F1 2010 Hands-On

Codemasters is aiming to bring you into the life of an F1 driver, both in and out of the car.

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There are plenty of reasons to love the life of a Formula One driver--being behind the wheel of the world's most technically advanced cars, driving in some of the world's most glamorous locales on some of the best circuits, getting the huge paychecks, enjoying the throngs of adoring fans, meeting the grid girls…the list truly goes on and on. If you're at all a fan of F1, you've probably spent a little time fantasizing about what it would be like to live this jet-setting lifestyle, and the folks at Codemasters have done the exact same thing. But they're taking those fantasies and making them (almost) real with their upcoming F1 debut on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC: F1 2010.

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The first time you boot up F1 2010, you'll be taken immediately to a press conference, which serves not just as a method to establish your identity in the game (enter your name, country of origin, and the like) but also as a representative sample of how Codies is approaching your experience in F1. Yes, there is a great deal of emphasis on being in the car and tackling some of the world's great courses, but there's also the life outside of the car--as well as in the paddock and press conferences--that is also a big part of the F1 2010 gameplay experience.

That boot-up press conference serves a third purpose as well: establishing exactly the kind of gameplay experience you're looking for from the game. Maybe you're a hardcore racing fan and are looking for a driving experience with no safety net, all assists off, and so on. Or maybe you're a casual F1 fan and will need some hand-holding (or, more accurately, some braking help or other type of assists). You'll also be able to determine the length of your nascent F1 career--up to seven seasons long. The balance between driving skill and career length will determine what teams are available to you in the beginning of the game. For example, if you're looking for a long-term career with minimal assists, you might only be offered drives with low-tier teams like Lotus or HRT. Those looking for a shorter career might find they have access to more prestigious teams like Renault or Williams.

Once you've found a team, the F1 2010 experience looks to be all about short-term and long-term goals. Of course, your main goal as a driver is to always beat your immediate rival, aka your teammate. He's the guy with (theoretically, at least) identical equipment, and beating him on the track in the qualifier and in the race will ensure your place as the team leader. As team leader, you'll have more say on some of the longer-term goals of the team, such as where to focus research and development efforts when it comes to your current car or, in more dramatic cases, whether to cease development on that year's model altogether to start work on the car for next season. Throughout the course of your career's arc, it then becomes a question of building a back marker team up to a championship contender or trying to play team hopscotch and eventually winding up in the cockpit of a McLaren or Ferrari (or other team of your choice).

The delicate dynamics of your team will also be affected by how you carry yourself outside of the car. For example, after a tough race with a disappointing result, you might be asked to make a comment. Do you blame the team for your troubles or take the blame yourself? If asked in the press about rumors of a rival team looking to scoop you up and offer you a contract, do you express public interest in such a deal, thereby ticking off your current team? Or do you bide your time and put your full support behind your boys in the garage? All of these responses will affect how you are perceived in the paddock and add up to a career mode that looks to be more than simply getting out on the track and running a never-ending string of mindless race sessions.

All of that extracurricular activity aside, however, F1 2010 is still going to live or die inside the cockpit--a fact that Codemasters readily acknowledges. As a result, the team has been working on nailing the power and poise of F1 cars without completely alienating novice drivers. The most noticeable aspect of the cars, from a driving standpoint, is their outrageous acceleration. In first and second gear, careful acceleration is an absolutely necessity. Failure to carefully accelerate can easily over-rev the engine and, in more extreme examples, send your car spinning in a corner. Once you get into third gear, you can step on the gas, but on low-speed tracks like Monaco where you spend a great deal of time in the lower gears, the degree of challenge is substantially increased by the power of the cars.

Though F1 2010 will feature four different camera angles to choose from when driving (two chase cams, one hood, and one cockpit), the best way to experience the game is in the cockpit cam, where you can watch as your driver saws the wheel left and right. You can also see and feel every bump and jerk in the carefully reconstructed courses. We got hands-on time with two of the 19 tracks that will be featured in F1 2010: the aforementioned Monaco, with all of its twisting madness and tight confines and the wide-open speed of Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villenueve. The two courses couldn't be more different in approach--Monaco is a relentless assault on your skill and concentration level, where the slightest wrong move can mean the end of your race. The track's bumpy nature, especially in the sprint up the hill to the Massenet and Casino corners, is captured with loving detail. Montreal, by contrast, has moments where you can take a mental break, but it also offers a mixture of high-speed corners and tight technical turns (like the hairpin turn 11) that can be a lot of fun.

Our hands-on time was limited just to practice sessions, so we didn't get a chance to experience the race AI in F1 2010. However, Codemasters developers did say they were working to ensure that the 24 licensed drivers in the game drive like their real-life counterparts. For example, McLaren's Jenson Button will be a smooth operator on track, while his teammate Lewis Hamilton will be an aggressive driver who is tough on his car's tires. Michael Shumacher will be difficult to pass just as he is in real life, and Sebastian Vettel will be at the height of his powers in the wet.

Wet weather makes things more interesting in real-life F1, and should do the same in F1 2010.
Wet weather makes things more interesting in real-life F1, and should do the same in F1 2010.

Just as it can in real life, weather will play a huge role in F1 2010 races, thanks to a weather system that Codemasters promises is one of the most advanced seen in a racing game to date. While you won't see much rain in traditionally dry climates, like Bahrain or Abu Dhabi, anything can happen at locales like Spa or Silverstone, where rain is a persistent threat. Weather effects will be extensive and run the gamut from overcast skies to full-on downpours--and multiple points in between. In addition to the vision problems that rain presents a driver, rain will affect how the tires interact with the road on which you're driving. Wet roads are slippery roads, naturally, and as a race persists, you'll see dry lines appear after the rain lets up and even be able to keep your tires cool by temporarily going offline to get your tires wet--a technique F1 drivers commonly use in real life.

There are a bunch of other small details that have us excited about F1 2010, including the ability to adjust the engine revs and brake balance on the fly using the D pad when driving and the presence of a race engineer who constantly gives you updates on your surroundings. We're also excited about a car-tuning system that will let you tweak your ride to your hearts content by going to individual parts (such as gear ratios, brakes, and the like) or by using overall setting templates that suit your particular driving style (oversteer/understeer, aggressive or conservative use of tires, and so on).

Although Formula One racing is certainly the most popular form of motorsport in the world, F1 games have sold poorly by comparison. Codemasters' approach of focusing as much on the lifestyle of F1 as on the on-track action is a calculated attempt at trying to turn that trend on its ear. From what we've seen so far, we're happy to say that the in-car experience looks to be challenging and rewarding, even with several months of development left to go before the game's September release. If the action out of the car lives up to the action on the tarmac, F1 2010 could be special indeed. Look for more on the game in the coming months.

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