Gamers generally associate racing games with the big budget releases like Forza, Gran Turismo and maybe even Need For Speed. Behind all of this, a clever bunch of developers working for Codemasters continue to release top quality products. Codemasters has been in existence since 1985 and has been at the helm of some terrific titles. The lads over in England certainly know how to keep themselves busy, the past few years have seen Colin McRae's legacy continue with the DiRT series, not forgetting GRID (previously known as TOCA Race Driver). The list goes on and proves that this relatively small studio has all the credentials needed to produce a slightly more challenging racing game. F1 2010 marks the first proper return of Formula One racing to our main powerhouse platforms, and you'll be glad to hear it was worth the wait.
We're told to never judge a book by its cover, because presentation can often be a deceitful tool used to hide larger flaws. In the case of F1 2010, first impressions give an accurate representation of what the rest of the game has to offer. Codemasters has a natural ability to excel and crush the opposition in one small, but significant part of video games - the menu system. Polish doesn't even begin to describe how well F1 2010 is presented. Every aspect of the racing, from the moment you create your profile, has been streamlined into a beautifully minimalistic display. It takes a lot from DiRT 2, so your main base of operations is the safety of a trailer. No matter where you look in F1 2010, you'll find that every conceivable option has a place around this little haven which puts almost every other competitor to shame. Menus mightn't be the most obvious element to receive critical acclaim, but if it's not done properly, it can be a game breaker. F1 2010 manages to make high profile releases appear obsolete in comparison, and that's definitely something to be proud of.
Drivers will start off by selecting a contract from one of the lower ranking teams, so don't expect to be screeching around chicanes in a Ferrari until you make an impression. Your team will outline some objectives, particularly in relation to qualification times and final race positions. It's not impossible, but it's very difficult to compete with more experienced drivers like Jenson Button. F1 2010 wants you to gradually adjust to this unique style of racing, but as time goes on, you'll eventually grow confident and pose a greater challenge. Your career stretches across every race in every location, and they have been meticulously constructed with plenty of care. If you live near Albert Park in Melbourne, then you might even be able to see your bedroom window. Attention to detail is an understatement. There is no substitute, this is the most detailed and comprehensive Formula One game ever made. Even seemingly insignificant moments like an interview with a journalist can have an adverse effect on how rival drivers behave, leading to some entertaining battles on the track. For a game that focuses purely on a very particular form of racing, it offers a level of depth that few other developers can achieve. Subtle touches like this, along with the consequences of not treating your car with care, make F1 2010 one of the most realistic racers around.
Controls rarely deviate from the norm, so the triggers demand your attention. Accelerating and reversing, we've all done it before. The great thing about F1 2010 is that everyone, including the Forza junkies, needs to learn the ropes. Unlike other lightning quick racers, driving a Formula One car feels completely different. The first thing you'll notice is that these beasts won't drift, quite the opposite in fact, your wheels are glued to the asphalt. You won't need to burn rubber when driving around a hairpin turn, instead you'll be rewarded (or punished) for aggression. F1 2010 requires patience and timing, so you need to be confident when overtaking. Moving from the bottom half of the grid up into a podium position will be a tricky task, one that can't be completed without brave and ambitious driving. At breakneck speeds, one mistake can end a race. The rewind feature is an obvious inclusion but you'll only be given three chances for an entire race, so they need to be used sparingly. Cut a corner - penalty, cause an impact - penalty, failing to obey rules and regulations - disqualified. It's harsh, but that's the life of a superstar driver.
Each Grand Prix is divided into practice and qualification sessions before the big race commences. During this time you can decide what tyres to use, determine a race strategy and customise any assists that you may want. Just don't mention assists to any hardcore fans online, it will not end in your favour. Formula One races are usually lengthy affairs, but you can trim the race down in percentages. Normally, you'll only have to race between ten and twelve laps. The option to partake in a full Formula One weekend is there, if that takes your fancy. As you progress through your career, and eventually learn when and how to effectively overtake, F1 2010 will lure you into a false sense of security. The most challenging and jaw dropping part of the game comes from its dynamic weather system. Rain changes everything. Adoring a fine spring day from pole position can go drastically wrong as the track begins to dampen, meaning that every car will be frantically trying to alter their setup. Frankly, it's a terrifying experience. Visibility becomes limited as your helmet is drenched with rain drops, opposing cars spray surface water at you, and in the end - you'll be fearing for your life. Not literally, but F1 2010 is probably the scariest simulation racer that we've seen. Your crew in the garage will give you warnings and words of advice (a voice which replaces that of a commentator), but it's done so well that it will never impede on the intensity of the situation at hand. This is about pushing your car to the limit, and doing everything possible to cope with a constantly fluctuating set of scenarios.
The weather effects are undeniably the highlight of F1 2010's visual treats, and it's likely that unpredictable bursts of torrential rain will become standardised for racing games (much like the rewind option). However, F1 2010 doesn't really match the quality of Forza 3. Most of the locations and vehicles are stunning and fly past without any drop in framerate, but there are a few very minor problem areas. Human characters look very unnatural, especially when they're talking. Another issue can be found when using the first person camera angle, the reflections in your rear-view mirror are lacking in detail and are often comparable to last generation titles. If you prefer the third person perspective, then it won't affect you at all, but purists may be slightly disappointed. It's hardly a major fault, and the rest of F1 2010 does more than enough to compensate. Engines roar, crowds scream, tears of joy and sadness are shed in equal bursts - this is what real racing is all about. F1 2010 doesn't pretend to be anything other than a pure racing game, and that's a testament to a caring team behind the scenes.
The only other minor nuisance comes back to the previously mentioned interviews. While the concept does work, journalists in F1 2010 really love to repeat themselves. The conclusion of each race usually means answering a question or three, and it can get a little tedious - just like real life. Thankfully nothing detracts from the overall quality of F1 2010, because it is a truly brilliant racing game. Starting off as a new driver and slowly becoming the world's greatest will take time, but each and every step is filled with the spectacular atmosphere that only Formula One can provide. F1 2010 gives you the chance to create a custom Grand Prix and also drive online in an environment free of lag. It mightn't include the editing capacity of Forza 3, or the variety of Gran Turismo 5, but there's still plenty of depth and a lot of content to get through. Whether you're the hardest of the hardcore, or a leaner driver, F1 2010 is an accessible and rewarding journey for everyone.
Codemasters deserve all the credit and praise thrown at them. This is another fine example of how to make a proper racing game, free of gimmicks and full of terrific gameplay. Even if you're not an avid Formula One supporter, it's difficult not to appreciate the effort and craft on display here. F1 2010 is one of the most challenging, entertaining, infuriating, engaging, frightening and breathtaking racing games available. This sort of experience isn't available anywhere else, and for the first time in far too long, we can welcome home a dearly missed franchise. Let's just hope it sticks around for a bit longer.