If you're at this site, reading this post you may have noticed I have an entire category of posts dedicated to Formula 1. I'm an F1 fan.
It's been a long time since Geoff Crammand's last installment of the seminal Grand Prix racing simulation, appropriately entitled Grand Prix (1, 2, 3, and 4). I grew up playing these games and each of them were my favourite games when they came out, and remained my favourite until the next version was released. Unfortunately GP4 came out eight years ago and there's been a massive space in the F1 gaming world since then.
I held high hopes for F1 2010 when I started seeing the videos of its production. The team at Codemasters had enlisted the help of Anthony Davidson, ex-F1 driver and all round good bloke commentator, now heard on BBC's 5Live F1 podcast (hint, go listen!) to give technical advice to the team. The team also collected an unprecedented amount of data on the tracks and handling of each car. All modelled after the current 2010 season.
F1 2010 also has a unprecedented depth of play, introducing a much needed Career mode, which can last for up to seven seasons (We can't all be Rubens Barrichello ;)). Previously a career was only possible by using third party community tools, which provided only very poor integration.
Some more of the really cool stuff is now possible in with modern broadband internet connections. Through the use of a Windows Live Game account (Xbox Live) players can share lap times with the rest of the world and their friends (separate in game tabs for the two), also downloading the ghosts of each players fastest laps, to see where you can pick up time. Sharing of setup isn't catered for in-game, but I'm sure we'll see that everywhere on blogs (like this one ;)).
I had a few dramas initially getting F1 2010 to work. I believe that was because I copied the game from my SteamApps folder at work and brought it home. Either way, deleting that and re-downloading from Steam fixed my problem and I was eventually (today) able to play with my new Logitech G27. I even made a small pedal box to raise the height of my pedals.
My initial impressions were good, if not a little humbling, after seeing some of the lap times already out there. I started at a track I hadn't raced before, Bahrain and really struggled to put together a lap for the first 30 minutes. In Time Trail mode (the only mode I've played so far) you do times hot laps with a Ghost, and every time you run off the track your lap is invalidated (and occasionally the next lap too). At the start I was trying to hard. Expecting to just be on the pace so to speak. After I slowed down a bit and took it easier, I went faster, stayed on the track and was able to lodge a time. My first timed lap was faster than the default Ghost, so that was a start even if it wasn't saying much.
I tried Melbourne a few hours later, and was immediately on the pace; able to set a lap without invaliding, on the first attempt. Although I did still feel cramped. I also suspected the amount of steering lock on my G27 was slowing me down. That is, the steering wasn't sensitive enough and on some corners at Bahrain I had to do the knuckle shuffle to get around the corner (Turn 1). I dialled the sensitivity down from 100% to 75% (with a 5 turn experiment at 50%. egads!). Within 2 laps I was 2 seconds a lap faster! I also fiddled a tiny bit with the setup (only ride height and top gear).
My initial impression is very positive. The graphics are superb. Faultless even. Midway though the day I thought the game was a bit too easy, but changing the steering sensitivity on my wheel has made the car both more twitchy (harder to handle) and easier to catch when it breaks loose. The increase in sensitivity has removed small doubt I had. Sure, I'd prefer the game had telemetry to analyse, but the Ghost and the fact the Ghost comes from my friends if I want, is so much more fun.
F1 2010 is a worthy successor to Grand Prix 4.
Update: After I wrote the above I began the Melbourne race itself, having qualified a lowly 24th (thanks to the rain). Wanting to perform well at my 'Home' race, I restarted the race a few times (ok, about 20 times) and I noticed some annoyances which have now been reported as fake 'AI'. I didn't notice the timing problems described in the link, but I did noticed some idiotic behaviour which I justified at the time.
Check out the video of broken timing here (sorry gotta workout how to embed youtube vid).
Problem #1, my teammate Jarno Trulli qualified 15th. A Lotus has yet to qualify outside of Q1 in a dry session, yet here is the 'superb' AI qualifying in the middle of the Q2 pack.
Problem #2, cars were pitting for tyres on lap 3. Thinking about it, lap 3 is lap 15 in reality (I'm doing 20% race distances at the moment), so if the cars are scripted to come in, that's when they would. The option tyre would last 12 laps (20% race distance easily), so the only need to pit is one to obey the rule that states every car must run both the prime and option tyre in the race. It actually makes sense to pit early and get some clear track...
Problem #3, Trulli led the race at one point pretty much every time I restarted (probably everytime, if I went long enough into the race before a restart). That's completely wrong, but it may be justified by Trulli's tyre strategy being to pit late (ie lap 8-9 on 20%). Given only limited number of laps, he could lead the race by only being 10-15 seconds behind the leaders when they pit.
Most of annoyances could be because of the short race distance I'm doing.
Also, I've found this piece on the AI on harder levels (who doesn't run the on hardest? :)). ' It's not on all difficulty levels, only the upper because they couldn't go quite as quick as super smooth players.' (from the twitter of a developer of the game)
Thinking about the AI, I'm rather disgusted at this, but perhaps there was no other choice. I'd expect that many people playing F1 2010 do so to 'live the dream' of being an F1 driver (isn't that much of the motivation behind computer games in general). Accurately depicting the drivers is paramount to a good experience in the game.
My thoughts are, if you want a realistic experience, you need to be doing longer race distances, with 100% being the obvious preference.