Preview

F1 2010

On the starting grid

The cover for F1 2010 looks like it has an F1 driver playing a very tiny piano. Take another look and you'll see it. But there are no tiny, midi or even full-sized pianos in F1 2010. This is aiming to be an authentic experience, after all: one of the best reasons for Codemasters to bother making it, other than the fact it's one of the few sports the English can currently claim to be good at, is in the incredible look and sound of the real-life vehicles. Who, as a young child, didn't occasionally run around imitating the noises (something like this: vreeeeeee vreeee vroooooooom vree vree vree eeeeeeeeeeee) of an F1 car?

These magnificent machines exist at the very peak of man's constant endeavour to turn boring fossil fuels into exciting propellants, are super flashy and go around racetracks really fast. It's almost a guaranteed recipe for videogame success.

Of course, one of the worst reasons for Codemasters to make a new F1 game is that almost all developers who've tried to wrestle with a videogame rendition of the sport have made a bit of a hash job of it. The problem with the cars is that they go too fast, they're impossible to handle and, for all the attempts at realism, nobody actually wants to drive around a poorly disguised oval sixty times. F1 2010

The general idea, of course, is not to make the aforementioned hash job of F1 2010 but instead to produce an engaging blend of realism and accessibility. Codemasters are currently unwilling to label their title with loaded terms such as 'arcade' or 'simulation,' instead wanting to let it roam free without the conservative restraints of genre pigeonholing and instead sell us on the concept of being an F1 driver and living the life.

Which means a career mode with a sexy female - busty, pouty, wears glasses - agent and, for successful drivers, pesky journalists hounding you into submission at every corner. I'd also like to wager a book deal where you can pick your own inspirational title. It's all a concentrated attempt to turn your time off the circuit into something more substantial than scrolling through text menus for a few minutes a pop.

Long-term success comes from beating your rival teammate in events, as winning the favour of your all-important brass and gaining access to their seemingly bottomless coffers will grant you the money (and time) to tinker with your car. It's kind of like how Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton are feeling right now, I imagine, only in accessible videogame form.

Fans of fiddling with automotive bits and bobs will also be delighted to see the inclusion a test track, a love of top of the line R&D and the incremental upgrading your car over the course of the season, too, which also allows the game to focus on getting your car burning rubber on days other than Sunday. F1 2010

But no matter how involving the stylish career mode becomes, with a game themed around F1 the star of the show is always going to be the racing. And there's lots of it, too, spread across the 19 painstakingly recreated events from the 2010 season. That'll be music to the ears of anyone whose interest in racing goes further than High-Speed Ring.

Taking Red Bull's F1 car for a quick spin around Monza shows just how detailed the game is. Pop the game into an internal camera view - as you always should - and you've got one of, if not the most, graphically impressive racing game on the market, with the fantastic EGO engine providing the industry-leading cockpit view and meticulous attention to detail.

Being this close to your exposed tyres gives the engine a chance to show off, visibly changing when they grind down or pick up debris off the track. But the real star of the show seems to be a dynamic weather engine that promises to add more to the game than flashy aesthetics: the rain is a true sight to behold, with it cooling your car whilst the game effortlessly renders drops bouncing off your vehicle and sheets of it pound down from the heavens. Conversely, Sunny conditions add extra heat to the track and demand you take all-important pit stops more often.

The engine also wears in the track as the race progresses - a process F1 drivers call 'marbling' - which causes your car to end up going faster the further you get into each event. It's attention to details like these that ensure the game already has more clout than the solid but ultimately unremarkable F1 2009 on the Wii. F1 2010

F1 2010 is also very hard to control, at least at first. Years of comparatively slow-and-steady racing with heavy handlers Forza and Gran Turismo caused most of the journalists giving the game a go to spin out at every corner for at least ten minutes. There's a knack to it, of course, and despite the difficulty it all feels suitably fitting and authentic, albeit in the opinion of someone who has never stepped into the cockpit of an F1 car.

The biggest problem, and it's one that severely shatters the entire illusion of being an F1 driver, is that the AI of the other drivers currently seems severely limited - there's the very real possibility that Codemasters didn't think too much of our ability to handle ourselves on the track and set the demo to Very Easy, however.

It seemed like the biggest danger to success on the track was yourself, and after getting to grips with the handling the game became a cakewalk. This, I am sure, will not be the case with the finished product - though there's the very real possibility of being able to dominate entire grids of players who can't quite get used to the handling during the first couple of weeks.

As far as racing games go, autumn is generally guaranteed to be jam-packed with plenty of times competing for first place in the genre. With a license that's currently enjoying an all-time high in popularity and the technical know-how of the team that produced DiRT and GRID, there should be more than enough momentum behind F1 2010 for it to exit the grid in pole position come September. F1 2010

F1 2010 will be released for 360, PS3 and PC in September 2010.

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