Review: Formula 1 2010 (Xbox 360)

I have incredibly mixed feelings about Formula 1 2010. On the one hand, this is the first Formula 1-based game on next-gen platforms since Sony's F1 Championship Edition in 2006. As well, the game does an amazing job painting a portrait of the Formula 1 circus, from the glitz and glamor in the paddock to the thunder and thrills on the track. However, the game has a facade that is too easily broken; compounding the problem is that it feels unfinished in spots.

Reviewer's Note: We will run an amendment article at a later date, once F1 2010 is patched to address the numerous issues with the game. As it stands right now, it feels unfinished and has numerous frustrating bugs, including one that corrupts save data; when, and how, these are addressed is a major issue surrounding the game right now.

Formula 1 racing is, much like soccer, a sport incredibly well known and followed outside of the United States; 400 million viewers tune in for each of the rounds of the championship, and the series has been run every year since 1950. I've watched almost every race since 1997, and know a ton about the history of F1. Considering my love of racing games too, I'm undoubtedly the game's target audience. Each round in the championship is a carnival, as the racing series' own video edits of races prove. Codemasters has thus provided a rich tapestry on which to build a virtual world and something of a storyline. Unlike a Forza Motorsport or a Gran Turismo game, each race acts as a piece in a greater narrative, instead of focusing solely on what happens on-track and what car you unlock.

Codemasters has tried to do something very different and innovative with the game's structure. You're launched directly into defining your career mode in the form of a press conference, including details like your driver's name, nationality and how long a career you're planning. Accessing the other menu options, like single-races, multiplayer modes and other options are done in the paddock next to your career teams' transporters. If you played Codemasters' DiRT games this may sound familiar — the large, popped-out text on screen is a style Codies has made their own, but it also helps to make the game feel more like a sports game instead of a Gran Turismo clone. Everything is laid out to make you become a Formula 1 driver, and immerse you in a virtual re-creation of something only 24 people on the planet each year get to experience.

As a driving game, F1 2010 is very solid. The game engine is an evolution of Codemasters' previous racers, but with some serious tuning to suit the rigors of Formula 1 — like having 24 cars on the track at once. Driving an F1 car is incredibly difficult in real life, but similar to Forza Motorsport 3, the game tailors each difficulty level with a series of driving aids; these can also be adjusted individually. As a Formula 1 fan, the game manages to capture everything about F1 racing I'd expect — from your team engineer providing information updates and support, to the screaming V8 engines, to the incredible handling and stopping power. As I spend more and more time on the track, I find myself getting quicker because I'm able to push the limits of the car, and that is exactly how a Formula 1 game should behave. It may not be as one-to-one accurate as some PC racing simulators, but F1 2010's on-track racing strikes an excellent balance — providing the right amount of fear and speed while remaining accessible but not punishing.

However, the game is far from flawless. It could have used another two or three months of development time before it was released; surely Codemasters must have been trying to meet a deadline to release the game in September, with a few rounds of the actual Formula 1 series left to run. I say this for two reasons: One, there are numerous bugs found when playing the game; and two, there is also a real issue of difficulty balance that could use tuning.

First, the bugs. The list of bugs both confirmed and unconfirmed in the game is lengthy. These range from the mildly annoying (AI cars not pitting or pitting too often in races) to the aggravating (the player's car being unfairly held in the pit lane if you pit on the same lap as the AI) to the soul-crushing (corrupting save data, forcing the player to re-start their career; this has happened twice since I bought the game). While Codemasters is aware of the problems and working on a patch, there's not a target release date, and many diehard racers I know are avoiding the career mode until the game is patched. While some bugs are only mildly annoying, their sheer abundance points to a title that looks undercooked.

More grating to me, personally, is the uneven difficulty curve. On the hardest two difficulty levels the AI is brutally fast, your starting car can feel terribly slow (especially the Lotus, Virgin and HRT, though this lack of speed is true to life) and the in-race penalties can feel overly punitive, especially if you're trying to get to grips with the game's physics. It's hard not to be anything but a moving obstacle; moreover, it's easy to ruin your race. This may be true to life — Formula 1 racing is far from easy — but it feels punishing and masochistic. Aaron and Nick can attest to the level of attention and focus completing a 17-lap race took from me...and that was in an effort where I finished 18th out of 24 cars. Punishment isn't the only problem; by switching to the mid-pack Sauber-Ferrari and applying setups from this online forum, I can now routinely outpace the AI and win races by 30 seconds.

In short, Formula 1 2010 is long on ideas but falls short in the execution. As a diehard Formula 1 fan who remembers when Williams were good and Ferrari were lovable traditionalists who used V12s, I love the attention to detail that Codemasters has given the game, down to the grid girls in the paddock. However, it feels rushed. I have no doubt that F1 2011 will have solutions to many of the bugs and difficulty issues, but I'm not certain what a patch will be able to fix and when that will happen. When it works, it's absolutely brilliant and is the Formula 1 game I always wanted, yet too often it stumbles into another bug or issue. I would love to be able to recommend this game to everyone, but without a demo and with so many issues, I can't do that right now.

Recommended for:

  • Console-centric racing game fans looking for a fix ahead of Gran Turismo 5
  • Formula 1 fans yearning for a good, modern, accessible F1 game
  • Graphics junkies — the in-game graphics are incredible, and the menus are very well done

Not Recommended for:

  • Anyone who expects the game to be bug-free as of right now
  • Hardcore racing simulator fans who are masters of iRacing or Grand Prix Legends — F1 2010 will not be enough of a simulator for the super-hardcore if you expect it to equate to those games

Formula 1 2010 was developed and published by Codemasters. It is available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 for $59.99, and on Windows for $39.99 via retail and Steam. The reviewer played the game on multiple difficulty levels in career mode, single-race Grand Prix, Time Trial, and online for approximately 20 hours.

Extra special thanks to Something Awful goons for supplying PC screenshots of bugs and the F1 2010 menu system.

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