The roar of an engine and the smell of petrol will forever remind me of one thing: my dear old Dad. This is because he's a racing driver, you see - well, kind of. Every weekend he traipses off around the country to race 250cc super karts (0-60 in under three seconds, to put that in perspective). Not surprisingly, he has penchant for Formula 1 games too, having played everything from Formula 1 97 on the PSone to Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix 4 on the PC. In light of this, I've enlisted his expertise to help write this review. Furnishing him with a DualShock 3 and promises of internet fame, I sat him in front of the game as I hovered nearby transcribing his comments. It's not that I'm not qualified to form my own opinions (I am and I will) - but I thought it might be interesting to share the thoughts of a gamer who literally only concerns himself with the F1 sub-genre of racing.
Before I start working through the gears of my critique, a little background: F1 2010 is the first multi-format high definition Formula One game, and has been in development for well over two years - a long time for any racing game, you’d have to agree (unless that game is Gran Turismo 5). Thusly, F1 2010 is one of the most comprehensive and complete Formula 1 offerings to date, and has everything we’ve come to expect from the genre over the years. A championship mode, Grand Prix (single race), time attack, multiplayer and online leaderboards are all in there. So too are all the drivers, all the cars, all the tracks and all the stats. It doesn’t just tick all the boxes though - it adds entirely new ones.
The new features are brought to the foreground in an all new championship mode, which attempts to recreate the glitz and glam of Formula One on and off the track. Before you even get in your car, the game will ask you your name, gender (what? Women can be F1 drivers too) and what team you want to sign up with. You don’t play as an established F1 driver here; you play as yourself - an up and coming driver looking to make a name for him (or her)self in the world of F1. As a newbie, the likes of Ferrari and McLaren aren’t available. The constructors available to a player at the start of the game are in keeping with the start of a rookie's career. I chose Williams Cosworth, and took great delight in changing the design of my helmet to that of the Union Jack.
The menu screens have been designed to reflect the theme of 'the life of the driver' too. Everything the game has to offer is selected by moving through a 3D paddock - your paddock no less. This obviously ties into the championship features of the game quite neatly. Your agent is always on hand to discuss how you're doing and negotiate future contracts, and fans and media will loiter outside, eager to catch a glimpse of the rising star. As you progress through the game and your fame grows, so too will the crowds. I was concerned these features would be wasted on my (old and set in his ways) father, but he seemed to enjoy the originality of it all. Most sports games simply allow players to play the sport of their heroes, not live their professional lives.
Graphically speaking, this is easily the best looking F1 game on the market. Although I refuse to play the game with any camera angle than the one in the cockpit, I made a point of watching some replays (which can be seen at any point with a quick tap of the select/back button) to check out the fantastically detailed cars and photo-realistic scenery. After swooning over the visuals for the first fifteen minutes or so, my father’s attention quickly turned to the car. How does it handle? Is the driving position accurate? And can it hold a candle to Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix 4 - what many people believe to be the most realistic F1 simulator of all time?
After turning off all the racing assists (I leave traction control on medium when I play, as I’m not quite as competent behind the wheel as Daddy Smith), it becomes clear that F1 2010 can be just as hardcore as any other racing simulation. You can tinker about with various car setups to further increase the difficulty, and upgrades are available through R&D objectives. Completing a lap under a target time, for example, might reward players with a new throttle, which will make future laps that much quicker. It's not as in-depth as Geoff Crammond's games from a technical perspective, but a lot of that might go wasted on the console audience. The most important additions to the game have nothing whatsoever to do with the cars, however.