Gamer: F1 2010 For XBox 360
By Brandon Turkus
November 10, 2010
There have been plenty of racing games that have popped onto the scene over the past few years. The Forza series is a great road-racing game, while the Need For Speed series offers a more tuner-oriented racing experience. Rally racers are represented by the DiRT series, and a regular stream of NASCAR titles have been available as well. The one niche in the genre of racing simulation that has had the toughest time over the last decade, though, is Formula 1. While F1 licensed titles have come out like clockwork, none have really been lauded for their quality.
With Codemasters’ F1 2010, that looks to change. Not only does this new title boast the beautiful images that we have come to expect from the current generation of consoles, it features the best weather and track evolution system to ever be placed in a racing game.
F1 2010 claims to offer the experience of a real Formula 1 driver—a proposition that’s made good on the minute the game spins to life.
Careers can be three, five, or seven seasons. Choose the maximum seven-year career, and you will receive offers from lowly Lotus, Virgin Racing, and Hispania. Opt for a quick three-year career, and you will receive offers from mid-pack contenders like Force India, BMW Sauber, Williams, and Scuderia Toro Rosso, on top of Lotus, Virgin, and HRT.
Once all the details have been sorted out, you will be taken to the main menu, which is nicely disguised as an interactive RV. All of the career mode options are handled within the comfortable confines of your RV, while multiplayer, quick races, time trials, and options are handled outside in the paddock.
Living the life of an F1 driver means competition, not only against the other drivers, but against your teammate. You will start off as the number-two driver on your team, and will have to consistently outrace your teammate. If you spend a season beating up on your teammate, you will get the promotion to number one. Besides being able to walk around and say you are better than Jarno Trulli, you will have control over the team’s research schedule and will get first dibs on upgrades. This means you can build the car to match your racing style.
Interactions with the press, both in the post-race press conference and the random interviews between sessions will be key to your relationship with the team. Give the team credit where credit is due, and it’ll go a long way to making sure you have a good reputation throughout the pits. This reputation has some impact on how you will be viewed when new contracts come up. No team wants to work with a prima donna, no matter how quick he may be.
After playing around in the menus, we hopped into the first grand prix at the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain. Once in the session, we found ourselves sitting in our car in the pits, looking at the race monitor. From here, you can view times for the current session, the weather forecast, information about the track, the team’s current research progress, and make adjustments to the car. Besides making incremental adjustments to the car, talking to your race engineer will allow you to quick tune the car, with distinct wet, dry, and adaptable presets.
Being quite experienced with racing games, we anticipated a Gran Turismo- or Forza-like driving experience. We were very wrong. The F1 cars we were driving are far more difficult to handle than most vehicles in other gaming universes. The brakes are very quick to lock up while the razor-sharp throttle control on our virtual 2.4-liter V-8 requires a careful hand to keep in check. We initially ran with all of the helpers off, and promptly deposited our car in the wall at Sakhir’s first turn. After a quick adjustment of the settings, we set off again.
Even with the electronic aids doing their duty, this is still a deviously difficult game to get the hang of. We found ourselves having to adjust our racing style to account for these extreme cars. In other racing games, we could brake later, and carry the braking through to the apex of the turn before accelerating out, a practice known as trail braking. While more difficult, it gives you more control over the cars balance. This doesn’t work in F1, as the cars are incredibly responsive and there is hardly any weight to shift around. Instead, we had to follow the old adage of “in slow, out fast.”
This wasn’t the only change we had to make to our racing style though. We had engine life to consider as well. Run the engine too hard, and you may get a talking to from your engineer as well as a graphical pop up of the overheating engine. This forced us to keep a more careful eye on our throttle inputs, as we only have eight engines to last us the season. Giving the car fewer revs on straights and being smarter about our shifting and throttle inputs through the turns can do wonders for the engine’s life.
After stumbling around the practice sessions learning the track and qualifying, we were anxious to start the racing. The actual race is extremely entertaining. With twenty-four cars on track, the first lap gives you the same sense of organized chaos that you can only dream of when watching a race on TV. As you dive into the first turn, an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia envelops you. We got up close and personal with the other cars, and this brings up one of our criticisms with the game. You can bump a car in front of you and not even know it until you get a warning from the race stewards. Vibrating controllers are standard issue now, so why don’t we get a little jolt in the controller if you make contact with another car?
We have a similar complaint with the damage and tire systems. Even with both set on “Simulation,” damage was almost non-existent. We really had to nail another car or part of the Armco to damage the front wing or cause a flat tire. Apparently you can cause enough damage on an impact to eliminate the car from the current session, but we still haven’t figured out how to do that. We aren’t asking for super-accurate damage, as in real F1, a simple bump could break the suspension and knock you out of the race. But a more realistic view of damage, similar to what is found in Forza, where almost every vehicle system can be damaged but repaired in the pits, would be a welcomed addition.
The complaints out of the way, let’s talk about where F1 2010 really beats the current crop of racing games. Codemasters has gone above and beyond with F1’s weather and track evolution systems. At the beginning of a race weekend, the track is “green,” meaning that the grip is at its lowest point. With no racing going on, there is very little grip-yielding rubber on the track, and the racing line is still dusty and dirty. As the weekend progresses, more and more rubber is deposited on the track and a clean line starts to develop. We first noticed this on turns 20 and 21 at the Sakhir circuit. At the beginning of the race weekend, we had to gingerly approach these medium-fast sweepers, braking more than we normally would before entering. By the time qualifying and the race rolled around, we were taking these turns almost flat-out.
The other great thing is the weather system. The weather can change quickly, with sunshine and blue skies to start off a session and pouring rain an hour later. As the weather turns, the track evolution system goes to work again. As the rain increases or decreases, there are noticeable changes in grip level, much like there is from the beginning of the race weekend until the end. Heavy rains can create puddles on the track, which you can actually feel slapping up against the car. If the rain starts to ease up, a dry line will slowly begin to develop. These changes add a further element of depth to the racing, as the cryptic track conditions force you to gamble between running dry, intermediate, or full-wet tires.
Besides the great gameplay on offer, F1 2010’s visuals are some of the best available. With each track and car being fully rendered, the scenery is quite the sight. Cars feature accurately depicted cockpits, while making on-the-fly changes to the car setup causes the virtual you to push the correct buttons in the cockpit.
The graphical presentation of the weather system is outstanding as well. Besides being able to feel the track start to lose grip, you can actually see from lap-to-lap wet spots, large puddles, and dry lines start to develop. Then there are the massive rooster tails thrown up by the cars as they fly around the track. The spray is extremely intense, with water droplets being thrown onto your visor in the cockpit view. We found ourselves braking just a bit earlier because the spray from the other cars was obscuring our vision so much.
We did notice a slight drop in frame rate when there were a lot of cars on screen. This was especially noticeable on graphically heavy tracks like Monaco. This can be frustrating as it caused us to crash more than a few times. Overall though, we were plenty impressed with how the game looks.
While great gameplay and beautiful visuals are important for any video game, there needs to be a lasting appeal to make the game truly enticing. After all, if you are dropping $60 on a game, you want to be able to play it for some time. While racing games, especially games based on actual racing series, have always been kind of one dimensional in that regard, F1 is different.
From choosing how many seasons you want to run, to picking a team, to fighting to become the number one driver, F1 kept us entertained for hours. Really, no two careers will be exactly alike.
We were somewhat disappointed by the online component, not because of the choices that were available, but due to the lack of participants. Of the several races we ran, we never had more than half of a full field on the track. We hope that as this game makes it into more and more homes, the selection of online opponents increases. It’s also fair to mention that we were testing the game on Xbox Live, and can’t confirm that F1 participation on the Playstation Network will be similarly sparse.
Compared to other racing games on the market, F1 2010 has a noticeably steeper learning curve. Despite the variety of options to make life easier on new players, it is still a difficult game to figure out. As we said earlier, despite our experience with racing games, we still found F1 to be difficult. That being said, the game is still wildly entertaining. It has a visceral value about it that you don’t often get in video games, which is likely to keep us coming back for quite some time.