F1 2010
Developer: Codemasters
Publisher: Codemasters
Release Date: Out Now
Platforms reviewed: PS3, Xbox 360
Players: 1, 2-12 system link or online
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It’s a while since the last F1 game I played as developers seemed to fall out of love with the sport (or more likely the amount the games sold) and the last was Formula One Championship Edition, one of the more disappointing PS3 launch games. Most race game fans always wanted Codemasters to do an F1 game and here it is, so was it worth the wait?

Well yes and no are the unhelpful answers. After trying a quick Grand Prix or time trial at one of your favourite circuits (I always head for Spa, Monza or Monaco) you’ll no doubt want to enter into the game’s main Career mode, which is just that; you can pre-select a career lasting from 3 to 7 seasons, and selecting the longest means you start with offers from the bottom teams (Hispania, Lotus etc) and work your way up, 3 means you can start with a chance to drive the better ones sooner (McLaren, Red Bull, Ferrari etc.) Good results mean improved contract offers from your present team and interest from other teams, and beating your team mate means you may get the No 1 driver position so you get to decide the direction the team’s R&D (Research & Development) goes in.

F1 2011 is presented in a similar way to most of Codemasters’ recent racers as it makes you feel like you’re a driver embarking on a career. You'll (hopefully ) impress your team owners by achieving goals set by them, and rack up experience points along the way to level up (is there any genre left that doesn't use RPG-style XP and levelling?) The game features a talkative race engineer who offers you tips, encouragement and advice via your helmet radio even when out on the track. Unfortunately he’s got a North-East accent (Big Brother’s Marcus Bentley has a lot to answer for) and doesn’t have enough different speech samples, so what seems like a good idea at the outset soon becomes an annoyance as he repeats himself, and says various obvious or irrelevant things that are likely have you searching for the “voice off” option in the menus before many races are run. Your engineer will however give you a decent choice of preset setups, or typically for a Codies’ game you can get your hands dirty and twiddle suspension height, gear ratios, toe-in and downforce until the cows come home.

The career feel is extended off the track by having lady agent who sits in your motorhome (which, like in DiRT 2 acts as the game hub) and gives you messages from time to time. She doesn't do a lot apart from sit and play on her laptop and look vaguely attractive-maybe she was one of those "mail order agents"... During your career season you can tailor each of the 19 Grand Prix individually to your own liking, from 20% to full distance, Full Weekend (which will compose of 3 practice sessions, Qualifying-including the two elimination sessions and the final shootout as per the real thing-followed by the race on the third day with the weather possibly being different on all three, even changing during a session), or Short Weekend which consists of just one practice, one quick qualifying session (both of which can be 'skipped' or 'time accelerated') and the race. You'll be asked for an "interview" after races by a reporter, but these amount to no more than choosing one of three generic answers (generally they amount to being critical of the team; non-committal and modest; or confident, self-serving and cocky) and you get the same sort of questions put to you in the press room after a race if you finish in the top three (although for some reason there’s no podium or spraying sexy promo girls with champagne until their dresses go see-through mini game…)

Out on the track things feel great; the cars’ engines roar and whine in all the right places, and they feel light, nimble and suitably powerful, and steer accurately but immediately, without ever feeling twitchy or lacking in subtlety (Forza 3 I’m looking at YOU when I say that). I recommend turning all of the assists ‘off’ to get a feel for the car, and then adding them only if you struggle. You can turn ABS, brake assist and recommended racing line on or off separately and the traction control has three settings – ‘Off’, ‘Medium’ or ‘Full’ – but you’ll still be able to spin the wheels—and spin out—with it set to full, so it doesn’t sanitise the cars too much. Damage can be set to ‘realistic’, ‘cosmetic’ or ‘off’ and so can tyre wear, fuel usage and flags and rules. Even the pit lane sequence can be turned to ‘automatic’ (if set to 'manual' you have to turn the rev limiter on as you enter the pit lane and brake as you approach your pit or face a penalty and a messed-up pit stop.)

The sensation of speed is excellent without resorting to silly blurring effects and all of the 5 views are very usable depending on how realistic you want the game to be. The Xbox 360 version does exhibit occasional frame rate jitters (often on hairpin bends) but the PS3 version seems smoother. Depending on the setup it’s possible to make the cars understeer or oversteer and slides are frequently controllable, although not always as the cars have a realistically small amount of steering lock—Colin McRae DiRT this isn’t, so don't expect to be able to throw your car sideways and recover. Sliding even a little means losing traction and thus speed, and the handling is realistic enough to make you avoid skids and lock-ups as often as possible. The driving model features what I can only describe as "a dead clever virtual clutch system", so that the cars rarely lose momentum unless you brake, and changing gear manually means that the engine doesn’t match revs until you actually press the throttle; you can even select reverse while travelling forward, and nothing nasty happens until you press the gas. This amounts to an 800 horsepower engine with a 7-speed gearbox being surprisingly manageable and fun to use.

Sadly it’s not long before the game’s quirks, bugs and glitches start to show themselves. One of the worst “quirks” revealed itself in my first qualifying session, and is that the AI cars don’t actually set the times, they’re all just “simulated” so you may follow a car around, matching or beating its time on the track only to find that it’s somehow managed to go seconds faster than you (depending on which difficulty setting you’re playing on.) So oh dear, not a good start. The difficulty level from race to race also seems to vary hugely; we achieved pole position and easy race wins at circuits we'd never driven before, whilst at familiar tracks like Catalunya and Monaco we struggled, and we must have raced literally thousands of laps there in various racing games over the years, so these difficulty spikes made no sense at all. The worst bug however, will quite probably reveal itself when you make your first pit stop (some people didn’t get it first time, but it will happen eventually) at which point—and seemingly regardless of which position you’re in—when you enter the pits, the crew change your tyres, and then your lollipop pit crew guy won’t let you leave the pit until all the other cars have passed—on one occasion this resulted in me literally going from first to last!! You can get over this glitch by pitting later, using “primes” instead of the soft “option” tyres for qualifying or by turning off the tyre wear simulation altogether, but who wants to have to do this? To make things worse some AI cars don’t even make a pitstop at all—which is of course now against the rules and will cost you a disqualification if you do it… There are more than a few other glitches and bugs that have come to light including the AI cars ignoring blue flag situations (because there aren't any), and I even got a drive-through penalty for passing a spinning AI car, or an “illegal blocking penalty” just for slowing to the pit lane speed limit! There are more, but I’m certainly not going to catalogue them all here. Needless to say the patch to fix F1 2010 is gonna have to be some kind of masterpiece.

F1 2010 looks really nice (although not as much of a feast for the eyes as DiRT 2), the cars are obviously the focus and are highly detailed and very shiny, but I was disappointed to see that the real driver’s name remained and mine wasn’t on the car in the career mode—I mean really? This coming from Codemasters, who let me have my name proudly emblazoned on Colin McRae’s rally car 11 years ago? The replays are impressive as they will show an entire race, but you can only see the action from the forward-facing in-game cameras of your car, or a selection of TV and action-style cams, I really never understand why they don’t just place the cameras where the real TV ones are and maybe allow you to zoom the view in, I soon get tired of all these “impossible” action cameras that rotate around or hover alongside or above the car. Watching the replays you’ll notice that the game sports beautiful trees, a decent draw distance and depth of field, and the surrounding scenery is generally accurate to the real life settings and makes the tracks feel like part of a bigger landscape.

There are little visual touches like gravel sticking to the tyres for a few corners if you go off, or the cars’ tyres leaving a trail on a damp track, or smoking and throwing up dust, or exhaust flashes from the inset tail pipes, or dandelion seeds floating through the air… the water that surrounds various tracks is shockingly unconvincing though. There’s dynamic weather (although I’ve yet to see a track completely dry out after a downpour) and the spray in wet races is really well done, although your car is the only one kicking up a realistic amount of spray. If you follow a car closely the blinding effect of the spray is remarkably realistic. Unfortunately another of the game’s quirks meant that when I wanted to show our sub editor how cool the effect looked in a post-race replay, it doesn’t actually appear and the other cars throw up hardly any spray at all—hugely disappointing, as are the frame rate problems in some replays, which explains tha lack of spray. Another thing that needs to be changed is that (yet again) wussies who use third person chase cam views don’t get any spray interfering with their view, which just isn't fair and doesn't make any sense.

Managing the damage levels in a F1 game was always going to be tricky and I think in the main they’ve done a good job. The car’s front wing won’t fall off at the slightest touch and some quite substantial impacts can be survived without any damage at all. The front wing does have different levels of damage and these affect the handling, you can add downforce out on the track on the move via the D-pad menu to counteract slight damage.

Crashes sometimes look very convincing with showers of polygonal carbon fibre accompanying a crunched nose cone, but they mostly look a bit too uneventful and “safe” to be believable, and certainly won’t please sim-wanters out there who need their F1 car to explode into a million shards of carbon fibre every time they so much as burp. But let’s face it, if it’s spectacular crashes you want, you’re probably better off heading back to Burnout Paradise anyway. Retirements by AI cars don’t happen often, but I was disappointed to see that retired cars just vanish, disappointing as Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix on the PC & Amiga had cars that had crashed out or blown their engines being craned off many, many years ago. You'll also probably wonder why there's no safety car, I can probably guess that it's been left out for "gameplay purposes," and lap after lap behind a safety car would undoubtedly make shorter races a lottery, but it'd been nice to at least have been able to turn the option on.

There are plenty of animated spectators and the pit crews are motion-captured, but the pit lanes are still rather desolate places compared to the real thing. Pit lanes have always been as deserted as ghost towns in all other previous F1 games but here they have tried to add some life to the actual pit areas, so you at least get some guys in each pit and your pit crew running out to be ready for you, which is an impressive sight—even if one of them looks worryingly like Harry Hill.

To the online racing, and I wasn’t expecting it to work at all, but how wrong I was. F1 2010 plays like a dream online, and may be the slickest, fairest and most exciting racer I’ve played online since good old PGR2. Thanks to top notch net code and a believable yet sensible set of collision physics the racing can be remarkably close, and thus very exciting. It’s incredibly satisfying to edge past a buddy on the last corner, or to hear your opposition cry out in anguish when they spin – it’s very addictive stuff and plays as well as any Xbox or PS3 racer out there, and better than most. In fact I came to realise that perhaps it’s because Codies worked so hard on getting the online racing right that the crash physics and subsequent damage in the solo game might feel a bit tamer than it might have been. Whatever the case I think the game ended up pretty well balanced.

Other solo options include Grand Prix (single race weekend), Time Trial (complete with your own ghost car or you can download a friend’s if you wish), or host an online Time Trial Party lobby for friends. Online you can set up different events such as:
Pole Position – Simply a 20 minute qualifying session to see who’s fastest.
Endurance – A 20% race with tyre wear and dynamic weather turned on.
Grand Prix – A 7 lap race with a 15 minute qualifying session.
Custom GP – A race however you want it-even up to full race distance!

So overall F1 2010 is an exciting and involving effort at making an F1 sim that caters for all ends of the gaming spectrum, but what’s missing? There could certainly have been more AI accidents and failures, and where are the split times? F1 drivers live or die by knowing where they stand in relation to the opposition and despite babbling reams of inane dialogue your engineer never gives you any such important info. The whole career experience is a bit disappointing too, it's difficult to say in which areas it could have been expanded or made more interesting but "fighting glamour models or pop starlets off with a stick" mini game might have been a start.

So what have we got; a desirable and sporty, if flawed and unreliable classic or a rusty old junker full of bugs? Well, if you get enough races ruined by the pit stop bug then you’ll probably think it’s the latter, but F1 2010 certainly supplies a good-looking and handling glimpse at what the likes of Webber, Alonso, Hamilton, Button and Vettel are experiencing this season. It’s disappointing (I seem to have used that word a LOT don’t I?) that the game arrived in such a raw form, with bugs that are quite frankly unlikely to be fixable. If you’re looking for something more involving and interesting than the likes of Forza 3 with an excellent online racing component then look no further than F1 2010. Unfortunately you might have to wait until the 2011 version to get the complete package.

Best Bits

- Looks nice.
- Good impression of speed & power.
- All the cars, tracks and drivers from the 2010 season.
- Quality online racing.
Worst Bits

- The pit stop bug and others.
- Frame rate drops.
- Uneven difficulty.
- The engineer’s innacurate and inappropriate comments will irritate.

by: Masonic Dragicoot

Copyright © Gamecell 2010