F1 2010: Loving The Life


It's been four years since the last licensed F1 game graced the PS3, seven years for the PC, and the Xbox 360 has never had an F1 game. Codemasters, fresh off the F1 2009 game for the Wii & PSP that garnered mixed-reviews, bolted on the option tires and attacked "next-gen" consoles (as well as the PC), for F1 2010.

Racing fans are a notoriously picky bunch when it comes to simulators of real life racing. They've come to expect intelligent AI, accurate track models, realistic vehicle handling, plus all the little fiddly bits that make the game complex and hard to master. I'm no different, when playing a simulator I expect a steep learning curve, but an ultimately rewarding experience for the time I spend learning the game. Problem is, console games can't have that. Give a beer-chugging brosedion a steering wheel and tell them to lap Monaco inside of 1'20", and shortly you'd be on the receiving end of some harsh words and a middle finger, before he shuts off the game and turns on "Halo". So did Codemasters manage to walk the tight rope?
*Note: this review was done on the PS3, but applies to all releases.*

Codemasters performed an overhaul of their EGO engine, used to power GRID and Operation Flashpoint and unofficially called EGO 1.5; this provided the muscle for the physics and graphics. The graphics look amazing, even at the locked 720p resolution (PC players can go to much higher resolutions). The menu system is done from a first-person view, and is very easy to navigate. F1 2010 has a dynamic weather system, so if there is a chance of rain in the forecast you may slowly see the skies turn from sunny to overcast. And if the meteorologist was correct, in short order you will start seeing rain drops falling. The wet weather visuals are an absolute delight, but be careful. Aside from the loss of grip and increased chance to shunt, racing near other drivers will severely reduce your visibility due to the huge rooster-tails kicked up. Plan your moves well ahead.

Codemasters offer a wide variety of difficulty settings, from the normal manual/automatic transmission settings, to full braking assistance. If a player wanted to, they can have the game handle everything for them, so all they need to do is just mash down the gas and turn. On the flip side, with everything turned off you not only have the full fury of the vehicle at your fingertips, but you need to learn to properly pit the vehicle so your crew can fit new tires and get you back onto the track faster than others. The game offers the ability to do one-shot grand prix races, or an entire season as your favorite driver. It also offers a time trial mode and online multiplayer, but if you wade into the latter, expect lots of first corner pileups so drive accordingly. There is no split-screen racing, so the only way you'll be able to play side-by-side and punt your friends into the sand trap is if you're at a LAN party.

The meat of F1 2010 lies in the "career" mode, where over 3, 5 or 7 seasons, you attempt to work you way up from one of the lower-rung teams, fighting for mid-table scraps, to the cream of the crop, where anything less than a driver's and constructor's championship is considered a bad season. You are thrown into the life right away at an introductory press conference where you can put in your name, nickname, difficulty and starting team, via a series of questions. As the year progresses, you have the chance to work on R&D objectives to improve your car from a box of junk on wheels to a box of faintly foul-smelling effluence on wheels. Perform well in each race weekend, and provided you don't cheese off your team by acting like a spoiled brat in front of the press, you can fight your way to the #1 driver on the team. If your skills are good enough, you could even land a new contract to drive for a team that doesn't consider cutting-edge technology to be putting two rodents in the hamster wheel they call a V8 engine. The entire concept of "live the life" is a great new way to experience the circus that is F1 racing, and it feels like Codemasters have just started to scratch the surface of this feature. Now with that all being said, what does the game actually play like?

To start, I played with all the aids turned off and used the normal PS3 controller. Unfortunately I do not yet have a proper setup to use my Logitech wheel, but on the plus side, this more accurately simulates what probably 95% of the playerbase will use. I cannot accurately put to words the feeling I had when I first loaded into Monaco and dropped the hammer up the "Beau Rivage" straight. I think the closest I can come, is this video clip of Top Gear's Richard Hammond driving the 2005 Renault R25:

That's about right. Codemasters got the sense of speed and, for me, the fear of having such a beast under your control. The amount of concentration it takes to think ahead of the car for even an 11 lap race is intense and mentally exhausting.  Eventually I turned on some of the driving aides, including medium-level traction control, and what a difference it made. The car became much more docile, but still able to snap at me if I push it too hard. F1 2010 is best experienced with a proper wheel and pedals, because the analog stick and triggers on the controllers lack the fine control required to have smooth control inputs, so this makes it hard to keep up with the AI on higher difficulty levels. A great aide for novice drivers, Codemasters included the "flashback" feature from GRID, which allows a player up to four "do-overs" if something has gone wrong. Overcooked the entry into Suzuka's "Casio Triangle" chicane or received a drive-through penalty for accidentally shoving Michael Schumacher into the barriers? Flashback and try again.

As I settled into the game and was able to tick off laps with regularity and pace, I started to consider the tug-of-war between the hardcore sim racing fan and the casual/time-limited racing fan. My final thoughts on this is touched on at the end of my review. In the garage, the race engineer provides a host of "template" setups for the car, covering slow and stable for wet weather races, to high speed and twitchy. This lets the player quickly jump into the seat of a competitive car and fight it out for a podium finish. If you fancy yourself handy with manual setups, there is access to enough adjustable parts to keep the average fan happy. Bad news for simulator fans that love tweaking setup minutia to trim two-tenths of a second from a lap time, F1 2010 lacks the ability to make tiny changes and adjust the more advanced parts found in simulators; tire pressure, damper rates for bump/rebound, limited slip, etc.

Not everything with the game is rosy. The game's forums have a sticky thread listing confirmed and unconfirmed bugs from all versions of the game. The most critical bug that got into the wild risks corrupting your career save game. I have been very lucky to not run into this, but I can imagine the frustration of players who are slogging through 100% race distances, only to load the game and find their time and effort reduced to nothing. The sector splits show the gap between yourself and the race leader, but not between yourself and the drivers in front and behind you. With this key bit of information missing, you can't accurately gauge if you should pick up the pace or not. There is no sense in going hammer and tongs when you are 10 seconds back from another car with 2 laps left.

Due to a Codemasters design choice, AI lap times registered during practice and qualifying do not reflect what the driver is actually doing. For example you can pace Lewis Hamilton on a 1'50" lap, but when Lewis crosses the start/finish line the timing says he actually ran the lap in 1'45". This design has caused a lot of derision from players on The Internets, but as explained on their forum by a community manager, this is only in effect for practice and qualifying. During the race there are no smoke and mirrors, and contrary to popular belief, no rubberbanding. If Mark Webber cracks off a fast lap during a race in Sepang, his AI will legitimately be that fast on the track.

My biggest gripe with the game is the penalty system. It seems the race stewards are either very strict, or very lax, in how they dole out warnings and penalties. I have been penalized for causing an accident in situations where I spin out in a corner, then get hit by another driver before I can recover. Other times, I never received so much as a warning after I braked too late, and punted a driver off the course, or even just got them loose and forced them high on a corner. These incidents and others make me think the application of the penalty system may have been undercooked in development, or Flavio Briatore was a consultant.

There are other bugs, such as minor issues with car models and grammar, to serious level collision problems that have ruined quite a few races for players. There even appears to be a missing feature that allows you to copy the car setup of your teammate. Here are a few bug screencaps and a Youtube video from another player. I apologize for the quality of the photos, I don't have a decent working digital camera right now, so I was forced to rely on my iPhone camera:

Lotus car embedded into the ground on the back straight at Melbourne

Lotus' T127 suffering ground effect problems.

"Are the team happy?" No, but the team *is* happy.

"Are the team happy?" No, but the team *is* happy.

The Lotus T127 floating in the air over the Bahrain track

Lotus has developed anti-gravity technology.

There are some minor bits of polish and tweaking I would like to have seen in the finished product. The selection of helmets is paltry, and there is no way to create a custom helmet. The lack of 1080p output on both consoles is pretty shocking, considering that 1080p TV's come in sizes smaller than 32" these days. Giving interviews to the press after podium finishes, and in the paddock between sessions is a great way to immerse the player, but the questions and answers get stale fast. Though perhaps that is an accurate reflection of reality, just watch some Kimi Raikkonen interviews to see what happens when someone tires of having a mic shoved in his face.

The Checkered Flag:

Codemasters tried valiantly to find a balance between the desires of a punishing, 100% accurate simulator, and the need for an easy to play game for the masses; I believe F1 2010 nearly hit both marks. With the array of difficulty options presented to the player, F1 2010 is a great game for the casual racing fan, though even with all aides turned off and the AI difficulty set to "legendary", it can't be considered a hardcore F1 simulator; and I am completely OK with this. Console games will likely always have a number of compromises, simply because a pure simulator will not appeal to a broad enough segment of players to allow the game to sell enough units to make a profit. If I want to dive head-first into the sim racing fray, I can always fire up Race'07, rFactor or maybe drop the cash on an iRacing subscription (and drive a Pontiac Solstice, woooo).

Now if you'll excuse me, the siren song of Monaco is calling, and I need to show Jarno Trulli how to win a race!

Rating: 8/10

Final Note: Reviewer has currently logged about 12 hours of play in career mode, and about 90 minutes in all other modes combined.

Links

F1 2010 Site
Race Department: F1 2010 Setups
Formula1.com

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