It goes without saying that Formula 1 is one of the most dangerous sporting events in the world, and very few developers have been able to bring the knife-edge excitement of F1 to their videogame re-creations of it. If they neuter the realistic delicacy of the control style too much they end up with a shallow and frivolous arcade game, even if innumerable Career Mode bells and whistles have been included. Emphasise that same subtlety too much and you’ve got an obsessive’s dream that is bound to alienate a substantial portion of the more causal gaming audience.
Last year’s thoroughly stellar F1 2009 – released on the Wii and the PSP – was resoundingly impressive (especially given the comparative technical constraints of those two formats) but the lack of HD visuals, and the fact that the Wii version didn’t offer analogue control, meant that many fanatical genre devotees never got around to investigating. F1 2010 – the first game to be crafted by the new team at Codemasters Birmingham – not only looks incredible, but it’ll only take you a few minutes of hands-on time to realise that they’ve genuinely managed to properly depict that muted, measured frenzy of the sport.
Any Formula 1 game is only as good as its control scheme, and F1 2010 boasts what is almost certainly the most delectable and authentic one yet; but what is most remarkable here is how vastly different each difficulty tier is. Beginners can start with Easy mode, which enables automatic brakes and gears, as well as an instantly familiar, colour-shifting driving line. Medium mode drops the automatic brakes but keeps the auto gears, which makes for an appealing, arcade-like experience. The Hard mode features none of these welcoming stabilisers, and requires absolutely nothing less than Jedi-like levels of concentration.
Although Hard mode will provide more than enough of a challenge for most players, F1 2010’s Expert mode – which could not possibly be more aptly titled – makes a game on Hard mode feel like a flippant game of Burnout. Some will find the Expert setting simply too unforgiving (and at first, even fortified buffs are going to struggle to keep all of their tyres on the track) but taking the time to master it is wholeheartedly recommended. The levels of involvement and reward that wash over you as you slowly work your way from last place to first is downright intoxicating, and it’s amazingly refreshing to encounter a game that constantly resists the temptation to deliver a slew of cheap, throwaway thrills.
The very first thing that you encounter when you begin F1 2010’s career mode is a hazy sea of assembled sports journalists, their appearance dimmed by constant camera flashbulbs and accompanied by the audible hum of excited onlookers. A well-animated Holly Samos is on hand to tailor the game to your requirements, and this section includes an option to select a specific name or nickname from a commendably lengthy list. You’ll also choose your difficulty setting, decide how many seasons to partake in (either three, five or seven) and which racing team you wish to pledge your allegiance to. When you’re all set up, you’ll be introduced to two important characters; a sultry Italian lady named Gabrielle (your agent) and a likeable Scotsman named Rob, who is your racing engineer.
Both of them are constantly on hand to offer helpful advice and provide useful information, both on (in Rob’s case) and off (in Gabrielle’s) the track. For example, Gabrielle constantly stresses the need to be careful when dealing with the press, which you’ll do with increasing frequency if your skills are up to snuff. These encounters all involve multiple choice questions, and if, for example, you’ve recently beaten a hotshot team-mate in a race or qualifier, behaving cockily in front of the public only accentuates and occasionally deepens that blossoming rivalry.
This whole in-depth career approach is now something of a familiar one – done with equal confidence and flair in this year’s excellent SBK X – but F1 2010’s broadly approachable user interface is so refined and inviting that it stands apart pretty effortlessly. During your career you’re never confused about what to do next, and the game’s impeccably stylish presentation – which includes the very appealing usage of uncommonly huge lettering everywhere – gives proceedings a unique and very appealing aesthetic edge. It feels like a fresh start for the F1 sub-genre, and the gameplay more than backs that assumption up.
But arguably the best part of F1 2010 – and certainly the most relentlessly discussed – is the game’s brand new weather dynamic. It has been described as being one of the most complex weather systems ever attempted, and very much like the ‘evolving track’ that first appeared in SBK X (also present here, incidentally) it both impresses on a technical level and serves to pull you even deeper into each race. Aside from looking rather arresting, rain will cause parts of the track that aren’t shielded to lose their grip, and after it has subsided, you’ll have to follow the ‘drying line’ to avoid further slippage. Like a real F1 driver, you’ll curse and fear the appearance of rain but here, those emotions only augment the gameplay.
Now is perhaps the very best time to launch a new F1 game – with the current Singapore season standing as one of the most consistently surprising and exciting in recent memory. Some may not have been expecting F1 2010 to be this out-and-out authentic, perhaps because publisher Codemasters have become renowned of late for the brilliant but occasionally bombastic likes of Colin McCrae: DiRT 2 and Race Driver: Grid, but they’ve truly set a genre benchmark here. Regardless of whether or not the sport itself floats your boat, this is simply exceptional entertainment.
Watch the F1 2010 trailer here…