To be very clear, The Stig I am not, I'm much closer to Richard Hammond.
There is an episode of Top Gear which features Richard Hammond learning how to drive an F1 car, not the easiest of tasks. The speed at which they travel, the sharp corners which they go around, necessary reaction times, and all the other odds and ends to think about (brakes, tires, engine, other racers, etc.) require epic amounts of concentration. That amount of concentration is faithfully reproduced in Codemasters' new, licensed, F1 game, F1 2010.
Codemasters is the same studio who brought out last year's brilliant Dirt 2, and if you've played the off-road racing game you'll instantly recognize bits of F1 2010, most notably the trailer from which you can adjust the main gameplay settings and manage your career. The insides of the trailer may appear slightly different here and most of the time you'll be facing towards the door instead of away from it, but the basic feel is unmistakable (as is the area just outside the trailer). Of course, it's a setup that worked for that game, so perhaps the borrowing of it for this game is smart and efficient rather than just the latter. F1 also features the same in-race Flashback system so that you can rewind a set number of times if you make a big mistake.
Where the game greatly differs is in the type of race you're going to encounter. F1 is far more difficult once you're in your vehicle than Dirt ever was, and that's even setting this game to the easiest level of difficulty, which includes a braking assist. The game can help you out in other ways too. Rather than tweaking each part of the car set up – aerodynamics, braking, balance, suspension, gearbox, tires, engine, and alignment – yourself, you can have your engineer do it for you based on general outlines you provide. Yes, the game allows you the ability to do these things, but having the engineer do it is a nice feature as you try to learn all about actually driving an F1 car. And that, dear readers, as Richard Hammond could tell you, isn't easy.
The goal with the multiple difficulty levels seems to have been to ease you into F1 racing, which is a completely different breed of animal, but it doesn't always work terribly well. The ability to turn on or off an on-road depiction of the appropriate racing line is great (as is the fact that the line indicates by color whether you should be hitting the gas or break), and certainly by following the line you'll learn where you should be on the course (all 19 of the actual courses used by the pros this year are included). However, the braking assist doesn't really teach you how to brake properly, it just takes control of the car for you. Similarly, while a little pop-up will appear on the screen if you've overtaxed your engine, and you'll hear your pit telling you to stop revving the car so high, you'll never really be told what you're doing to cause the issue. In short, the game could really have used an expanded tutorial section to bring people who are unfamiliar with the sport into the fold.
Unfortunately, while the game sports excellent tutorials on how to appropriately set up your car, monitor weather, and manage your career, it doesn't delve greatly into the actual driving. It is a simulation game that throws you right into the simulation. Much of the driving is left for you to figure out during your practice runs on each course. In Career Mode you do get a lot of time for that (one hour practice on each course if you've chosen a "short" race weekend and three sessions if you've gone for the "long" one), but until you really get up to speed on what you're doing it can be frustrating.
Once you do work it all out though, you're going to have a good time. There is always a lot to keep an eye out for while on the course – and the game doesn't take kindly to the most minor corner cutting or bit of rubbing – but it is both fun and intense. Races can be made longer or shorter depending on one's preference, and pit stops can be ordered by the crew or decided on all on your own. There are unlockables as well if you perform well enough during the practice laps and you'll even need to hit goals in terms of starting position and final position if you want your career to progress.
Graphically speaking, the game isn't quite what you might want it to be. Many of the straight lines have a jagged edge and while the on screen display (OSD) is nice enough, little in the game feels terribly well-defined. This is particularly noticeable should you hit a breakable barrier, go over dirt, or manage to remove part of either your car or someone else's. All the flying bits and pieces are blocky and the dirt that attaches to your tires doesn't appear remotely real (even if the altered physics caused by the dirt may be). The weather effects both in terms of physics and graphics are excellent, but will make driving more than a little bit harder.
F1 2010 also has some issues with the conveying of information in the race. The OSD often lets you know before your pit crew when a caution flag has appeared on the course and when it has been removed. Your pit crew will also always let you know about such issues, although flags can get cleared quickly enough that your OSD will tell you to resume normal conditions before the pit crew ever chimes in that there was a problem to begin with. That can make for a quite confusing 30 seconds (are they talking about a different, new, caution or the same one that just got lifted).
Much of the game is played out in the aforementioned Career Mode. In that mode you join a lower ranked team as the number two guy and have to hit objectives in order to get better and join more prestigious squads. You can also do a single player Grand Prix mode which allows you to play as an actual F1 driver or in Time Trial mode which, as the name indicates, is about you racing the clock (or downloaded ghosts or times put up by friends taking turns). The game also offers two different multiplayer options, an Online XP mode which has rankings or a Quick Mode which has four different race types (Pole Position, which is looking for the fastest lap over the course of 20 minutes; Sprint, a single three lap race; Endurance, a race 20% the length of a real race; and Grand Prix, a seven lap race with positions determined by a 15 minute qualification section).
If you've been following along reading the times discussed above, one thing should be abundantly clear – F1 2010 is not a game designed for you to pick up and play for 30 minutes at a shot. It's possible to do short stints by doing time trials or a Sprint online, but to really play you're going to need to devote time to not only learning how to drive initially, but also to actually doing full practices (to learn the course and unlock improvements) and races (a very short race would be 10 laps with lap times exceeding two minutes, and the numbers go way up from there). It's a deep game and there's a lot to do, but it won't be accomplished quickly.
The great thing about Dirt 2 was that it was a game that you could pick up and play for a few minutes and really feel as though you had learned something and improved. With a huge variety of race types and all the races taking far less time, it wasn't as hyper-focused. It also was more arcade oriented than a simulation and it definitely didn't have anything to do with F1 racing. It thus catered to a slightly different crowd. F1 2010 will find fans among those already interested in the sport, but will not succeed at drawing in new people, an ability Dirt 2 did have. That's not a knock against the game, simply a reality of the simulation given here.
As a pure aside, but something I feel compelled to mention, there is at least one localization issue present in the title. While the word "tires" is spelled in the sort of English we use in the United States in the manual, when the word appears in the game it is with a "y" instead of an "i." The in-game spelling would certainly be approved of by Richard Hammond, but may cause others a moment or two of pause.
It you're looking to learn more about F1 racing or to really challenge your videogame driving skills, you're going to like what you find in F1 2010. It still does have some rough edges however – it is Codemasters' first F1 game for current generation consoles – and I look forward to seeing what improvements appear down the line.
F1 2010 is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB. This game can also be found on: PC and Xbox 360.
Article first published as PlayStation 3 Review: F1 2010 on Blogcritics.