Is this the Formula 1 game we’ve all been waiting for? The answer to that depends on ‘who’ you are. In the lead up to release, all everybody wanted to know was how it balanced the needs of hardcore simmers with those of casual fangers. That question is cleanly answered – it serves both well, at least in terms of the way it drives. It’s a happy blast for casuals, nicely accessible and encourages them up into more challenging difficulty levels. For simmers the driving model is terrific, very satisfying and there’s plenty of headroom for a driver to really master the game.
So we can move on from that, but what we remain faced with is a conundrum – and a rather shocking one. Bizarrely, Codemasters has taken a couple of extraordinary design decisions that have gamers up in arms. It seems Codies, during development, completely forgot about what makes a great racing game, and that’s the damn racing.
Laptime, what laptime?
See, racing is all about time. Einstein loved time, and so do racecar drivers. Time is everything. In F1 2010, time is nothing. Get this: AI driver laptimes are not based on how long it takes the AI car to lap – instead they’re given a completely arbitrary laptime, every lap, that has no bearing on a car’s position on the track! That’s right – the game engine has no means to track AI laptimes and it invents them just to put something on the screen! That’s insanity! It means there are no split times during a race, being the number one thing a racer relies upon for race strategy. If you’re in a longer race and the cars have spread out, there’s no way to know your relative position and be able to time when to pit. It means you have no idea if you’re catching the cars in front, or dropping back. Apart from the cars you can actually see, you’re racing completely in the dark.
It even goes so far as to fake laptimes! Your OSD will show the most idiotic times. For example you could be leading the race, but lap after lap the game tells you other drivers are lapping faster, and therefore must be ahead of you – but they’re not! It’s all a huge fuckup that’s beyond comprehension. It removes the ‘story’ of the race, making it an empty and frustrating experience when you know the other cars are pretty much there for decoration only.
Nightmare in pitlane
The other disaster is that if more than one car enters the pitlane for a stop, the game will hold you in pits until the entire pitlane is clear! And all the AI cars are set to pit automatically on the same damn lap. End result, if you’re winning say goodbye as the game holds you stationary for up to a minute, and it does this every single race.
These are mind bogglingly idiotic decisions that make a mockery of what racing is all about. The flipside is even more tragic, for what this game does do well it does brilliantly and it’s gut wrenching that a game could come so close to being great, but drop the ball on the fundamentals.
It looks beautiful, and I do mean knock-out stunning. Every bit of every circuit is supremely well done, with trackside detail better than anything before it. Somewhere like Monaco is insanely good, and the beautiful sunset race at Abu Dhabi will leave you breathless with wonder.
Best tracks ever
The tracks themselves are all more accurate and detailed than in any other sim I’ve tried. The little bumps, the camber, all the time detail that only hundreds of laps reveals is all perfect. That helps tremendously to add to the replay value; there’s a heck of a lot of perfection to be gained and racers will love pushing harder and faster every time, and getting results.
Car handling is sweet. It’s mechanically detailed yet sweetly organic. Driving is immensely satisfying and fun and it overall feels more realistic than most of the Rfactor F1 mods. There’s a slight delay downshifting that the devs say is there to stop the engine over-revving, and despite all driver aids it still employs stability control to ‘catch’ your worst moments. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you adjust your style you’re flaming away incredible laps and loving it all the way.
The car audio leaves a lot to be desired, with a nasty white noise that, unfortunately, is an accurate copy of what the real life cars sound like. A bit of tweaking to make the sounds sweeter wouldn’t have been unappreciated. There’s no audio feedback for tire wear, unfortunately, making it part guesswork to figure out how to preserve your tires.
The tires themselves are a bit of a star of the show. Punctures come with too much abuse, and can surprise you with a first lap burst if you’ve been too aggressive. The way they wobble around as you limp back to base is fantastic, and seeing the lump of dead rubber flip and flop to one side and the other as your car swerves will bring about a smile. They’ll pick up debris if you run off, taking time to shed themselves clean again. It’s a bit annoying that tire wear is adjusted to be proportional to race distance, but we can understand the design decision there and hold no grudges.
A mixed bag
There are other holes in the game, like the absence of a TV monitor in the pits so you can watch other cars on the track. Replay is ridiculous, with a scant 20 seconds or so recorded and zero ability to view any car but your own. So much for the promised full race distance replays.
Whether you choose to play F1 2010 depends on your tolerances to the bugs. It’s a damn beautiful game, but as it stands today its only future is multiplayer (which it handles well enough). Until the timing and pit gets sorted it’s tough to recommend as a single player experience.