Developer: Codemasters Birmingham / Publisher: Codemasters / ESRB: Everyone / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $59.99
Codemasters is a modern titan in the racing genre. Games like Dirt and Grid have cemented the company as a top tier developer for motoring enthusiasts with their combination of flashy presentation and stylish driving model. F1 kicks that reputation up a notch by incorporating all the licensed cars, tracks, and drivers from the 2010 Formula One season and packing it into one cohesive package.
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F1 2010 is gorgeous. The reflected lighting in the car paint, the lighting on the main straight at Shanghai, it’s all simply breathtaking. There are times when I’ve forgotten I was playing a game and thought I was watching a real race weekend, it’s that damn good. Little touches, like gravel stuck on your tires when you slide off the track, make all the difference between being simply pretty and actually believable. And that’s before the dynamic weather takes effect.
I can’t think of a game that looks better this year than when it starts raining in F1. Raindrops splatter the camera, cars in front of you kick up copious amounts of spray, and the track becomes populated with standing puddles of water. The fact that it’s incredibly challenging to drive in the wet isn’t so much an aggravation as it is an excuse to take things slower and marvel at the beauty of virtual mother nature.
For all the amazing graphical tricks Codemasters’ Ego engine performs, though, it sometimes feels as if the game is choking my Xbox 360. Every now and again, the entire game simply seizes up to a dead stop for a second or so. It isn’t a game breaker, but it’s disappointing to see that the graphics weren’t fully optimized before release. Race replays also suffer from a ton of frame rate slowdown when there’s a lot happening on-screen as well. Still, I’ll take these small hitches for a racer that looks this flashy any day.
In a racing game, controls are king. If the cars handle like ass, the game is going to suck. Thankfully, F1 2010 nailed the feel of hurtling around Grand Prix courses almost perfectly. The cars are quick but touchy, requiring finesse in the dry, and demanding utter perfection of partial application throttle techniques when it’s pouring. I question some of the stickiness of the car occasionally, like when challenging some of the curbs overzealously, but Codies has done a good job making F1 2010 playable, and more importantly, damn fun. It’s not quite pure hardcore sim, but it’s not simple, either, especially with the driving aids turned off.
I want to go on record here to address the bugs issue. There have been numerous reports of strange AI behavior and bugs that ruin the experience. In my time with the game so far, I have not encountered any bugs that altered the results or timing of a race, nor have I seen any behavior from the AI that would indicate anything fishy is going on.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about career mode. I guarantee you’ve never seen a racing sim with dialogue trees, but F1 2010 features gameplay elements recreating the real life of a Formula One driver. If you end up on the podium after a race, you’re taken to the press room where you answer questions from journalists about your race, your standing during the season, and a lot more. The press interview you outside your trailer, too, if you happen to have a good qualifying session. It’s a cool element of genre blending that Codemasters doesn’t get enough credit for, especially after their efforts in Dirt 2.
In career mode your goal is to work up the F1 ladder, competing against your teammate to become a team’s number one driver, or even better, getting a juicy new contract to race for one of the top teams. But if you want to take the lowly Virgin Racing team to the top, you can do that, too. The game rewards you with upgrades based on how well you perform during practice sessions, and you can play consecutive seasons for up to seven years, so if nothing else, F1 2010 will keep you busy for a long time with more than simply lapping the same circuits over and over. There’s a nice layer of added context to everything you do in the game, and the layers of competition between you and your rival, or you and your teammate, or you and the rest of the field means there’s always a victory, even if you finish 20th in a full-length race.
F1 2010 is not a perfect game. There are graphical hitches, some minor control issues, but it’s fun, and that’s the most important part of any game. If you’re looking for the best F1 sim of all time, perfect in every way, you won’t get it here, but you will get close. The role-playing elements of career mode, and the solid online multiplayer are just added bonuses to what is a great start for this franchise under Codemasters’ shepherding.