The long drought is over. At long last, Sony has relinquished its choke hold on the Formula One auto racing license. Nothing is more depressing and irritating in any given market than a monopolist that refuses to utilize its exclusive control of a franchise to deliver a quality product, and this is exactly what Sony did with the F1 license. The merits of their PlayStation-only title aside, the result of the exclusive deal that they held has been a dearth of new titles in the F1 arena for the rest of the console and PC markets. In a sport (yes, I know that term is debated hotly, but I use the "if I can't do it, it's a sport" definition) that changes as rapidly in rules, drivers and technology as Formula One, being stuck for years without a new version has been a cruel form of purgatory for the die hard F1 fan.
All of that is history now, though, and there is a brighter future ahead. Codemasters, who have quite a storied history in racing games themselves, now has the right to develop F1 titles. Well, truth be told they had the contract in 2009 but were only able to bring out a Wii version. There are things that the Wii does well, but racing games any more realistic than Mario Kart are not amongst them. In the intervening year, Codemasters has been able to bridge the divide in platform capability between the Wii and the rest of the gaming world to bring us F1: 2010 on the Xbox, PS3, and PC. After nearly a decade without a true Formula One (I exclude mod packages available for the various SimBin programs since they don't model the racing rules) title, gamers are notably excited to see how the far more capable hardware platforms of the new century will support a brand new offering. Vast increases in both graphical and processing horsepower should provide for a virtual racing world orders of magnitude more realistic than the last seen F1 effort.
So, did Codemasters deliver? In some ways, the answer is an unequivocal yes. In others, the race stewards have yet to provide a definitive answer. On the “yes” side, the graphics are phenomenal when compared to the previous standard. The modeling of the cars is a work of art. The models are complete down to the manufacturer's logo on the center of the immensely complex steering wheels. The tracks look exactly like their real world equivalents, albeit as having been viewed through an HD in-car camera. Very few of us have actually driven them, right?
This beauty comes at a cost, of course. My first few minutes with the PC version were a huge disappointment; the lag in steering and gear shifts was tremendous and I was wondering whether or not any of the game's developers had ever even seen a Formula 1 race. I eventually happened across the graphics settings and turned some of the more processor-heavy settings off. That did the trick, and even at something less than the default maximum settings the view through my visor was still superb. On the Xbox version I didn't need to change a thing.
As I've often said when reviewing other racing titles, stellar graphics are nothing but calorie-laden, non-nutritional junk food if the racing is no good. Good racing comes from a number of things. There needs to be a decent physics model, but it needs to strike an appropriate balance somewhere between so-realistic-that-it-is-undriveable and so-forgiving-that-there-is-no-challenge. The inflection point of that balance tends to move with the target platform(s) of the game.
For example, a pure-PC design will typically move towards a more realistic and challenging physics model, while a console based game will be far more forgiving. I suspect that the most important influence on the balance comes down to the disparity of controllers. The PC racers have access to wonderfully precise racing wheels such as the Logitech G25 that I use, while the console folks are predominantly going to be using regular game controllers. The difference in the capabilities of the two is quite broad. A super-realistic physics model, particularly in a car as demanding as a modern Formula 1 car, would be completely uncontrollable with a console game controller. It's not even all that easy with the G25!
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