That type of low granularity of configuration runs through the entire game, by the way. I believe that this too is a reflection of the console-centric design. PC users familiar with SimBin games like GTR Evolution will be aghast at the dearth of available tweaks both in game play and the actual garage set-up of the cars. There are more options for configuring the on screen displays than there are for setting up the cars. Again speaking personally, I don't think I mind. I want to be a race car driver, not an engineer. I want to be able to tell my crew chief in very broad terms how I want the car to be set up; I don't want to worry my pretty little head about arcane subjects like bump height, shock settings, camber, etc. The only thing realistic car settings do for me is offer up the ability for me to make things worse. In fact, even in F1 2010 I think that there are places where too much is left to me to do. I was racing at Spa when, as is the norm for that track, it started to rain. The crew chief called me in for my required pit stop. I thought for sure that I would be fitted with either intermediate or full wet tires. Nope. I entered the pits with the option slicks and left with the hard slicks. I spun off of the wet track on the next lap. Apparently I was supposed to manage an on-screen menu to tell him what he should have already known: I NEED RAIN TIRES!
An odd thing about the difficulty settings and pit stops is that the settings don't seem to do what I think they should do. I don't know if this is a bug or if it is by design, but it happens in both the PC and Xbox versions. I configured the settings to make the pit stop entries and exits fully manual. All that seems to change is my control over the accelerator. Even on full manual, I found that I had no steering input when entering or exiting the pit lane. It's not a big deal, but it points to some of the confusion that can arise when the user selected options are pared down to a level that attempts to straddle between infantile and sophisticated.
As anyone that is even passingly familiar with Formula 1 can tell you, the actual racing is only part of the overall experience. With annual budgets measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars and more millions to be won or lost with each pass on the track, with driver's egos reaching stratospheric heights even before reaching the level of national, or in some cases, international hero worship, and with millions upon millions of rabid fans, it's not surprising that there is something akin to a circus environment when Formula 1 comes to town. It's a traveling world all its own. There is pageantry, there is tradition, there is stress, there is a microscopic focus on each and every word or action, there is scandal, and there is intrigue. And, most critically of all, there are rules. Hundreds and hundreds of rules. There are hundreds of rules about how the cars can be designed. There are an equal number of racing rules. And, also unsurprisingly, there are politics. One wrong word uttered in an interview can have international repercussions.
Arguably, a developer could make a pretty decent Formula 1 game simply by concentrating just on the mechanics of the racing. Codemasters takes a different approach and attempts to capture some of the environment as well. You start your “career” in F1 2010 as the subject of a press interview. The reporter (who looks suspiciously like the very hot Sabine from Top Gear) asks you a number of questions, each of which will ultimately end up as settings for your profile. You are then introduced to your agent. She will help you manage your team contracts and the like. She's a bit clingy – you can't go back to your motor home without her being there. Out in the paddock, you will find reporters waiting for you. This is all eye candy, of course, intended to spice up the menu selections, but it's a nice touch. Once in the car you will see your race engineer waiting patiently at the side of your car waiting for you to decide you're ready to go. He will also have the team set up the car the way you'd like it. Again, these things could all be done through menus, but the interactive 3D way of doing it adds to the experience.
This feeling of being part of something larger than just you in your car carries through into the race. Your race engineer will, sometimes annoyingly, encourage you to race just a little harder. He will warn you of things like the loss of grip your tires will suffer as a result of being clad in gravel. He doesn't scold you for getting the tires in the gravel in the first place, though, which is nice. I did notice that he can be wrong at times. He will often tell me that a car that I'm trying not to run into is only five seconds ahead of me. Five seconds?? I'm right behind him! He's also sometimes confused about my actual position in the race; it's odd to be told that I've dropped to third place when I've been there for two laps. Helpfully, he's the first to tell me that I have violated a rule. Sometimes he's passing along a warning from the race stewards, and sometimes he's tell me that we've been penalized.
The infractions most commonly encountered are cutting corners on the track or causing contact with other cars. It is important to have these rules in order to have some encouragement to drive properly, but as in real life, the actual implementation of enforcement often leaves something to be desired. I've been dinged for cutting corners when all that really happened was a sloppy turn that actually slowed me down rather than give me an unfair advantage. I've been penalized for causing crashes that simply weren't my fault. It can be very frustrating, but at the end of the day it is my responsibility as a driver to avoid situations in which the race officials have the opportunity to misapply an enforcement. In other words, drive aggressively but defensively. If that sounds like it's very hard to do, well, that's because it is. But you're at the pinnacle of motor sports, cry baby! It's supposed to be very hard to do!
As a first attempt at a modern multi-platform Formula 1 game, Codemasters has done an exemplary job with F1 2010. As it stands today, it is very good on the Xbox but is likely to always suffer from a console-esque approach on the PC. There are things that could be done to make the PC version feel more, for want of a better term, PC-ish (detecting the mouse and allowing its use in the menu screens would be a great place to start), but market forces are probably not going to reward a lot of investment in that area. The preponderance of sales are very likely to be on the console side, not on the PC. The hard core PC racer is unlikely to ever be satisfied with it; Codemasters is never going to supplant iRacing when it comes to levels of realism and detail. I contend that they don't need to in order to be successful, though. A few years of refinement should get them much closer to the optimum balance between true simulation and really fun game.
More On:F1 2010
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
It's been too long since a decent Formula 1 racing game has been available on the PC and Xbox 360. Codemaster's first effort has a lot of things going for it, but there will be room for improvement for years to come. They seem to be on the right track!
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