Formula One is one of my biggest passions outside of video games. There are few things that get my juices flowing like the action in the premier racing class. I'm on an emotional roller coaster from start to finish, but unfortunately there has been little in the way of Formula One games during the last few years. Therefore, I was very excited to hear that Codemasters picked up the license 18 months ago. Given the publishers experience in racing games, and the capabilities of the EGO engine, expectations were naturally sky high.
The meat and potatoes of F1 2010 is the career mode. You can choose to spend three, five or seven seasons in F1 and you start off in one of three rookie teams - HRT, Lotus or Virgin. Each season you are given an objective that you need to achieve in order to gain the attention of better teams. The better you perform, the greater your reward. Before each race your objective is set based on what you have previously done on the specific track.
At first you will struggle a bit as you learn to master the set ups. Different sets of tires work well on specific tracks and at specific temperatures. Then you need to optimise the performance of your car, and adapt it to current conditions. You can opt to set all parameters manually or use presets. It takes a while to get comfortable in a car as they all handle differently. When you have been driving a Lotus for a whole season, battling with a lack of downforce and an extended braking distance, its a completely different experience to sit down in a McLaren and feel as though you are glued to the ideal line in the corners.
During my early sessions with Lotus I didn't immediately spot many weaknesses in the car. The speed on the straights achieved by the Cosworth engine was definitely on par and the brakes were efficient enough. The problems started when I tried to navigate high speed corners. The lack of downforce meant that the car drifted too far in the corners and my racing line was all over the place. Once on the track and faced with the likes of Red Bull, McLaren, and Ferrari, there was little I could do. But the patient man prevails in F1 2010, and soon I was rewarded with some new settings and improvements on the car.
There is where the various objectives come into play. In practise you get an objective to achieve, full speed round the course in a certain time. If you succeed, you will be rewarded with an upgrade, and early on it's not hard to beat these challenges. At first it may not seem like that much of a deal, but if you are steering a complete wreck of a car, ten per cent added downforce is something that will make you happy. The career mode is all about slow progress up the rankings, and the choice is yours whether to try and build up your starting team over many years, or switch teams to get into a better car faster.
Depending on how long a career you choose to play, you will get contract offers at different points. If you only play three seasons, you will get attention from top teams faster. You are also in constant competition with your team mate, and when you have proven yourself to be the best driver in the team you will be promoted to main driver and you will get upgrades before your team mate.
The weather is naturally an extremely important component in F1 2010, and you will get a weather forecast prior to each weekend. It's not always completely accurate, and you are going to have to adjust fast to changing conditions. It's all about planning and knowing how to make the conditions work to your advantage. For instance I managed my first pole position, when I was the only driver to register a lap in dry conditions before the rain started coming down during the qualification stint.
I thought this would finally be my chance to shine, and get my first win. But I would soon learn that it was all a little too soon as Felipe Massa ease passed me while I frenetically tried to block his path. He wound up winning the seven seconds ahead of me, but I managed to keep Mark Webber behind and second place was mine. For the next race everything was back to normal and I qualified in 15th place. In the beginning you really have to fight for any scraps as the better cars are a couple of seconds faster on each lap.
There are four difficulty levels - easy, normal, hard and expert. Each difficulty can be tailored to the experience you are looking for. The standard settings on easy does almost everything for you, expect for hitting the accelerator. The game brakes for you, assists in turns, and on top of that full traction control is on. Close encounters with your opponents won't present problems and you can bounce your way up the ranks. You have to try real hard to for things to go wrong. You can turn off traction control, brake assistance and other aids, while the overall difficulty remains the same. You will still be able to bounce your way up the ranks without causing your car any major damage, and the forgiving driving physics is constantly present. In normal difficulty the other drivers act more aggressively, and the physics are tighter and more challenging. Hit the gas a little too hard in the exit of a corner, and you might spin out of control. If you bump into another car, you may find that your front wing comes off, but there isn't much else in terms of damage.
When you advance to hard and expert it gets more and more challenge, and in expert you no longer have access to the rewind system, and the speed makes it presence known in a entirely different way. The damages are more severe, and any form of contact can come at a hefty cost. It's not entirely accurate to call this a simulator like Codemasters have. To be honest it's a game with a rather obvious arcade tendency, but one that presents a host of challenges once the difficulty has been turned up.
This challenge should not be confused with realism as games like Rfactor and Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix 4 does a much better job in this department. F1 2010 is as much a simulator as Race Driver: Grid. It's an accessible racing game in the same vein as Sony's Formula One Championship Edition. It would however be a mistake to think that F1 2010 isn't entertaining, for someone like me who has never really appreciated the true simulators it's the perfect fit. The sense of speed is tremendous, and the forgiving car physics paired with the rewind function makes for an arcade like experience.
There are some negatives that cannot be ignored. Despite the fact that F1 2010 is easy to look at, it's nowhere near as pretty as previous Codemasters titles like Colin McRae: Dirt 2 and Race Driver: Grid. At least not on console. The PC version however, looks great on a powerful set up.
And speaking of negatives, the pit stops, has to be mentioned. If you qualify in the top ten you have to use the same set of tires at the start of the race as you did in qualifying. The problem is when the rest of the field has the same kind of tires and make their way into the pits at the same time. I have more than once been the first car to drive into the pit lane with the rest of the cars following me in.
After a quick change of tires I have been left standing still as my team lets other cars pass. There is a rule in Formula One that dictates when it's safe to let out a car to avoid collisions, but being forced to wait an extra 20 seconds during a pit stop just because I may have been a bit slow getting into the pit stop is just crazy. It should be noted that this doesn't occur every time, but when it does it's enough to drive me nuts. You can adjust your pit strategy manually, and you can sometimes stretch the limits of what the tires can handle just a little.
Despite somewhat disappointing graphics F1 2010 is an entertaining package, with lots of content and challenges. I really enjoyed the way it handles and I'm personally happy that Codemasters didn't go for more of a simulation approach. The physics are not difficult to master, but never so easy that it makes for a boring experience. People who were hoping for more of a deep simulation will unfortunately be disappointed.