There is something that sets Formula 1 racing apart. Despite long historical links to South America, Asia and even to Australia and New Zealand, there has always been something untouchable in its sense of elitism; something very European in its seriousness and the way it’s always been aware of its own importance. Formula 1 has always been the biggest thing in motor racing. And, with F1 2010, UK developers Codemasters look to put it back on top in the world of both high-speed racing and high-difficulty sport sims.
F1 2010 does just what it sets out to do. It's a faithful and thorough representation of the sport. With the difficulty turned up, and the automatic transmission and breaking assists turned off, it is truly a game that only Michael Schumacher could master. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t always look spectacular. Some of the more open tracks like Silverstone look drab, although this may just be a by-product of the game’s realism. The soundtrack is also limited by the realism, unfortunately there is little you can do with the continuous high-pitched high-revving whine that you get at all races. However, the damage modelling is also pretty lightweight and the crowds are patchy at best. But with all the teams, drivers and tracks included, plus a fantastic dynamic weather system and plenty of options to make the driving manageable, F1 2010 takes its rightful place among racing games. And heads straight for pole position.
You begin the game with a press conference. While it may not be particularly flashy, nor get the heart pumping, it's a nice way to get your name into the system and choose the team you want to drive for. After you're introduced to the press, you meet your agent who takes you through the game’s many modes, options and menus to be found in your trailer, your team’s garage and outside in the Paddock.
From the Paddock you can choose to play through a seven-year career, adjust all your playing options with My F1, race time-trials, head straight into a full season as your favourite driver, or enter the dramatic world of online multiplayer.
Online, the game is clean, uncomplicated and allows for up to twelve players per race. You can choose a quick game, set custom options, check the world’s leader boards or hook up with your friends. If you want to specify race modes you can choose to race in a Grand Prix, where you run qualifiers to determine grid positions and have multiple pit stops to help cope with dynamic weather, track conditions, and tyre wear. Sprint races are at the other end of the realism scale. They are three laps long so there’s no time for pit stops, damage is just cosmetic and starting grids are totally random. Online is great. In two or three minutes you are racing around Hockenheim, Spa or the impossibly tight and congested Monte Carlo. As you might expect the online racing often disintegrates into arcade style survival of the fittest (or survival of the luckiest) but as long as you are willing to take a few bumps, and deal out a bit of damage, there is plenty of fun to be had.
If you find yourself trailing the pack online you might want to spend a bit of time getting your racing lines sorted by playing through the game’s in-depth career mode. Inside your trailer your agent is waiting with your new team contract and a few words of advice about talking to the media, team politics and practice. This is because, in career mode, you don’t just roll out to the grid to start racing. At the beginning of every Grand Prix you have an hour of practice time and twenty minutes of qualifying. And qualifying high is essential for getting those good grid positions needed to finish well on many of the narrower circuits.
Every race weekend starts in your team garage. From your car you can check your starting position, your team mates' status, and the weather conditions. This is very important because F1 2010s dynamic weather system is brilliant. Firstly, the rain looks great, and coupled with the occasional sunset in Abu Dhabi, makes for the game’s graphical high points. But the rain isn’t there just for looks. As the weather changes, so do the track conditions. Puddles form on some areas of the track while a mist is created from the tyres of the leading cars, and when the rain eventually stops, the racing line dries out before the edges. Overall it is the most successful part of the game. But, conditions don’t just change with the weather. Over the weekend practice the track speeds up as more rubber is laid down, so you are always striving to find that set-up to suit both the track and the conditions. It’s good then that you can adjust almost everything about your car, from tyres and break balance to downforce and gears. Or you can be sensible about it and let your head engineer auto-adjust it for you.
The greatest help during practice is the game’s Dynamic Racing Line. This draws the optimal racing line on the track in front of you. When the line is fully green, you can open up the throttle, and as the line fades to red you need to shift down the gears or slam on the breaks. If you are playing in easy mode, with all the other driving assists on, the practice runs are a nice way to get familiar with the game’s nineteen precisely re-created and very different circuits.
If you’ve had enough practice before you allocated hour is over, you can head back to the garage and fast forward through what’s left of your session. After practice is over you have twenty minutes of qualifying. Once you post that one great flying lap you can take your place on the grid for the start of a new Grand Prix season.
Driving in F1 2010 is as easy, or as difficult, as you want to make it. Although heed one warning: with all the driving assists off, the cars are impossible to control. All in the name of realism and accuracy, the slightest touch to the accelerator or break certain to send you spinning off into the gravel. However, if like me you’ve spent the last few years playing Burnout and Dirt 2, and you need all the help you can get, the assists are vital to getting anywhere in the game. The Dynamic Racing Line we’ve mentioned, and the Traction Control, ABS and Automatic Gearbox do what they do in real life, but you sure won’t find the Break Assist in your girlfriend’s Honda. This slows you down to the correct speed when approaching a corner. So, with your gears changing automatically, the breaks being applied so that you don’t lock up and lose traction, and the correct line in and out of the corners drawn onto the track in front of you, there is no excuse not to own the 2010 Formula One season.
Of course with F1 2010 you’ll be playing up to seven seasons. Throughout your career you’ll be pressuring your team mate for that number one spot, eventually bumping Lewis Hamilton or Rubens Barrichello down to second spot. Or, if you’re not getting the respect you deserve you can give the whole team a serve in the post race press conference, before signing with a better team the next year. You’ll be learning tracks, learning to control your car and upgrading it continuously as you achieve team targets. Like the best sports games, you can get to the top; it might just take a lot of practice.
It’s been a few years since we’ve had a proper Formula 1 racing sim. It’s here now, but has it been worth the wait? For those who love online arcade racing, on the kinder settings it is fairly easy to get into and play. However, because it's trying to be a faithful and realistic as possible, there is less of the foot-to-the-floor drama, spectacle and fun of other games. I’m not saying it’s not there, it’s just not there as much. But, if you want tough, technical races where you’ll get disqualified for cutting corners and time penalties for driving recklessly; if you want long races where it might take two or three laps to set up one passing manoeuvre; if what you want is a great racing sim; then, yes. F1 2010 has been well worth the wait.