Unless you’ve been a PC gamer for the last few years, the option of playing a Formula One game has been a non-existent affair. The last great console F1 game was F1: Championship Edition. And that title, while still offering an amazing race experience, is well and truly outdated in the world of Formula One.
When I first read that Codemasters (of GRiD, and DiRT fame) were getting the rights to Formula One, I was skeptical. Downright dismayed when they started touting “We’re going to make it a simulator!” too. ‘Codemasters’ and ‘Simulation’ haven’t ever worked well in the same sentence.
Is it possible? Can Codemasters deliver a racer, a simulation racer, properly embodying the true spirit of the world’s number one, pinnacle of Motorsport?
Simulation is what Codemasters set out to deliver – and delivered it they have. The moment you enter the game for the first time, you find yourself in an introductory press conference. Lights shining in your face, a select crowd of media ask you questions (an innovative way of setting up your name, nationality and picking your starter team).
From here you enter the Formula One paddock and the team garage/motor home of your choosing. You have access to an Agent who manages your current and future contract offers, you can choose your Helmet design in this menu too. Or simply jump straight into a race.
Codemasters’ trademark “real world” menus are in full effect here. Walking outside takes you to option menus and multiplayer prompts, or time trial and GP weekend events.
There are plenty of options available within the racing environment to keep the purists and hardcore enthusiasts happy – but it also allows extreme customisation ensuring the game is accessible even to the most basic of racing gamers. Difficulty ranges from cakewalk to real-life AI perfection, with a huge host of driving aids and assists on offer ensuring you can constantly fine tune your overall experience.
You can take part in a full length race weekend (All practice sessions, all qualifying and full race) or a short GP weekend (one practice, qualifying and race) and you can further customise by choosing the total race distance (depending on the game mode, anything from a handful of laps, to 100% of them).
Sitting in your car in the pit garage you then have a new multitude of option. Talk to your race engineer, set up the car from pre-determined setups, or delve into the finer details yourself. Choose your tyre selection, watch the session’s live timing, check a weather report.. It’s all there. Everything is on offer for your race experience and you control every aspect if you wish, or you can rely on the team’s choosing if you’re not sure.
Races are extremely close and exciting once you’ve pinned your settings, aids and AI difficulty. Qualifying has a great element of urgency to it, especially in the wet weather when you have tyre and fuel simulation switched on. You can choose to run your out-laps and in-laps, or skip to just setting your hot laps.
Once again, Codemasters have ensured the game remains accessible to casual enthusiasts, but also given the option of going all the way for the hardcore followers.
Steering with the DS3 feels a little more on/off than I’d like. Even the analogs feel like you’re playing on a computer keyboard, or using the D-pad. That said, you understand the design choice when racing tight circuits like Monte Carlo. Of course the wheel setup is optimum here though and compliments the racing completely.
The changeable weather is out of this world. I struggle to compare it to anything else, because there really is nothing else like it. Puddles of water form on the track, rain pelts your visor. Dry lines evolve, the track itself changes with each variation of the weather and so does your car’s behaviour. Tyres wear differently. Get caught in the spray of a car in front and you’re driving blind. It is an absolute simulation of real world weather.
All of these experiences are carried over into the game’s online experience. You can grab a bunch of Friends, or jump online with randoms and partake in a race weekend. You can customise the races you want, or run an full season. Qualifying and Race simulations add an amazing element to online gaming. And thankfully, it all works perfectly. Mic support is totally solid. I’ve encountered virtually no connectivity issues, no lag and certainly no problem in finding a game.
If I was getting picky, my only real complaint about the game play in F1 2010 is the complete lack of ‘timing’ related feedback. You can be leading a race, but have almost no idea how far ahead you are. You might also be in second place, but you have no idea if the car in front of you has done his mandatory pit stop or not – do you risk an overtaking manoeuvre around Monaco, or do you just wait for him to pit on the next lap?
You also don’t know who’s quick and at what point they were quick. The Fastest Lap doesn’t appear until the end of the race, and even then it’s only shown as a pop-up statistic (think DiRT 2′s personal stats between races).
Why the HUD couldn’t have had a board similar (or the same) as the F1 TV coverage, I’ll never know.
The penalty system is generally sound when you’re playing against AI – they behave themselves and they get out of the way if you’re lapping them, but the system is abused immensely online. Cutting a corner usually gets you a warning and you can accumulate a few of these before receiving a penalty (you’re probably already thinking how this one’s getting abused online) and similarly, the 10 second penalties for causing accidents/contact are just as flawed.
A number of times now I’ve encountered randoms online who, despite leading, have accrued a penalty or two – so instead of finishing the race or trying to out-drive you, they slow down, brake test you and make sure they do everything to block you from passing cleanly. You inevitably run into the back of them and instantly receive a 10 second penalty. It’s cheap and it’s nasty.
The penalty system also fails when it comes to avoidance. Someone spins out in front of you, or around a corner (think Monaco) and you round the corner to accidentally T-bone them, but land yourself a 10 second penalty.
The whole system feels like it could have used a little more beta testing.
Damage is included and on full simulation settings, is quite impressive. You can damage everything from the usual front wings, to engines. Terminal damage seems almost impossible to achieve however – and the whole system is annoying and broken online (for the penalty reasons mentioned above).
Timing really needs to have more of a focus. It’s an important and integral part of Formula One racing. Hopefully this is something that the fans request and it gets patched in later.
Overall though, it’s an amazing experience. Some of the best racing we’ve seen in gaming. Definitely the best simulation of a Formula One weekend around.
Graphics & Sound
Stunning detail would be the phrase I’d use to describe the tracks. The trackside authenticity is excellent, it’s the kind of attention to detail you’d expect from a team like Polyphony. Every garage and pit box is where it should be, grandstands are photo-realistic, swarming with mad fans.
And then there’s the weather. Possibly the greatest – no, easily the greatest dynamic weather system we’ve seen in a racer to date. Codey’s have done an awesome job in delivering a visceral experience that puts you directly in the seat of a Formula One car in a changing real-world situation.
The sound is equally as genuine, with raspy, screaming engine notes the key to this immersion. There’s some good voice talent with loads of accents for and from various teams. Your engineer talks to you directly while on the track and updates you of your situation, tells you to pit, gives you rivals feedback. Some of the ‘interview’ questions feel a little forced or phoned in, but its great audio otherwise.
Looks great, plays great, online is fully functional and completely sound. With the exception of in-race timing and timing notifications throughout, it has just about everything you could want from a game based on the Formula One series. Truly, Codemasters have done this one excellent justice.