F1 2010 Review (Xbox 360)
To start things off, let me tell you a little bit about my virtual racing experience so you know where I'm coming from. I have mostly been a Forza driver recently, but years ago my friends and I played a lot of Geoff Crammond's racing games on PC, starting with Stunt Car Racer and moving along to F1GP and Grand Prix 2. Since that point in my racing life, I have mostly been playing more arcade-style games on various consoles, and for the last year I have clocked a lot of hours with Forza Motorsport 3, which in my opinion was a pretty solid effort -- a perfect hybrid of arcade and simulation.
But since I follow the F1 circus and enjoy a virtual racing session every now and then, I have been waiting for a proper F1 game for a long, long time. However, when I heard Codemasters was the company with the rights for F1, I was a bit apprehensive. Although Codemasters had done great racing games in the past (TOCA, Colin McRae), the later games like Dirt and Grid were a bit too light for my taste.
Thankfully, those fears have been squelched. After just a few days of racing in F1 2010, I had already forgotten about my pessimism and was enthusiastically driving full practice sessions, trying to find the perfect setups for different tracks, and throwing the car around in a way that is only possible when you have huge amounts of downforce available. And that last element is the one thing that F1 2010 does best. The feeling of driving a car that weighs just over 600 kg and has over 700 bhp is just amazing. You can throw the car into corners with speeds that make your head go dizzy. It takes a while to get used to the performance these cars have, but once you start to have confidence in the ridiculous amount of grip and power F1 cars have it's a blast!
Gameplay and Presentation
The developers at Codemasters Studios Birmingham have achieved something special with F1 2010, a game that is easy to get into but difficult to master. On the easier difficulty levels, you don't need to know too much about F1 racing or how to set up the car for different tracks. Having driving assists on gives you a chance to get used to driving F1 cars without being penalized for opening the throttle too soon out of a corner or missing the best line in a sweeping series of corners. Not familiar with the tracks? No problem, driving and braking lines can be used while you get used to the tracks.
Once you get used to the car and tracks, you can start dropping aids and increasing the difficulty because there are plenty of options in the difficulty settings to keep the game challenging for a long time. And no difficulty level is set in stone, so you can race with all the aids off and with hard AI opponents, yet still keep the braking line on if you are a veteran racer but do not know the tracks yet.
The controls are good and responsive. I drove with both the controller and with the official Xbox 360 wireless steering wheel. Immersion was deeper of course with the wheel, but I found racing with the controller just as easy as with the wheel. Even with the controller it is easy to adjust throttle and brake to avoid spinning the car around or locking your tires while braking.
One thing that blew me away and brings a lot to the game is the dynamic weather system. At the beginning of a race weekend, you can see the weather prediction for each of the sessions ahead. This will cause a lot of interesting situations and choices for you. You might have a dry practice session and then have to qualify in a wet race, causing you to compromise some speed over cornering so your car is suitable for the wet race as well as qualifying. Weather can also change in the middle of a session, which can cause many extra pit stops if the track gets too dry for your wet tires or too wet for slicks. A dry line forms on the track after the rain stops, and it actually has different traction compared to the wet part of the track. This is all really impressive stuff.
The AI is pretty decent as well, at least when talking about the competition on the track. AI drivers generally drive in a way that does not cause you any extra stress. Overtaking when you have the speed and space on the track is possible without the AI pushing you into the gravel. AI drivers will defend their position aggressively but in a realistic manner. If you gain ground on an AI driver, it might start pushing too hard and spin out right in front of you just like in real life.
Beyond that, the AI does have some problems. For example pit stops can be a pain. If there are a lot of cars changing tires at the same time as you, you might get stuck in the pits because the lollipop man who lets you back on the track is overly cautious and allows everyone else to return to racing before releasing you. It does not happen every time, and you can change the lap when you pit so there's less traffic on the pit straight. Still, it can be annoying when you pass cars on the track because of your awesome racing only for the AI drivers to get their spots back on the pit straight because of poor AI.
There are some other bugs, including a corrupt save file problem if you quit the game during a R and D weekend, but there are workarounds for some problems and Codemasters is working hard on releasing a patch that should fix a lot of the small issues. Personally, the pit-stop problem was the only thing I noticed during my career. And while it is annoying, it certainly did not stop me from playing the game again and again.
Graphically, Codemasters has done it again. F1 2010 sports the same menu look as Grid and Dirt. Your career is handled from your trailer, and other game modes can be accessed from the paddock outside. While keeping to the same visual style as the other recent games can seem a bit boring, at least gamers will be instantly familiar with their surroundings if they have played Dirt or Grid.
Outside of the menus the game looks good but not spectacular, except for the aforementioned wet racing. The rain effects look amazing, right down to the drops of water drying off your car once you drive in the pits after a stint on the track. The spray that the cars lift off the track while driving in front of someone in the rain is a challenging, beautiful and worthwhile addition. Other than the rain effects, the overall graphics do not quite achieve the level of Forza 3, for example. But the speed that you are going around the track at does not leave you much time to enjoy the scenery anyway.
The sound design in the game is mostly what you would expect. There is the screaming whine of an F1 engine, and your racing engineer tells you over the team radio what's happening on the track. Default settings have the sound of other cars a bit too loud, which sometimes led to me becoming confused which car's sound I was hearing, but this oddity only occurs if you very close to the other car.
Overall the game is a good reflection of real F1 racing. The only things that are missing are the formation lap and safety car, both of which I'm sure will be implemented in the coming years.
The main mode in F1 2010 is the Career mode, which you can choose to last for three, five or seven seasons. The length of your career affects how quickly bigger teams approach you -- assuming you drive well enough for their liking. You have to start your career on one of the three new teams: Virgin, Lotus or Hispania Racing. If you perform well enough, bigger and better teams offer you contracts to drive for them. When I started my career while playing on Hard and Expert, mid-level teams started noticing me after the first half of the season, and BMW offered me a contract before the end of the first season. So, in other words, progress may be a little exaggerated but still relatively close to real life.
Even if you get stuck with your initial team, there are little things that keep things interesting. Your goal as a driver regardless of who you drive for is to beat your teammate. Once you do that consistently, you will be promoted and become the number one driver for the team, meaning that you will get fresh updates to your car first. This aspect brings me to one more thing that makes the Career mode fun: research and development.
In practice sessions that start the race weekends, you get to test new parts that might improve your car. It is a simple mini-game of trying to beat a given target time on a practice lap, but it is a nice addition to practice sessions that people might otherwise skip. Plus, achieving the R and D targets might give you something like a five percent increase to your front wing down force, so R and D is not just cosmetic because beating the target time will actually improve your car.
Race weekends themselves are customizable. You can choose between short and long weekends. A short weekend is compressed into one practice session and one qualifying session before the race itself. A long weekend has all the real sessions from the real F1 schedule: three practices, three qualifying sessions and the race. The length of the race is adjustable as well. You can go from a quick race of a few laps to a full race that lasts for roughly 90 minutes, depending on the track of course. There are quite a few steps in the length slider so everyone will find the perfect fit I'm sure.
People should realize that being a F1 driver is not all about racing either. Real-life driver Kimi Räikkönen quit the F1 circuit and moved to rally driving because promotional duties and attending sponsorship events became more work than the driving itself. Fortunately, F1 2010 does not simulate real life to that extent. Dealing with the press in-between sessions and after the races is the only element that tries to bring the real-life duties of the driver to the game. How you respond to the press determines how your team and others perceive you outside of the racing track. Basically, your answers are either negative, neutral or positive towards your team's effort. It's not a very deep feature, and it gets repetitive pretty quickly. Fortunately, the racing itself is fun.
Other game modes include a single race weekend on a chosen track, and time trials on your own or in a party mode where you basically take turns trying to get the fastest time with your mates.
And then there's online of course. Once you have learned the tracks and the tricks, it's time to impress the rest of the world with your driving skills. Available are sprint races with random grid order, qualifying sessions where you just compete for the best lap time and proper races with qualifying before the actual race. The races I tried online were lag-free and loads of fun. If you just do random races online, you might come across a lot of first-corner crashes and otherwise arcade-like action, but just like other games online there are a lot of private leagues and communities out there in case you want a more serious online experience.
F1 2010 is the best F1 game in a long time, even with the occasional bug and a somewhat rushed release that left out safety cars and other F1 details. But if you're an F1 fan or just curious about the sport, you should definitely check this game out. The game gives you a nice impression of how fast the cars are and what it takes to drive them.
Plus, it's just a blast to play. The feeling you get after a good qualifying lap or when you manage a nice overtake in a race is very rewarding, especially when you move on to the harder difficulty settings.
Now if only more of my friends would get this game so we could start a hardcore season online...
On the Track: Apart from the few bugs, the game is very good and loads of fun. The magic of F1 racing has been captured exceptionally well.
Graphics: The graphics are good, especially in the rain, but nothing spectacular. Some slight frame rate drop is noticeable when racing on a street circuit like Monaco, but nothing that would ruin gameplay.
Audio: The engines sound good and that's basically it. There is not much else happening aurally in F1 racing.
Entertainment Value: Good fun. The joy of learning new tracks and mastering a F1 car without any aids will keep the game fresh for quite a while.
Learning Curve: This game is very easy to get into. There are various difficulty levels, brake lines and other aids to help you out while you get used to the tracks and cars.
Online: Everything works as you would expect. There was no lag worth mentioning during my experiences, and opponents were easily found. There is certainly some intense racing to be had.
Score: 8.5 (Excellent)