Since 2006, Formula One fans have been left without an officially licensed game. Sure, there have been mods for games like rFactor, and the Williams F1 machine is coming to the extremely expensive to play iRacing.com, but the last official title was the hit-or-miss Formula One Championship Edition, exclusively for the PlayStation 3.
So when Codemasters took up the F1 license for a multiplatform release in 2010, there was quite a bit of excitement and some questions. While they had made racing games in the past with the likes of the Race Driver series, their more recent affairs had contained a bit more of an arcade-like feel when compared to the Forzas and Gran Turismos of the world. Still, I told myself, these guys had done a great job with GRID in 2008, and from all early impressions, the game seemed to be very solid. For the record, I’m an F1 fan, the kind of guy who gets up at 7:30 in the morning on a Sunday just so he can catch the racing live because that’s what time it comes on in the U.S., so to say I was excited about this is a understatement.
So does Codemaster’s new title, F1 2010, built on a modified version of the engine that has powered its racing games since the original DIRT, hold its own against the competition, or will it be stuck at the back of the pack? The answer, actually, is that it's a little bit of both.
F1 2010 (PC [reviewed], Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
Developer: Codemasters Birmingham
Released: September 22, 2010
MSRP: $59.99 (Xbox 360 and PS3); $39.99 (PC)
The largest part of your time in this game will likely be spent in the game’s career mode. And actually, career mode begins right when you boot up the game, as you’ll have to enter your name, nationality, career length (3, 5 or 7 seasons) and pick from one of three teams to start with, all new teams for the real-world 2010 season. This is who you’ll race for during your first season, and as you perform better, you’ll raise your reputation and open up new ride possibilities. It’s certainly not a short-mode either: even a short weekend can take upward of an hour per weekend. Multiply that by the 19 races in a single season and well… if you pick the 7-year career, you’ll be playing for a while before getting to the end.
While on your team, there’s plenty to do. You’ll have to deal with interviews that change a bit based on your performance. Positive answers will help your team like you, but if you want to speak your mind, you’d better be prepared to deal with an unhappy team. It’s nice to have this feature but I get asked the same questions a lot, which is a bit of a disappointment. There are also occasional R&D sessions during practice, too, which require you to meet an objective to receive an upgrade for your team.
The biggest game-related issue in career mode and grand prix mode, though, happens to be the A.I. While Codemasters touted this as being organic and an accurate sim of the real series, it isn’t. It exists well enough that on a shorter race, it’s not noticeable, but it does feel robotic at times, not to mention computer drivers’ machines wiggle around quite a bit. And the race director A.I. loves handing out warnings and penalties every time you bump into someone because they block you or when one of the A.I. cars runs into you hard. If you guessed this happens quite a bit ... you're correct.
Two other things that are missing, though, that really need to be in there in the future are safety cars for full-course caution periods, and perhaps on a lesser urgency, a team building mode similar to what GRID had would be kind of a nice thing. Being able to carry sponsorship with you from team to team, as in real life, would be fun, but sadly, I’m sure the teams and their regular sponsors woudn't allow for that.
Still, though, there are plenty of options to pick from when it comes to customizing your experience. All the driving aids are toggleable, the A.I. difficulty and dynamic weather are adjustable and race and weekend length can be shortened or extended out to a full length. The short option gives you practice, qualifying and the race all as single sessions, while the full length is all three practices, three-round knockout qualifying and then the race itself. It’s nice to be able to pick from either mode, depending on what your preference is, as is being able to adjust the game’s rules to however you’d like.
Handling is a key part of any Formula One experience, and in F1 2010, Codemasters have done well. They don’t handle like they would in a perfect sim, but they’ve made them feel like the super-powered beasts they are. Even with all the driving aids on, its possible to spin the car out if you’re not careful, reinforcing the idea that you’re always driving on the edge every lap. The actual controls are mapped out like and feel as responsive as the controls in GRID, meaning for veterans of that game, this should feel a bit familiar on the controller.
One of Codemaster's promoted highlights of this title is that the weather is supposed to be realistic. from a graphics standpoint, this is mostly true. As the track gets wet from the rain, water does pool on it, the surface does become reflective and a spray plume does pop up from your car, though perhaps not as much as it really should. Likewise, if it stops raining during the race, you do begin to see the track dry out a little bit. The raindrop effect on the cockpit camera angle is very, very cool to see, too. Cars also respond differently in the wet and become more difficult to drive as well as a little bit slower, just as they do in the real world.
And speaking of graphics, F1 2010 looks great. Waiting until this late in the season proved to be a very wise move, as it has allowed Codemasters to properly create the 2010 season's cars. Car damage is rendered well and there aren't any noticeable issues with clipping. Framerates do slow down every once in a while, but on the PC version, it's not something I've come across often. It's not game-breaking when it does seem to happen, either, as I've noticed the few times it happens, the lag shows up for maybe half-a-second before reverting to normal. The console versions, I've been told, suffer from more noticeable lag, so keep that in mind when considering this game.
As for the tracks, they, too, have a high level of detail and very closely replicate their real-life counterparts. From the woods of Spa-Francorchamps to the buildings alongside the track in Monaco as you run through the principality's streets (seen above), everything looks as it did during the current F1 season -- or at least close enough that most errors pr changes are not distinguishable. There's even quite a bit of depth of field, especially on some of the courses that have beautiful backdrops like Singapore. Even the new Korean circuit has cranes showing that it's still under construction, just like it is in real-life. It's also nice to progress through a weekend and see the racing lines begin to form on the track over the course of practice, qualifying and the race itself. The only thing I can knock them on with design is that pit lane appears to be designed to have your team in the first pit, no matter what team you're with.
The game’s soundtrack is probably one of its highlights, as Codemasters has found the right licensed songs, along with some very good original scores, to provide the right mood and atmosphere for the title. Most of the music you’ll hear plays on the menu and loading screens, and each session has its own loading screen theme that fits well. But more so, the actual sounds of the machines are fantastic. The engines really do have that high-pitched and piercing whine that their real-life counterparts do, and collision sounds match up with the on-screen action. The voice acting does sound a little boring at times, but the almost-always calm voice of your race engineer does mesh well with how they sound in the real world. And it still always blows me away when I hear my agent speak my name without a single stutter or pause that might indicate the game’s trying to insert a clip somewhere.
Outside of career mode, there are your basic grand prix and time trial modes. Grand prix mode allows you to race up to a full season’s worth of races or just a single race if you’d like. You can also pick from all 19 racetracks in the game, so if you want to do 19 straight races at Monaco, you can do just that. Time trial mode has a single-player mode as well as a party option. If you’re guessing the party option is the mode where you and your friends trade off the controller and each take turns trying to turn the fastest lap, you either are a good guesser or you own the game. There’s also online leaderboards so you can compare who goes around each track the fastest.
And what would a game like this be without multiplayer? Of course F1 2010 has it, and as you might have guessed, it’s pretty much the same standard racing multiplayer mode you’ve run into a million times by now, especially if you’ve played Codemasters other online racing titles. That being said, there are, of course, the same idiots doing the same stupid things like punting you off in the first corner of a track, so be warned. It’s also limited to only 12 cars including AI and one car from all 12 teams must be represented. You can blame Formula One and its teams itself for that, because apparently, they didn’t want lobbies to be filled with just McLarens or Ferraris racing around the track.
Unfortunately, as much as I love what this game brings to the table, there is one major, crippling flaw with it on all three versions, it seems: save files are somehow corrupting completely. What’s causing this isn’t for certain, but based on my experiences and what a few folks on the Steam forums have uncovered, it seems to relate to doing R&D runs in practice. That would indeed make sense, as in both cases, I suffered corrupt files right after saving following a practice R&D run. Hopefully, someone at Codemasters can try to find out what the cause is and if they can patch it out, because it’s killed two of my career playthroughs already, forcing me to restart at the beginning just to get to the main meat of the game. That’s not fun; that’s pure bullshit.
And then there are some assorted smaller flaws as well, mostly that the lollipop man (the F1 term for the pit crew member holding the sign that tells you when to leave the pit after the stop is complete) tends to wait to release you until all the other cars in the pit lane, including ones all the way down at the end that came in after you, are out of the way. There’s an easy workaround or two for this thankfully (pitting out of sequence with everyone or running a longer race to avoid mass pitting), but it’s still a bit annoying. I’ve also run into a few texture glitches here and there, but nothing that wasn’t sorted out by backing out to the paddock and going back into the mode I was in.
Codemasters had a significant task in front of them. They wanted to re-create the F1 experience in a way that almost no F1 game had done so before. In the end, they got it pretty close to it on their first try in some areas but fell flat on their faces in others. The game save corruption bug, which was also present in DIRT 2, is by far the biggest of all glitches and the most sinister, but there are several other, smaller ones as well that pop up as well. Hopefully, Codemasters patches these up quickly before they drag the game down too far. And I say too far, because in this case, the save file issue had enough of a negative impact on me that I'm backing up all my save files after every session for my third career attempt.
Hardcore simulation fans – the kind of people who build dedicated racing seats and set-ups for their games -- will likely walk away from this a little disappointed in that it’s not exactly like driving one of these beasts in real life, but for everyone else, it’s an absolute blast and a demanding challenge, all in the same game. Let's just hope they patch it before it eats my game save half a dozen times first.
Score: 7.0 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)
(at least until it's patched)