Formula 1 games are as niche as games get these days and in years gone by, offering the race day experience hasn’t been the problem. The problem has come in creating a true F1 experience that makes you feel like you’re part of something much bigger. The impressive Codemasters racing development team and their equally impressive EGO engine are looking to correct that with F1 2010 and something they like to call, “Be the driver. Live the life.”
It’s a two part tagline that is designed to promote F1 2010’s authentic all encompassing F1 experience. “Be the driver” looks to promote the game as the most authentic and engaging F1 experience that you could possibly imagine on the track itself, while the “live the life” aspect relates to the off-the-track F1 antics that range from the team rivalries to the pre and post race media frenzy.
“Be the driver,” according to F1 2010’s Senior Producer, Paul Jeal, is meant to allow you to experience “everything that an F1 driver experiences on the race track itself.” Two key aspects make up this part of the game’s tagline; wheel-to-wheel racing – as in consistent lap times, watching and studying the AI and working out their weaknesses – and evolving race strategy. “It’s all about adopting to the strategy on the fly,” says Jeal. Those two aspects can be broke down even further though, as the game’s backbone starts to look like some ever expanding family tree.
The wheel-to-wheel racing aspect ultimately boils down to two further aspects. Firstly, the car handling, which Jeal describes as neither arcade nor simulation, but as “authentic.” It’s about the cars handling as the real life cars would and allowing you to get consistent lap times, ultimately shaving seconds off your lap times or extending your lead from your closest rival. And secondly, the AI’s behaviour and characteristics. “A lot of games in the past have focused primarily on car handling, maybe at the detriment of the AI,” said Jeal, “that’s certainly something that we’re not planning to do and there has been a lot of focus on the AI.” This ranges from the AI driver’s behaviour on the track, from slipstream drafting and trying to find an opportunity to overtake, to each driver having strengths and weaknesses. Some drivers may be great starters, good overtakers, or they might be poor under pressure or abysmal on the first corner.
In terms of the evolving race strategy focus part, that ties into the more tactical aspect of the F1 2010 title. It covers everything from which tires you use and when you take your pit-stops, to engine management and race tactics. I must admit the tire model sounds pretty damn amazing if they can pull it off, as Jeal tells the crowd that the tires will blister, marble and even puncture if pushed too hard. The in-car race tools can provide a much needed boost according to the producer as well, citing that you can alter wing levels and dial up the engine performance to get a much needed edge over an opponent you’re trying to overtake. You have to be careful though, as these short term boosts will wear the engines out quicker and that may affect your long term race season strategy – F1 teams can only use 8 engines a season. If that wasn’t enough, how about fully motion captured pit-stops and a fully dynamic weather engine that features anything from light rain to monsoon weather conditions where not only is the track slippery, but the spray also massively reduces visibility. The EGO engine has never been so full with life and detail as it will be in F1 2010.
“Live the life” for me is where the game gets interesting. We’ve all experienced the EGO engine by now and aside from the horrible vehicle handling in Operation Flashpoint 2, it’s been nothing but top of the table stuff, so we kind of know what to expect. The “live the life” part of the tagline though is all about your experience as a driver off-the-track. It’s about the press, the team rivalries, your career, your agent and so much more. It’s looking to create the back-end of the ultimate F1 experience.
“It’s about the world that goes on behind the game track” says Chief Game Designer, Steve Hood. It’s about the paddock and seeing the areas that usually require VIP access. “It’s about witnessing your rise.”
Not only are you going to be answering questions in the paddock and attending post-race press conferences if you finish on the podium, but you’ll also be spending time in your “driver’s room.” It’s essentially an extension to the Dirt 2 RV and here you’ll find access to your agent – “a main character” – who will look out for your career and deal with contract negotiations on your behalf. Want to step up to be Hamilton’s understudy? Your agent will be the key to getting you that big race contract. Stepping up to ride alongside one of Britain’s finest though could throw a few roadblocks your way, especially if you manage to step outside his shadow.
“Your biggest rival in the game is your teammate,” says Hood, and Codemasters are looking to put added emphasis on this aspect, especially as it plays a huge part in F1 today. The media are keen to push and put strain on this fragile relationship, so watch out. There will be awkward questions galore. Damn those pesky media... oh wait...
It’s not just media and back-room antics though, but throw in some technology races – the driver’s bread and butter, the pre-race garage, objectives and some end of season research and development, and F1 2010 is looking to deliver a rich and authentic F1 experience.
From our relatively brief hands-on with the title, it’s hard to discern the title’s potential quality there. Simply put, there is only so much you can get from a short 3 lap race... and that’s not a lot. For a pre-alpha build though, the game itself was already visually impressive, with the tires easily being the most impressive part. You may laugh smugly and roll your eyes at my insinuation, but it’s true. It’s the little things like going off-road – unintentionally of course – and seeing the tires pick up the gravel which slowly flies off as you get back on the track that provide the wow factors.
In terms of handling, again, it’s difficult to get a feel for it with such a short race. The difficulty curve is noticeable however, with the sheer speed and handling looking like it could provide many a challenge. With the damage turned off though, no penalties on for cutting corners and an overly aggressive AI, it didn’t scream authentic F1, but that’s all down to what options were selected. Having damage on with penalties isn’t ideal for the sort of press event that this was. Plus… steering wheels for racing games? Give me a controller any day of the week. Archaic I know, but I’m set in my ways dammit! It should be said, whilst this was only a three lap race, the final version will allow for full 70-odd lap races if you should choose, as well as a ton more options to customise your experience.
It’s hard to predict from this early stage how F1 2010 will eventually turn out. If anything is clear from what Codemasters were keen to put across, it’s that they’re looking to create the ultimate F1 experience from the tracks to the pit lanes to the behind-closed-doors antics. Our hands on was ridiculously brief and the only thing you could gauge from it, is that’s it’s truly hardcore and will offer a pretty steep challenge for F1 and racing fans alike. With only 3 pods servicing about 300 journalists and event attendees, at the moment F1 is all talk and not enough action. We’re interested to see how this one pans out though, because if they can deliver on their promises, F1 2010 could be the ultimate F1 experience, both on and off the tracks.
F1 2010 is currently scheduled for a September release.