Andrew Bryant tries to stick a Lotus where it doesn’t belong.
Formula One 2010
Also available on: Xbox 360,PlayStation 3
As the 2010 Formula One season draws to an end, the circus that is the world’s fastest sport winds down for the winter.
Drivers retire to their apartments in faraway sunny tax havens, Eddie Jordan (hopefully) stops making wildly contradicting predictions for a few months, Bernie takes a swim in his money bin and the brains behind the many outfits in the paddock lock themselves in wind tunnels and/or CFD suites to hopefully come up with some clever interpretation of the strict rule set and one-up their contemporaries. For the fans, it’s a tense wait to see how the driver market is going to settle, what new/controversial/rubbish rules the FIA are going to introduce to make racing less interesting and even what next year’s cars are going to look like, radical as some of the rule changes can be.
For those who can’t get enough of the sport, Codemasters second stab at putting Formula One in our living rooms/computer caves attempts to recreate the epic 2010 season, right down to the tinniest morsel of detail. Following the interim ‘09 release on the Wii & PSP, the sophomore effort from Codemasters runs on the full meat & two veg EGO engine and lands on the big three formats, making it the first official PC effort since Geoff Crammond’s legendary Grand Prix series and the first F1 simulation on Microsoft’s console full stop.
Graphically the game is as stunning as can be expected for the typical AAA title from such a big studio – DIRT 2 set an exceptionally high standard and F1 2010 carries the flag. The ever stunning cars and the tracks they race on are the centrepieces, recreated in almost perfect detail from CAD models. Human faces err on the wrong side of the uncanny valley, but from a distance each of the famous faces on the grid look like their real-life counterparts. DirectX 11 support was added in the recent patch, unlocking an extra level of post processing in the process, meaning that assuming you have the latest hardware, the level of visual detail, right down to the texturing on the track, the stitching on your gloves and trackside reflections are rendered in almost pixel perfect detail.
Audio is a bit of a mixed bag, ranging from mightily impressive reverberating engine noise – apparently recorded from the back of a Mercedes GP car, if an interview in Develop is to be believed – to fairly mundane impact noises and kerb rumblings from the Codemasters archive (but hey, why reinvent the wheel?). Voice work is inconsistent; 5Live F1 regulars David Croft & Holly Samos represent the press competently, but your agent and race engineer leave much to be desired – it’s not poor quality writing, just the wooden delivery of the lines.
Graphics & sound alone do not distinguish a game from the masses anymore and, in order to set the game apart from the other straight racers, the format pioneered by Race Driver gets another airing, placing the player at the centre of their own little universe, which is kind of appropriate for a Formula One driver. Upon commencement of your career, you’re immediately dragged through a press junket to be grilled by Ms. Samos (whose in-game counterpart looks curiously nothing like her) about your career objectives, your starting team (Lotus, Virgin or *scoff* HRT) and, curiously, when you plan to retire – of course, if getting into F1 was this easy, we’d all be doing it, but I digress…
Following your lighting quick public outing, it’s not long before you’re sat in the pit lane – more than likely in the vaguely competitive Lotus – ready to compete in the perennial yawn-a-thon that is the Bahrain Grand Prix. If you chose to race a Full Weekend, the full kit & caboodle awaits – 3 Practice Sessions to complete R&D objectives that unlock performance enhancements, the now obligatory 3-stage Qualifying session and finally, the Race itself, ran at a distance of between 10% & 100% (for the nutters). The time strapped among us can choose to race a Short Weekend – a single practice session, a one-shot qualifying session and the Race – less time on track means less time to make mistakes, but all less time to recover from them if you do, although the game does carry over the flashback system from previous titles.
Once you hit the track, it becomes clear very quickly that the developers did their homework. The new teams’ cars are average at best, with relatively pathetic levels of grip and an asthmatic Cosworth power plant moving them down the track, whereas the slippery McLaren can top 200mp/h with ease, the RB6 sticks like shit to the track (because Adrian Newey is better than everyone else) and the scarlet Ferrari is a competent all-rounder. Whilst it’s easy to chuck the car into corners and hope it sticks (which is certainly achievable with the many driving aids available), the game becomes much harder once you leave the relative simplicity of the new breed of point & squirt tracks and head to known aero-dependent tracks, such as Silverstone & Catalunya, or highly technical tracks such as the famous Monaco. Intelligent driving and mastering breaking points become more crucial than raw speed, high-speed corners leave those using gamepads at a disadvantage and the signature of the street track, high kerbs, throws cars around with abandon.
F1 is well known to be a rule-heavy sport, and Codemasters Birmingham did their best to interpret the huge tomb that is the ‘Sporting Code’ into a game-friendly format. Two levels are available – limited or full. Pre-patch, the game unfairly applied time penalties whether you were the car doing the tipping or being tipped off, but the update has cleaned up the rule interpretation, meaning racing incidents are helpfully ignored unless you blatantly slam drivers into walls. Other rules scrutinised include the ever topical & subjective blocking (which occasionally gets aired out during races, even when racing for position), corner cutting and speeding in the pit lane – all mainstays of a typical race weekend.
Unfortunately, whilst the interpretation of the rules and the core racing itself is solid, other more ‘human’ parts of the game can be picked apart like the script from a Hollywood blockbuster. From the gormless (and frankly pointless) agent, to the identikit pit crew that follow you from team to team, to glaring and fundamental omissions such as no pre-race hullabazoo (no optional reconnaissance lap, no driver parade, no last-minute rushed interviews with Martin Brundle etc.), no safety car periods with the iconic SLS AMG and, shockingly, no podium ceremonies, key parts of the F1 experience are either poorly done or just blatantly absent.
The career progression is also flawed as, despite allowing you to move from team to team, the competition, cars and regulations stands still – jokes about Lewis Hamilton spending the rest of his career at McLaren aside, multiple seasons with only one driver blitzing his way up and down the field, counting the days as his career death clock ticks ever downward, plays out as like the lovechild of Groundhog Day and Logan’s Run. Seeing as many drivers in the sport aim to see themselves in championship-winning cars from the first time they turn a wheel in anger, for Bruno Senna to want to spend 7 years in a Hispania car is just weird.
Codemasters have repeatedly stated that such omissions & concessions were down to time and licensing constraints, citing that improvements will be made in Formula One 2011 (which is hardly a PR coup in itself – “Buy this half-finished game or wait till we fix the bugs next year”). Understandably the license was for the 2010 Formula One season, with any leeway on the subject to have been more than likely firmly stamped on by FOM. As it stands, it’s just an obvious oversight that smacks of a rush job to get the product to market before everyone moved on to next year’s season.
Should the career mode fail to grab your attention, maybe a Grand Prix (or 19), a Time Trial or online multiplayer may whet your appetite… The former casts you as an official, licensed driver in as many or as few consecutive races as you wish, creating essentially a mini-championship. Multiplayer on the PC is handled by Games for Windows: Live, so assuming you can stomach that and/or find someone to play against (even post-release, I found it hard to find a decent game for some reason), there may be some mileage to be found there, even if all the cars performances have been normalised in the name of fairness.
To summarise, Codemasters have once again produced an incredibly solid racer – possibly the most playable and best looking F1 game to date. The racing is fast, occasionally frustrating but always gripping. Fans of the sport will find a huge amount of joy in racing their favourite team up and down the more popular tracks, whilst even casual gamers can get to grips with the very technical handling model and rule set by basically turning all the complexity off. It’s just a shame the Career mode is as shallow as a typical F1 drivers personality in places.
To paraphrase Jenson Button, Codemasters can learn from 2010. They’ve made bold claims to aim to improve the game for the next release (in lieu of any DLC or additional content) and by aiming to improve the little touches that drag such an impressive racer down, I can’t see how they can fail.
* – The PC Retail copy was only made available to press & pre-orders. At the time of going to press, the game is only available to purchase from Digital Distribution outlets.