Format: 360 (version tested), PC, PS3
Out: September 24
Never let it be said that you can learn nothing about a game from the ageing, apparently random chunk of licensed music that plays before you press Start. There are many poignant verses in Ian Brown’s acrostic FEAR, one of which describes Formula 1 2010 to a tee. “Forget Everything And Remember,” it goes – and so Codemasters has.
What’s remembered is the emotional touchstone of F1 gaming, Geoff Crammond’s Microprose Formula One Grand Prix, a sim racing benchmark in so many ways. What’s forgotten is almost everything that’s happened since: the broadcast-styled games that stopped being relevant with their nadir, Formula 1 ’98; the haphazard attempts to redress the balance with dry, number-crunching sequels; the atrophy of F1 itself, now thankfully reversed. From a company that considers each of its sequels a reboot, here is a game that reboots an entire sport.
Much has been made of its looks, which thanks to artists, engineers and the Ego engine seldom veer far from photorealism. Also, ‘Live The Life’, a design philosophy which has naturally been equated to popping champagne corks and flash bulbs. These, though, while not quite red herrings, aren’t what makes this the most successful F1 game in a decade.
The appeal of F1 – as Codemasters has pinpointed with laser accuracy – isn’t glamour but prestige. At the pinnacle of motor sport, raced at 220mph through an apex of skill, technology, architecture and wealth, just being on the track equals victory. Having cut out racing’s cancerous podium obsession with Race Driver: Grid, the publisher has taken that cause to a whole other level in a sport where it matters most. These are the fiercest and most dangerous cars in the world, driven by the brave, the crazy and the prodigious. Enjoy your stay.
What this means in practical terms is a truly epic career mode where progress is always relative and the seconds always count. It’s a game of meta-games: the laps that unlock precious R&D, warming the engine to make faster laps, strategies, grid positions, race objectives, good weekends, bad weekends, championship points and, eventually, a rewarding career. Whether through times, consistency or stature, improvement in F1 2010 is so beautifully measured and fed back that the podium – the win – barely seems to matter.
Even fans of Grid and Dirt will be surprised by this game’s focus. What its UI lacks in sparkle and charisma – and bear in mind this still puts it miles ahead of most – it makes up for in function. Effortlessly breaking down the complexities of F1 into bold, succinct crib notes that swoosh about during load times, it branches gracefully from the paddock and garage to every option and mode, from spying on your teammate to intuitive car customisation. Interestingly, each end of that spectrum is realistic: a few short words to your engineers and they’ll tailor your car to suit; or you can take to the sliders yourself. All is conducted through the eyes of the driver, and just a fraction on race day itself.
Just like a real Grand Prix, an F1 game can win or lose in Practice and Qualifying. These sessions, which are mandatory in Career mode and can only be accelerated, not skipped, are some of the game’s most thrilling battles.
Think of them as giant, asynchronous multiplayer time trials that reward nothing more than commitment. First, you get the buzz of a few solid laps that put you high on the table, if not at the top. Then, as F1’s most exciting roster in years takes to the track, there’s the buzz-kill as you’re pushed back down. Then comes the reassurance that your tires and engine have reached peak efficiency. Your efforts recharge, your improved knowledge of the track restoring pride and position. Not pole position, mind – not for a long time – but enough to reassure you that a) you belong in this elite competition, and b) that entry isn’t cheap. So the cycle continues.