The only thing missing from this game is the 'Stig' (Top Gear reference, in case you want to know).
Codemasters brought F1 2010 to E3 this year and displayed it in a small room made for tiny people (like my intern). What they showed us, amongst the loud environment, was potentially one of the greatest formula one racing games in recent video gaming times. It showed a helluva lot of potential in the controls, environments, cars, racers and especially depth. Granted it was about three - four months out when they showed us so we took it for what it was, unfinished. Most things you see at E3 look/feel great, but often end up disappointing when they are finally launched in retail. So, we all walked away impressed, but skeptical.
Now, if we had learned anything from Codemaster's previous driving game of a different name, DIRT 2, it was that they knew their stuff when it came to putting together deep, interesting racing games. Of course, this should have been the tip-off immediately once we left the Codemasters booth on what to expect from F1 2010.
Man, did they not disappoint.
F1 2010 is amazingly fun. It throws you right into a press conference when you load the game up. The press questions translate to your name, your level of play and a few other things (like who you want to drive for). This instantly gets you in the mood to be an F1 racer and sets the tone for what type of expectations have been laid out in front of you by the team. After the press conference you go to your quarters and you interact with your agent. She keeps you in check, feeds you information about how you're doing and other things that relate to your budding career. You also have access to helmets, time trials, standings, multiplayer, more press people and eventually races. F1 2010 looks and feels like a more professional version of DIRT 2 (for those who are smart enough to play it).
Anyway, those are the fun features that are built around the actual racing modes. The modes you get to dive into in F1 2010 are as follows:
- Career Mode - The career mode is what I described above. You're allowed to basically create your racer from scratch. You can name them, put them on a team, even adjust their racing helmets (thus, the helmet option). This is probably the first and best stop in the game to put you in the shoes of a day to day F1 driver.
- Grand Prix Mode - Almost identical to the career mode, Grand Prix allows you to take control over 'actual' F1 racers in the real world. This is something that Codemasters was waiting on when they were showing the game off at E3. They hadn't gotten everyone approved/licensed for the game, so they couldn't give us a list of drivers. Thankfully, you won't be short on names and teams. You can fun single races, tournaments and even full careers with this mode. Good stuff for F1 fans.
- Time Trial Mode - It's not difficult to imagine, but it's still fun as hell to do. You get to compete against other drivers' times on certain tracks. There are leaderboards that allow you to see who did what and how insane some people are on certain tracks.
- Multiplayer Mode - You can race 2-12 people online and you have several different modes to choose from, which include: Pole Position, Sprint, Endurance and Online Grand Prix. For me the Endurance and Grand Prix intrigued me the most. I like challenges and each of these modes provided them willingly. My only quip with the multiplayer mode was the lack of racers when I was giving this a go. Come on people, where the hell are you at? You're missing a great racing game. Regardless, the multiplayer mode was nice.
For the majority of my review session I stayed with the career mode. I found myself drawn into the seductive need to do better and help the team gain points in races. What's even cooler about this experience is that I felt like I let down the team 2-3 times at the beginning, as I was getting accustomed to the F1 controls. For example, I was in third place in the first race (which was 10 laps) and I forgot to change out my tires more than once. If you don't' change your tires in this particular race from option to prime then you will be disqualified. I learned this lesson the hard way the first time around and it never happened again. Anyway, this mode will completely suck you in and make you 'want' to be an F1 racer. I went about 5-7 races into the career mode before pulling back and doing other things, but while I was there it was exhilarating and addictive.
Getting away from modes, let's talk about actual gameplay.
There are so many little elements of F1 2010 that you will be forced to deal with. Sometimes it's really cool and other times it can be downright frustrating. Selecting proper adjustments for your car in your garage is one of those 'little elements'. You get to pick what type of tires you want to work with and what type of conditions you will be dealing with. You also get a chance to talk to your engineer and discuss goals/objectives to make the racer a little bit easier for you. The more work you put into preparing for a race, even qualifying, the better its going to end up.
Another example of 'little elements' in the game is simply checking the weather. The weather determines what tires you're going to be using and it also determines how long your tires (regardless of what you pick) are going to last during the race. It's extremely vital that you check the weather (which is located on a monitor literally on your car hood); if you don't then the engineer will politely suggest tires for your consideration.
Outside of the weather you can also make adjustments/upgrades to your vehicle through the R&D screen (also located in the same screen). You can also use the Car Set-up screen to make adjustments to the car itself. If you think you can do better with the riding lower to the ground or changing a driving style in general then you can adjust those here. The game allows you to adjust your car needs without much thought, without pouring in complicated material that you would have to otherwise 'google' to understand. I found these things incredibly easy to understand and use, which is saying a lot.
Now, let's talk about the racing. The racing in F1 2010 is top-notch. You get really detailed tracks mixed with extremely detailed elements on the car, and even elements from the environment. Your car is controlled by the left thumb stick, while your acceleration and braking are controlled by your right and left trigger buttons. Basically, almost the same as other racing games, so you will be able to jump right into it. What I found particularly interesting during races is how the controls stayed the same, but the car started wearing down in areas, which affected controls. For example, during a race your tires start out nice and strong. You will be able to cut corners sharply and break quite easily on sharp corners. After you get about 4-5 laps under your belt you might have to break sooner and cut a little bit tighter than when you started out. Your tires are basically wearing down from racing on the track and you're going to need to change them in the pit. Until you do your pit stop you'll have to adjust the way you play drastically, which causes you to be a lot more cautious during a race. I love this not only because it provides a great challenge, but also because it brings real world factors into a video game racing simulator.
Other things that impressed me about the game is the environmental elements you have to deal with. One environmental element, which we saw at E3, that looks fantastic is when it's raining. You get the fun job of dealing with foggy, gray environments that make it difficult to see and race. If you don't put on the right tires in this environment then expect to slip and slide everywhere on the track. On the opposite side of that, you also have hot dry days that wear down your tires quickly because of the heat. At the beginning of the races on hot/dry days you'll see that heat wave rising from the racetrack; even more so when you're sitting in 24th place. Anyway, the weather elements you deal with and plan for really make for a wonderful edition to the F1 2010.
The racing can get a bit frustrating though, so be warned! If you've played Gran Turismo or even DIRT, then you have absolutely no advantage in this game whatsoever; what I'm trying to say is that unless you are an F1 guru then expect a learning curve. For the first two races (well, the first one which I tried twice before I got it) they consisted of my car driving off the track several times into a spin. Getting the cornering and the brakes down, and even the notion of when to pit, was tough at first. There were many times interns ran away screaming in high-pitched yells as I attempted to throw the 360 controllers at them in frustration (just kidding, I never threw it.... much). Once I got my anger down and my patience in check, I soon found the true joy of 'wanting' to do better during races. That initiation into the speed and the technique of the game is tough, but worth it.
Another frustrating portion of the game, one that can be considered my fault more than the game's, is the quick penalization process. If you should ever find yourself spinning out of control into the grass and want to continue the momentum back onto the track you might be penalized quickly for 'corner cutting'. Once you get use to accelerating and breaking that pretty much gets 'cut' to a minimum. Cousin to that process is causing a collision. While there were moments in the game where I used another car as leverage to avoid flying into the grassy area of the track, there were other moments were a car bumped into me. That bump was penalized against me at the cost of 10 seconds, which was highly unfair. I found myself sort of avoiding cars at passing areas, but eventually overcame this momentary frustration once I got use to passing properly. Still, it was unfair and frustrating to deal with when it happened.
Are these the only downfalls to the game? Yes, it is the only downfall. Potentially some fans will expect F1 2010 to be a Gran Turismo for F1 racing; that's not going to happen. Codemasters intended this game to be all about F1 racing, no more/no less. It covers the sport quite well and pretty much secures itself as the sole niche' in the American market for an F1 racer. It doesn't want to be a broad racing game depending solely on names and car brands; rather it wants to capture the F1 essence. I can guarantee you that it has capture that essence. If you don't see what Codemasters has done in the detailed tracks, the deep gameplay, the wide adjustments, the beautiful textures and effects then you'll see it in their many different modes of playing.
This is the definitive F1 racing game right now and it's not trying to be anything else but that.