It’s been a long time since an official Formula One game has hit the PC market. The last proper one was Geoff Crammonds Grand Prix 4 game which was so long ago I can’t even remember how it played or what it looked like.
Codemasters picked up the official FIA F1 Licence a few years ago and since then they have released F1 2009 on the PSP and Nintendo WII. Luckily for us PC gamers they’ve now finished F1 2010 which has been released on the PC, Xbox 360 and PS3.
Since I’m an old guy who happens to love speed, I was quite happy that a game which appeals to these sentiments has been released, although it is still quite hard to make a game which captures the sensation of driving fast and also has a good gaming experience. At least I can’t ruin the car and get speeding tickets. Codemaster tried to accomplish this with their “Be The Driver, Live The Life” concept. What they tried to do is make it feel as if you are really one of the drivers in the F1 scene. This basically means the game can be seen in two parts; 1. The racing itself 2. Being the driver.
But has Codemasters achieved its goal in creating a great racing game where you have the feeling you are living the Formula 1 life? Let’s find out.
The first time you start up F1 2010 you have to pick a team. Since you’re a rookie you can’t expect a seat in one of the top teams right away, so you are left with an offer for one of the smaller teams in Formula One with a lousy salary of €500.000,- a year – (did I say lousy?) After selecting the team you are presented to the media by means of a press conference which will be basically the same all throughout the game. In this press conference the reporters would like to get to know you by asking some personal details like your first and last name. Very original, but sadly enough this entire concept is maintained throughout the game. After each race you manage to finish on the podium you are lead to the same room with the same journalists sitting at the same position and the same female journalist asking some questions. These questions are mainly based around the team, your performance or your team mate and have multiple possible answers you can provide the journalist with.
The sad thing about this system is that it’s quite repetitive and it doesn’t seem to matter what you answer. It would have been great to have the possibility to diss your team mate or team and see that back in their performance or actions towards you.
As stated before the game can basically be split into two main “experiences”; the racing itself and the F1 “world”.
“Be the driver, Live the Life”
I had hoped to be really immersed in the Formula One scene by being able to have some more options which I feel are part of the life of a Formula One driver. It would have been great if there would have been a bit more glamour by means of personal purchases and more technical options like a home factory, testing weekends etc. But it’s simply not there. The only thing which should make you feel like you are a real driver is the paddock area you have at your disposal with your own trailer in it. The only things you can do in the paddock area however, are to select the game settings, Time Trail/Grand Prix races and in your trailer some of the career options. These career items are limited to looking at the standings, your contract or contract offers and the helmet you want to wear.
Only slightly interesting part here is your agent, who will keep you informed about your performance within the team and offers from other teams. These offers are based on your performance rating which you will increase when doing well. You can look at it as levelling up.
When you’ve progressed through a season you might get new contracts offered. I did manage to clinch a new contract with Red Bull for €10,500,000 per year, but it feels a bit hollow. New season means same environment, perks, quality of upgrades etc.
I personally think Codemasters really missed the boat here. I never felt part of that strange old thing called the Formula One world.
This is what racing games are all about. I have some mixed feelings about F1 2010 in the racing aspects.
There are three ways you can start racing.
The career mode brings you to all circuits in their original order and lets you practice, qualify and then race.
Secondly there is the option to play a single grandprix and lastly there is time trial which gives you the option to improve your time on the track you select.
I will focus my review on the career mode since this gives you the best overview what the game has to offer.
When starting a career you end up in your trailer where you can select to proceed to the next race. At any moment during a particular circuit or race you can return to the paddock and it will bring you to the status you have last completed. Say for instance you completed qualification in Spa, it will have saved this and you will automatically start with the race when going into the career again. Selecting the circuit brings you inside your car in the pit box with the monitor on top of your car. This monitor is you main source of information for things like lap times, personal settings and research.
Formula One cars are highly tunable cars and that is what appeals to most people playing F1 games. Although there are options to tune your car, real hardcore F1 fans will find the options very lacking and especially the lack of telemetry data which you can use to see how well a set-up change turned out is a pity. For me personally this isn’t a real issues since I want to go racing as soon as possible. Luckily for people like me there is a quick set-up which your engineer provides you. These set-ups are based on the three conditions you van be encountered with: dry, wet and variable weather.
The settings do clearly change the overall feeling of the car when driving.
Sometimes during practice your engineer will give you the opportunity to perform a R&D test. This basically means you have to beat a certain lap time within 7 tried laps. The reward for completing this is a better option for your car like “less drag”, “more down-force”. It’s sad to see this being implemented this way because in real F1 life development is based on the teams assets/budget. For instance the bigger teams have a wind tunnel at their disposal while the smaller teams haven’t. This adds to the feeling that you’re not really part of the real F1 world.
When you are done setting up your car it’s time to race. Racing can be done with all kind of aids on and off like ABS, steering help, braking help. Nothing different from other racing games. My feelings however there is a real life aid you do need with this game and that’s a steering wheel. I’ve tried playing with and without it and the difference in laptimes is seconds. Since I do have a steering wheel and I do like a challenge I play with all aids off and frankly this makes this game quite challenging. Even a millisecond too early or too hard on the throttle will sent you spinning. This makes the learning curve a lot higher but all the more rewarding when you manage to pull off a good lap. It’s also possible to set the racing distance best suited for you.
But how does it race?
I really love the racing in this game. Especially when you put the camera in the helmet view, it gives you an incredible sense of speed and sometimes I caught myself smiling from ear to ear because the adrenaline rushed through me when I took a corner at full speed, nearly losing it being chased by Vettel. Changing the difficulty bit by bit, you can set it so that you are really racing other opponents. There is nothing like braking later than your opponent and passing him on the inside while he is doing the same to you the next corner. Most of the time this game gave me (while racing) an incredible YAAAHOOOO feeling. It’s not perfect by far though. The CPU controlled cars hardly ever make mistakes. Throughout an entire season I’ve only heard it happen three times. This is without even mentioning the mechanical breakdowns of others. They are non-existent also. Driving behind another car gives me the creeps sometime too. It sometimes looks as if the computer controlled cars jump from left to right over the circuit. Not always, but frequent enough to start to dislike it.
There is another issue which really did annoy me. As I said, I do drive with all aids off and this means more than once you will just miss or overrun a turn. If you are practising or qualifying and you even go a centimetre of the track you will get a message you are “corner-cutting” and your lap is invalidated. I’m quite a clean smooth driver and sadly enough it happened so easily that this was my main annoyance with racing in this game. This sensitivity also applies to touching other cars. You might agree with this but racing is somewhat of a contact sport and touching each other (with the car of course!) does happen. Sometimes when I had the race line in a corner I would be touched by another car and always I got a warning or even a penalty while other cars were NEVER to blame.
Another issue I have is that the AI of the other racers isn’t too good. More than once I’ve got the feeling the AI wasn’t aware of where other cars were and especially not where I was.
One great feature Codemasters brought into this game is dynamic weather. Basically this means the weather can change during a weekend or even during a race. It’s possible you start a sessions off on intermediate tyres and when the session progresses you really see the track drying. You are left with the choice whether or not to change your tyres and set-up or not. I was, for example, doing the night-race in Singapore. I managed to drive in first place in full wet conditions and halfway through the race the rain stopped. At that time I had about 10 seconds on Vettel with 10 laps to go. Vettel went into the pits and changed to intermediate tyres and I decided not to (it looked incredibly wet to me). This choice resulted in Vettel being a lot faster in lap times and it would mean that a decision to go into the pits now would cost me my lead. I decided not to change my tyres and had an incredible fight for the last two laps to keep Vettel behind me. I even cheered when I did cross the finishing line a fraction before Vettel. The dynamic weather does influence the game and that’s how it should be.
The rain in the game makes driving also a lot more difficult. Obviously water makes it more slippery but Codemasters made it so it looks like you have a visor before your eyes and you see the raindrops very realistically on it. Driving behind another car which causes a massive spray makes it even more difficult and very hard to race. But all the more fun!
During a race where you aren’t bound to wets or intermediates there is a rule that you must change your tyres at at least once. Your engineer will call you into the pits at the window you decided on before the race, or automatically when you didn’t set it up. You don’t have to do anything but drive into the pit lane and they change the tyres for you. Tyre choice is only important when you select a full race because if you select a short race they will be nearly no wear. The wear of your tyres and heat of your engine is displayed to the right of the screen. It’s simple: Green is OK, red is not.
Talking about the engineer… during the race your engineer does provide you with some information. When you are behind a car it says you are racing them, or if you are about to lap someone he says that too. Sometimes the engineer tells you to change a setting because you damaged a wing, or if it’s really badly damaged he’ll tell you to come in because of it.
I always play these games at full length and I can tell you this makes this game quite hard. Formula One is also a concentration game. Due to the incredible sense of speed and need to make your braking points you have to keep full concentration throughout the race. Who doesn’t remember Jacques Villeneuve losing a race because he spun out due to lack of concentration.
Even though there are some issues which make racing with this game somewhat irritating I still think it’s an incredible challenge and fun. There were times I was all cramped up and sweating due to the tension while racing another game and for me this is the level of involvement I want in games.
I haven’t got the fastest pc in this world. I own a quadcore/Ati 5850/4gb system. I do however always play games with all possible settings turned on at a 1900×1080 resolution. I am happy to report my pc didn’t have any problems running this game. Graphics are quite decent, but for me the game feels empty. When racing you miss atmosphere on the stands and next to the track. Aside from the other cars I felt alone (no need to cry for me, it’s only a game). As stated before I did see some glitches with the other cars jumping a bit.
Also something I noticed when viewing a replay was that when seeing the grid intro, it sometimes looks if your car isn’t really on the track but just hovering a bit above it.
The dynamic weather is incredible from my point of view. The puddles on the track look really lifelike and the water on your imaginary helmet is great. When the track dries out you can really see that. Also when it’s about to rain the weather and air slowly gets darker and you really get the feeling it’s about to start pouring.
The paddock and especially the interview room is very poorly done though. The faces of the people there are basically what the circuits feel like: empty.
I can’t think of anything bad audio-wise. The F1 Engine sound incredible and if you are using a 7.1 system like me, you can hear on which side your opponent is. Also the cheers from the stands can be positionally heard in your car. In the menu and during the interview the sound is what it should be. Nothing special, but also not annoying.
UI & Control (7/10)
The main menu is based around the paddock somewhat like the Race Driver: Grid structure. It’s easy to navigate with your arrow keys but it’s basically nothing special. In the paddock you have the inside of your trailer which is for the career mode and the outside for the rest.
When entering the pits during a race you have the same type of structure like in the paddock; left and right to the main choices (engineer, monitor, tyres, team mate). The nicest feature has to be the monitor where you can view lap times and set several features for your car. This is also quite functional but nothing special.
The UI during a race gives you all the info you need and can be switched off if you want to. Of course you have a mini-map with the course layout. There is also a top down view of the car which gives you the state of your car (green is good, red is bad). At the bottom-right you will find a mini dashboard with all necessary information like gear, speed, revs etc. This is also not very special, but as functional as it should be.
The game itself can be controlled with the arrow keys and of course the keys can be set the way you like them. What struck me as a bit odd was that the default brake and throttle settings were not arrow down and arrow up like most games, but left shift and space. I found this to be extremely weird. But on the other hand this game isn’t really playable without a steering wheel. As soon as you hook up a steering wheel this game becomes so much better and so much more fun. The difference between keyboard (digital) and steering wheel (analogue) is incredible. It’s like shaving your head with razor instead of a battleaxe.
Value & replay (7/10)
If you like Formula One and fast games this game is very likely for you. If you like to fiddle with all kinds of settings and have the feeling you are really inside the F1 world you might feel this game falls a bit short.
This game is good enough to keep you going for hours but there are some serious flaws in the game design to make it the best racing game out there. Is it the best recent Formula One game for the PC? Yes it is, but only because it is the only one. Should you buy this game? Yes, I think you should because the sheer speed of the racing and the kick going full throttle through Au Rouge at Spa is unmissable.
I don’t think however you’ll keep playing this game for longer than one or two seasons, because to be honest it’s the same all over.