Consider for a moment; what if every aspect of your life could be fine tuned? What if saving just half of a second, on the time it takes you to prepare your morning coffee, is all that is keeping you from getting that big promotion at the office? What if a lifetime of accolades or a lifetime of struggle came down to what time you choose to take an afternoon break? It is conceivable that the universe does work this way maybe fate is an insurmountable jack*#$ or maybe - randomness is simply a human frailty (Ive really got to stop playing these games before 4am).
Last year, having picked up the official F1 license (after Sony), Codemasters released its initial venture into the Formula 1 game series, (see: underwhelming). Released only to the WII and PSP the offering was critically panned and fell away quietly. After that fateful offering, Codemasters knew that they needed to up the ante and position themselves with stronger visuals and a more realistic experience this is Formula 1 after all. In shifting gears (racing pun) and always willing to learn from gamers, Codemasters is focused on the higher end console markets with the release of F1 2010 and utilizes the acclaimed Dirt 2 (EGO) engine to deliver crisp visuals and a truly immersive experience.
Faithful to the Formula 1 series, F1 2010 features all 19 circuits in the 2010 season. The developers even went to great lengths to ensure that all 12 teams and all 24 drivers are represented. In maintaining the 'true to life' aspect, there are some of the best weather 'affects' in any game I've played. I use affects rather than effects to emphasize the affect that the different weather systems have on each race, but more on that later.
When first starting in you are presented as the focus of a press interview being asked the Golden Questions - you are enlisting as Formula 1's newest driver. The game uses this interview format to set up your player, including who you're planning to race with, the difficulty level and the length of your career. Unfortunately, regardless of any initial decisions you will start at the bottom of the heap; your abilities along with those of your team begin in last place. This initial process is more of Codemasters attempts to fully emerge you into the world of Formula 1.
From the interview you head off to your trailer to meet your agent and review a few of the many options available from your 'base of operations'. Your agent can help you identify opportunities to move among teams and will list all of the driver line ups. Next Session does exactly what the name implies but you will be able to modify different settings such as race difficulty and lengths. Helmet Selection showcases a number of unique helmets for you to choose from, however, this choice is not carried over to the all game aspects as your player will assume the team helmet in multiplayer games.
Just outside of the trailer are the adoring press and your garage entrance. The Press will stay woefully quiet for the first number of races until you are able to rise in the ranks slightly. Eventually you will have your name (chosen in the initial interview) called out by the clamoring press; if you choose to speak with them you will enter into an interview like setting. Be careful as your responses will determine how your team reacts to you but it can also set up opportunities with new (higher ranked) teams. The Garage link will take you, appropriately, to your garage and will allow you to: modify your vehicles specific load out with the assistance of your engineer or allow you to review what tires you have for your race weekend (its here that you can determine when and what type of tires your pit crew will change). The Team Mate selection compares your standings throughout the season with that of your team mate. Keeping a close eye on your accumulated points will help you determine when you're poised to become the team leader.
While there are virtually numerous different ways to set up your vehicle, your team and even your opportunities to improve...the core of the game is actually the driving. This is where much of the polish begins to shine. The tracks are beautiful, all are true to their real life locations including many of the minor dips and packed grandstands. It's important to have someone else play the game (even momentarily) just so you can truly appreciate all of the effort that went into recreating these world renowned locations, as you won't be able to take your eyes away from the track immediately in front of you while you're behind the wheel. While driving, the feeling of speed and tight corners is, likely, the best I've experienced in any racing title. There are moments of sheer frenzy as you approach a grouping at speed, searching for the best line out of a corner.
As I mentioned earlier, the highlight of the game is the weather. The differences the weather makes to the track, to the other drivers, to your tires and even to the AI drivers is significant. Because the weather can change through a single race you need to plan ahead and have your pit crew ready for whatever mother nature might throw at you. For this reason (and so many others) your tires will be a topic of great consternation (note that in game 'tire' is spelled 'tyre'...for that true F1 feel) and you will need to spend a lot of time getting to know the options available to you.
Custom match multiplayer will allow you to set your own preferences or jump into others sessions based on your own gameplay requirements. Along with custom matches there are quick mode multiparty matches. There are 4 modes that offer distinctly different styles and criteria to complete. Pole position takes you through a 20 minute qualifier to determine your place....of course the faster your time the better your position. Endurance has you run through a race with dynamic weather...you will have to pit in this one so plan accordingly. Sprint is a quick 3 lap race in dry conditions. Finally, Online Grand Prix has a 15 minute qualifying race to determine your starting position before launching you into a 7 lap race (you have to pit at least once) with dynamic weather conditions.
New gamers to the Formula 1 series will be surprised to see 10 second penalties for 'causing a collision' (its his fault for being so jittery) or for cutting a corner to close....luckily you can set these 'rules' to realistic or reduced mode. And of course there are specialized systems to assist even the biggest arcade racing fan such as automatic drive-trains, driving line indicators and other options to keep my lead foot in check. Don't be fooled though, even the reduced mode will keep you well within the F1 mode of racing. Those that are fans of these open wheeled speed machines will enjoy being behind the wheel and are apt to choose the manual shifting style and it is for this specific individual that this genre will truly shine.
However, I do not fit into that category, and while there were options to have time trials and quick races, in order to play through and improve my standings in a season I had to endure countless hours of practice and qualifying laps all to be penalized for being too aggressive (taking the inside corner and forcing the other driver away from his line). It took a long time before I even advanced to the front of my own team. While I am discouraged at spending so much time for so little reward, there is a real sense of accomplishment in finally reaching these milestones.
In order to release a true Formula 1 experience Codemasters has included numerous tools to fine tune your own individual racing style, and true to the sport, saving half of a second can mean the difference between simply finishing or finishing at the top of your game and being the envy of all your peers. I applaud the developer for putting in the effort needed to create this great game and I also applaud anyone that reaches the top tier of F1 2010.