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.
"Corr, the rain doesn't half look good!" my excitable dad says, leaning closer to the screen to check out the water droplets rolling down the helmet's visor. And he's right. The weather effects in F1 2010 are mighty impressive. It's all generated in real-time too, meaning one minute you could be racing under the blazing sun and the next in the midst of a torrential downpour. This means that you'll have to make strategic tyre decisions on the fly and adapt your pit tactics accordingly. Even if you know the track like the back of your hand, you can't expect to predict what the weather's going to do. It's an everyday problem for 'real racing drivers', my dad assures me.
Something we were both impressed with was the sense of progression during a race. In many racing games, you'll whiz past the car in front at speeds no sane driver would find himself reaching. Overtaking needs to be challenging; an ongoing struggle where even the smallest advances up the field should take time. In all too many games you can jump from 21st to 1st in a single lap, but F1 2010 faithfully recreates the difficulty of overtaking, the thrill of the chase.
Pressing Triangle at any point during a race will call your pit crew to arms, who will diligently wait outside your garage until you make a stop. There are so many little touches like this that add to the realism of the game - like the fact that there's no longer a commentator. The only voice you'll hear is that of the engineer, who'll let you know where your team mate is, how your engine's looking and when you should think about pitting.
After a race, journalists - the invasive swines that they are - will make their way to your paddock, shoving a microphone in your face for a few words on the championship. During the first few races of the season, you'll attract a modest amount of reporters, but as you climb the leaderboard and start making more of a name for yourself, more and more will find their way in. You can even use the media to affect what goes on during a race. Slag off your team mate or rival, for example, and they'll react differently to you on the track, adopting a more aggressive style of driving to thwart your advances.
I've got little to offer this review in terms of criticism. Dad, being the nitpicky racing snob that he is, raised the issue that "it didn't quite get the feeling of acceleration right", but coming from a person that races karts that reach speeds of 150mph mere inches from the tarmac, this isn't much of a complaint. My only real issue is that it takes too long to get into a race. Those not interested in the career stuff will still have to trawl through the paddock and garage 'menus' before they're able to get behind the wheel. Other than this though, it's a hard game to fault.
Dad and I had very different expectations when it came to F1 2010. Me, being more on the casual side of the fence, wanted nice graphics, a rewarding career and a car that wasn't too difficult to handle. Dad, on the other hand, wanted the most faithful recreation of the sport possible, with accurate handling and the same set of rules that real drivers are subject to. Codemasters has successfully created a game that both of us are happy with - a game that has options and sliders to accommodate all types of player. Is this the best F1 game this generation? Without a doubt, and it's the biggest advancement the license has seen for a very long time.