There's a Cake song about this game: "The Distance."
In F1 2010, you just keep driving and driving. It's not a bad thing if you're a true Formula One racing fan — or become one via this title. There's certainly nothing here to make you think "arcade"; it's a loyal interpretation of the sport, though that may come with its own unique set of frustrations.
As an auto racing sport, Formula One generally has cult appeal, with most of the enthusiasm found outside the United States, particularly in the Commonwealth nations and the EU. Some facets of the sport lend themselves to wide popularity: amazing cars, big money, high speed and incredible engineering. It's a modern-day mechanized sport of kings.
But then there are all these rules.
Sure, your average hometown demolition derby has rules, but Formula One raises racing rules to high art. Not only are there the usual rules governing things like tire specs, but there are also rules about which types of tires you're allowed to use in certain events. Deeper down, there are rules requiring you to use at least one set of tires from each tire category approved for a qualification or race — whether or not you think you need them. There are plenty more rules where those come from, too, but you get the picture. Every year, they also like to change the rules, from often subtle to occasionally dramatic.
Formula One cars, and likewise in-game F1 2010 cars, run during the annual seasons on both race circuits and road circuits — and combinations of both called hybrid circuits — allowing for some environment diversity in a video game. The principal key to successful gameplay is holding it together for many laps over long distances. This racing title isn't about running the middle of the pack until you can pull off that trick high-speed corner, putting the competition behind you for good. To hit your goal positions in practice, qualifiers and races, let alone come in ahead, you also must pay close attention to your pit crew's chief engineer and the game's simple, informative HUD. It's easier said than done. Several times, I flicked my eyes away from the road to check engine temp or my overall position for the event; in doing so, I cut a corner and earning an invalidated lap penalty. In races of this length, the last thing you want to do is drop a great lap time over a minor oversteer.
With all that said, F1 2010 is a rich, deep game to fit the sport. It's difficult to list all of its features without writing a comprehensive book on the ins and outs of Formula One racing. (There are plenty of books available on that very topic.) More specific to gaming, this title has great damage modeling — damage affecting both race performance and pit requirements. The weather system is one of the best I've seen in any game supporting a dynamic weather feature. It's not sprinkling or pouring; there's a whole range in between that you can see just by driving the circuit, without depending on cues from your pit crew radio or HUD. The great, nuanced variety of weather in a Formula One event is very well represented in-game, affects gameplay by degree, and is readily observable in the on-screen graphical depictions of the race. Put in the practice hours, and you'll know when it's time to call for a pit to make a tire change before your engineer can radio in that very suggestion.
In the different segments of events in your career, you'll have a varying degree of direct control of your car's setup. You also have the option to let your engineer handle that for you. Even if you are somewhat familiar with Formula One cars, you'll want to let your engineer handle most of the highly technical details until you've put in some time with the game. Except for a few things, you may prefer to give the pit crew the nod throughout your whole F1 2010 career. There's nothing wrong with this, and it doesn't detract from gameplay. After all, that's why your team sponsor is paying those guys so well.
That's a peculiar thing in F1 2010, and it's quite a coup for this title's developers. Despite the feature list reading almost like that of a PC turn-based strategy game, the real fun is in the highly simulative driving. The game is designed so that if you like racers of any sort, and you'll give it an hour behind the wheel, it stands a good chance of winning you over — even if you prefer arcade-style games or simulative racers with much greater car and track variety. On paper, the racing element of F1 2010 may put some arcade aficionados straight to sleep, but any racing fan is potentially susceptible to this game. If it hooks you, you're in for the long haul with plenty of diversions available both in and out of the car.
In a single-player career, you'll start fresh at the bottom of the Formula One world with an agent, a contract and teammate. Built in is a healthy amount of competition with your teammate, but don't push it. The emphasis is keeping the competition motivational, not rabid or dirty. The latter will detract from your performance and reputation. Scoring dings, or, conversely, points, for your reputation is your interaction with the international racing press. You'll have plenty of opportunities throughout your career to conduct brief, multiple-choice-reply interviews, during which you can come off seeming like a great guy, a self-aggrandizing jerk, or just the type to trip over his own two feet.
As mentioned, F1 2010's graphics are superb for a racing game, especially considering Formula One circuits don't show off a lot of the entrancing scenery more common to arcade and general racing simulation titles. The race circuits can be a little bland, though realistic and with good art direction. The road circuits are nicer to look at it, with fine daylight and nighttime cityscapes, and tree-lined tracks stretching ahead of you beyond the high barrier fences. Distant objects beyond the circuits, like mountain ridges and approaching cloud cover, are well handled, too.
There is no shortage of audio options in the game, either. F1 2010 includes both 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound via receivers that support those digital multichannel sound productions. Both formats provide superior audio realism, perhaps more important in a game where audio effects tend to whisper or whine rather than shout. The game also supports an enhanced, "true" 3-D audio experience called EGO 3D7.1, although this mode requires an HDMI 1.3 connection to the proper audio hardware as well as some additional positioning effort for both your chair and your speakers.
Conforming with about everything else technical in F1 2010, control is outstanding using the Dual Shock 3 controller. The physics of the game and a wide variety of performance and handling options offered by Formula One cars require fairly regular adjustment on the part of the gamer, but not for any shortcoming in the control scheme. The title also supports a number of PS3-compatible Logitech racing wheels, though this is hardly a "wheel racer" in which you're shortchanged by opting to stick with your Dual Shock 3.
Racing online via PSN contributes toward your online rank, using an online XP scheme similar to those found in many contemporary multiplayer titles. There's a lot available in online play, too, from Pole Position mode to entire custom Grand Prix events. However, unless you're a constant player and allow your other games to gather dust while you practice, you may be frustrated by the online competition's often exceptional F1 2010 skills. Fortunately, if you have a couple of spare TVs, a home network and a small group of gaming friends with a more casual attitude toward the game, F1 supports LAN multiplayer competitions. Your LAN games won't contribute to your online rank, but they're less likely to encourage controller-tossing for distance.
For an overall robust, well-designed and well-implemented title with good presentation, F1 2010 has one big caveat: It's got to hook you, set that hook deep, and it must do so in the first few hours of gameplay. If it doesn't, you're likely to put it on the shelf and forget about it. It's not quite a love/hate proposition, but it's pretty close considering the whole project is of such high quality. F1 2010 isn't for everyone, but if you like it, you'll like it a lot for quite a while.
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