The announcement last year that Formula 1 had struck a licensing deal with Codemasters to develop and publish the next generation of Formula 1 games brought whoops of joy to video gaming motorsport aficionados everywhere. The pinnacle of motorsport would, at long last, be getting its first multi-format treatment in recent memory, and that too at the hands of a recognized expert in the purveying of gasoline fuelled racing games. Codemasters were pretty tight with information on the game for much of last year and gradually began dropping nuggets since the beginning of 2010, with unbelievably fantastic looking screenshots, culminating in a slew of developer diaries and press showings in the build up to release. Now that we have the game in our hands, what honour or ignominy shall we bestow on the definitive Formula 1 game of this generation?
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Off the bat, F1 2010 is a pretty comprehensive offering and contains a variety of single-player modes that should appease dedicated sim junkies as well as the ADHD among us. Players can opt for a complete career spanning up to seven seasons, single grand prix weekends, quick races, and time trials. Add to this a selection of four online multiplayer modes – sprint, qualifying challenge, endurance and grand prix and the ability to create custom game modes, and gamers are thoroughly covered with game type options.
The game covers the entire 2010 season, it is based on the 2010 season rules, and includes all the teams on the grid this year along with the 2010 roster of circuits and drivers. This is the first F1 game, where you can race at new tracks like Korea, Abu Dhabi and Singapore, which in itself is a pretty big selling point. The presentation of the game is very slick and just what we’ve come to expect from Codemasters, with pleasant hovering 3D menus, smooth transitions and clearly visible text. The menu is laid out like areas in your team’s paddock with your career mode options presented as the inside of your own trailer. You also have your own agent, represented by a freakish looking woman with an annoying accent.
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The game strives to please all and does an admirable job of it. The difficulty settings span a pretty broad range of options and are very customizable. There are individual settings for driver AI, various driver assists, rules and penalties and even an option for tyre simulation for the masochistically inclined. All of the settings can be mixed and matched, so, for example, you can race with the AI at the highest difficulty with all assists turned on. This kind of flexibility should allow for gamers across a broad range of skill levels to tailor the game’s challenge to their liking. The game even includes the Flashback option from previous Codemasters’ titles that allow players to rewind the last few seconds of the race to correct a mistake they may have made. Thankfully, this option is limited to a maximum of 4 instances per race and can be turned off completely if needed.
The Expert difficulty setting provides a challenge that is pretty close to sim-like, while still remaining accessible. You need to concentrate hard on controlling throttle and steering input while managing tyres on dwindling fuel loads, but it’s possible to race well without possessing the same level of skill as a real F1 driver. The performance difference between the different teams has been captured pretty well and plays out like you’d expect it to at the end of the race. The game also features unique AI characteristics for the top drivers such as Alonso, Button and Webber with different aggression/precision levels compared to other drivers, which goes a long way towards increasing the sense of immersion.
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When choosing to start a career, players are given the usual gamut of customization options such as nationality, name, team and helmet design, etc. As you progress through your career, there are specific objectives that you need to accomplish, apart from trying to win races, in order to get a leg up over your teammate and attract the attention of bigger teams and fatter contracts. An unusual addition in this game is that of press interviews after a race where you are posed a series of questions by a member of the media. The response you choose to give for each question is supposed to influence the perception that your team and others on the grid have of you and could accelerate your progress up to bigger teams or push you lower in the pecking order in your current team, although I have yet to see any concrete evidence of how this works. Within a season, your performance in races and in achieving team objectives will determine your status vis-a-vis your teammate. Achieving number one status in your team will allow you to drive the R&D efforts of your team to the direction you want to take and it’s an interesting and vital cog in determining how your season pans out.
The game features fully dynamic weather during races that adds an exciting element to the on-track proceedings and adds some strategic depth since decision on the timing of tyre changes can dramatically affect your position at the end of the race. There are also incidents during races such as engine and tyre failures, pit stop queues, retirement of other cars, etc. that can easily come into play to alter the outcome of a race that is going well (or not) for you. Progress through the season also nets you XP that levels up your driver, allowing you to unlock new helmet designs and attracting the attention of rival teams faster. These nuances add a layer of depth not seen in the F1 titles from the recent past and makes the single player career mode interesting and rewarding.
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There is a noticeable glitch in the game’s timing system as it stands now, with the lap times showing up on the timing screen not actually matching the on-track action. This leads to several bizarre comments from your race engineer where he spits out positions of cars around you that are nowhere close to where they actually are. Till this is fixed, it’s best to ignore your race engineer’s advice and take charge of your pit stops and lap times yourself.
This is also one title where owning a good racing wheel setup pays rich dividends. This review was made based on playing the game on the PC and PS3 with Logitech’s G27 racing wheel and the experience is worth every penny. The game delivers ample force feedback from running over kerbs, bumps on the track, drifts and slides, running off track, crashes, tyre problems, etc. Using a wheel also gives you an edge since you can precisely place the car at apexes and moderate your turning radius for tight corners and long, sweeping bends. Just one lap at full blast around the Istanbul track or Silverstone will convince you of the advantages of using a wheel over a traditional controller.
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Multiplayer is fun. The four default matchmaking game modes offer different sets of challenges and are tailored to deliver different lengths of gameplay doses ranging from three laps for the sprint races to 20% race distance for the Grand Prix mode. Starting positions are randomized for the sprint and endurance modes and can often lead to unbridled carnage in the first lap as various players with different levels of skill and even more diverse regard for gentlemanly conduct streak away from the start line and weave around the track. Matchmaking is pretty quick on PSN and the PC (the two platforms tested) and connections are stable with little or no lag-induced inconsistencies, except on tight tracks like Monaco and Singapore.
The game is built on Codemasters’ tried and tested EGO engine and carries its corresponding strengths and weaknesses. Car models are beautiful and the track and trackside environments are visually competent. The standout visual feature is wet weather racing, which provides some of the best water effects seen in any racing game. Codemasters has repeatedly boasted about the laser mapping technology they used to recreate the tracks and it shows with an amazing level of detail in track features, including varying camber levels and even bumps in the track surface.
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There is, however, a vast disparity between the visuals on the PC and on the consoles, with the game rewarding beefy PC hardware with sumptuous detail and sharp textures. The console version runs at a steady framerate, but doesn’t look very noticeably better than the previous console title, F1 Championship Edition. Car damage has very limited implementation, with greater emphasis on front wing damage and less on rear damage, probably in an effort to prevent a rear-end collision from wiping you out. Car body elements splinter, shatter, break apart and fly off when damaged, but don’t expect anything close to the car damage seen in the likes of Burnout Paradise.
The game’s soundtrack is a perfectly reproduced cacophony of petrol-fuelled hard metal. Engines from different manufacturers actually do sound different. There is limited voice acting, primarily done by your race engineer. As mentioned earlier, your agent has an annoying accent, but you barely speak with her after the initial introductions. Apart from this, the only other voice acting is done by the members of the media during the press interviews. The menu music is generic, but not unpleasant.
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F1 2010 is an amazing game that has raised the benchmark for not only Formula 1 games, but racing games in general. The deep gameplay, wonderful presentation, fun multiplayer, and endless replay value combine to elevate it to the status of one of the best games of 2010, and a must-have for any racing fan.