inevitable debris that occurs when they crash is like a cacophony of sheer pleasure as well.
The handling is almost flawless, but you kind of expect that from the EGO engine these days.
As a racer, it’s great, but that’s all there is. Round and round and round and round you go, with nothing really to break it up and nothing to work towards, other than the next race. I’m fairly sure even Lewis Hamilton would get sick of the lack of variety after a while.
The balance is decent and there’s a little originality sprinkled in, but the list suffers from fast becoming a grindfest.
F1 2010 is the true F1 aficionado’s game, with plenty to tweak, tinker and perfect from in the pits to on the tracks. Therein lies the problem: that’s all that really exists in the game to make it worthwhile. There is nothing to tempt you to play on with a whole season and work to the top. There is nothing to drive the player to succeed. There is simply no substance outside of the general racing mechanic. Considering the franchise has been out the limelight for a considerable length of time though, it’s a great start to what we hope to be a new beginning.