October 18th, 2010

Living the dream with F1 2010

Who doesn’t want to be like Lewis Hamilton? He has a Pussycat Doll under his arm, enough Johnnie Walker whisky to dissolve his liver and a car park space waiting to be filled by a McLaren MP4-12C. How did he get to be in this privileged position? Buy flying around the world and racing cars really, really fast. Lucky git.

It is safe to say that most of us will never become F1 drivers. I personally will never become an F1 driver because 1. I wasn’t rolling around the womb memorising Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps 2. My high chair did not have a steering wheel, four wheels and was shaped like a 50cc Kart 3. I refuse to wear baseball caps. Luckily, some clever clogs invented video games and for the last week I have been living the F1 dream digitally.

The recently released F1 2010 is the first Formula One game to take advantage of high definition, and boy does it make good use of it. F1 2010 is the official game of the 2010 FIA Formula One World Championship and includes all of the official teams, drivers (who started the season) and circuits from the 2010 season.

There have been plenty of F1 games in the past and some really haven’t been able to grasp the look and feel of driving an F1 car. Back in the hands of Codemasters, F1 2010 really does go into an anal amount of detail to try and replicate a true simulation. The game was developed using the EGO Game Technology Platform, Codemasters’ proprietary tech that powered games such as Colin McRae: DiRT 2 and Race Driver: GRID.

Gamers who watch F1 regularly will really appreciate the level of detail of tracks. With all 19 circuits that make up the 2010 Formula 1 season being meticulously replicated digitally, including the yet to be raced Korean circuit.

You have to give the developers credit for the accuracy of the cambers, bumps and elevation changes in the circuits. You feel like a proper F1 driver having to learn the perfect braking points and which kerbs are friends and which are foes. Once you have mastered the circuits it really enhances the pleasure of watching F1 on TV, you can criticise Petrov for breaking too early and criticise Vettel for just being as annoying in real life as in the game.

All the cars have been developed to accurately recreate the unique aerodynamics and handling of 200MPH+ Formula 1 cars. This may come as a shock to frequent simulation gamers as the physics of an F1 car are quite a lot different to a road-going car in another game such as Forza. You can really get a sense of speed with the low camera angles in the cockpit and feel the downforce working as you are pinned to the track trying to nail every apex.

For people who occasionally like to break free from the racing line (like Kamui Kobayashi on crack cocaine) and cause carnage you can. With damage rendering incorporated into every car, you can smash your way to the lead. But be aware that Charlie Whiting is there to dish out penalties too.

The damage model is good at the front of the car with the front wing, wheels and suspension being realistic but there is no damage rendering for side or rear shunts. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t smash my rear wing off; I even reversed into oncoming cars doing 180mph, but still nothing. There is also a distinct lack of mechanical failures, which is a fundamental problem in reality for the smaller Fourmula One teams.

F1 2010 is a racing game which very much sets itself up as simulation. Like other racing games there is always a nanny looking over your shoulder and there to give you a hand if you need it. If you don’t know the track, there are racing lines to follow and if you can’t handle the 800 horses on tap there is traction control to help you out. Initially the games easies you in gently by keeping all assists on. This meant that during my first race as a rookie for Lotus I ended up winning, which wasn’t very realistic. After tinkering with the fully customisable difficulty settings and after turning the range of assists and aids off, I made it a lot more difficult and enjoyable for myself. However for someone who is not accustomed to racing games there is a severe lack of tutorials on how to setup your car properly for the track and conditions you are facing.

Where F1 2010 truly excels is on the track and the nervy build up to race day. In story mode you are placed as a rookie into one of the newer teams in the F1 circus and have to race your way to the top. You have to complete press interviews and give feedback to the team on how the car is performing. Codemasters have even managed to add the bitichiness of the F1 paddock into the game by being able to criticise the team and being placed in direct competition with your team mate.

On the racetrack things are scarily realistic. With intuitive AI’s who fight for position and crash right in front of you,  completing a race weekend requires maximum concentration. The believable modelling of things like rainfall, tyre degradation, and even the drying and rubbering in of tracks add a great deal to this deep simulation.

Things really come in to their own when the heavens open and the rain starts to pour. Having active weather changes means you have to look at the sky to make the call when to come in to change tyres. This sometimes works but sometimes leaves you at the back of the pack. Having to tip-toe the car around the circuit in the wet, whilst struggling to see through the visor makes for an annoyingly frustrating but addictive game.

However the simulation of F1 2010 is far from perfect. No matter what accident happens on track Bernd Mayländer never seems to come out in his SLS AMG safety car. Also for all the free-flowing physics during the race, as soon as you enter the pits the car is put on rails and moves in an unrealistic Scaletrix-like fashion. Hardcore F1 enthusiasts who enjoy the mechanical technicality of the sport can feel a bit left out as there is a severe lack of telemetry data to help you improve and tweak your car. It is even worse for novices who wouldn’t be familiar with the benefits or short falls of a high downforce set up and what tracks to use it on.

So what do we think of F1 2010? Well it is the best Formula One game to come out for a long, long time. With advanced physics, cracking detail and enthralling racing it lets you live out your F1 dream from your front room. After playing F1 I have stopped chasing the F1 dream because in real life I can’t race around Monza in my underpants. Eat that Lewis.

Rowan Horncastle