Will this new F1 game nab pole position or come a cropper at the first corner?
Let's not beat around the bush, F1 2010 is easily the best Formula One game to ever grace a games console. Heck, why stop there - it's also the best attempt at capturing the motorsport in videogame form since the glory days of the Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix series.
As much a serious simulator as it is an arcade racer, F1 2010 shows all of the hallmarks of Codemasters' recent driving games, cherry picking the best aspects and technological innovations from the likes of the DiRT and GRID games and marrying them to a ruthlessly accurate recreation of the pinnacle of motorsport. The most obvious thing the game has inherited from its automotive predecessors is Codemasters' sensational EGO engine, which is used here to deliver the most starling visuals imaginable - both the twelve car models and the 19 official tracks are exceptionally rendered in stunning hi-def (something the actual sport is currently unable to deliver here in the UK). Whether you opt for the external or in-car camera angles, F1 2010 is as much a treat for the eyes (and ears thanks to the roaring engines) as it is for the adrenaline glands.
Wet 'n' wild
As good as the graphics are though, it's the dynamic weather system that really raises the game to unheralded levels of excellence. As you race around the circuit you can spot clouds drifting across the sky, gradually getting darker and threatening rain. Naturally, when the rain does fall, the results are spectacular and, very often, harrowing. But even before this most spectacular weather pattern things are constantly changing, with subtle shifts in ambient temperatures affecting handling and causing you to rethink the setup of your car and plan ahead with extreme care for races.
Bringing all of this together is an enjoyable career mode that has you start as a new driver in one of the lower teams and then try to rise through the ranks to the better teams through success on the track. Mixed in with this are some entertaining distractions such as rivalries with other drivers and post-race interviews that affect your standing in the team (although the team's feedback doesn't always seem correlate 100 per cent with the answers you give).
As good as F1 2010 is though, there's still some room for improvement. The most obvious thing is the controls, which seem far too twitchy and sensitive if you're using a control pad. The only solution really is to turn down the difficulty and turn on some of the driving aids, but this results in making the game too easy, with your Force India car suddenly zooming past the Ferraris, Red Bulls and McLarens. The solution is, of course, to go for a steering wheel controller. Do this, and suddenly the controls feel much more accurate and responsive - but it's a big cost that some gamers may not be willing to incur.
On top of that there are some other niggles that let things down a bit. These run from a disappointingly limited damage model (where even the biggest crashes only result in the loss of a wheel or a banged-up front wing) to ghostly cars that merge into one another during pit stops and an infuriating decision to erase lap times during Qualifying and Practice sessions if you accidentally jump a corner (no matter how slight the infraction). More troubling still are the reports of corrupt save game bugs that have started turning up on the internet, but after a couple of weeks living with the game now, I can at least report that I've yet to experience this particular problem first hand, and so can't really comment on it.
Taken as a whole then F1 2010 is a genuine triumph, a must-have for fans of the sport who want to recreate the off- and on-track excitement of Formula One racing in the comfort of their own homes. And while there are a handful of minor issues that stop it from quite achieving top marks, it leaves me in no doubt at all that Codemasters knows exactly what it's doing with this franchise and I can't way to see how they top it with next year's inevitable F1 2011.
Xbox 360 (version tested)/PS3/PC, Codemasters, £50 approx, On sale now
HCC VERDICT: 4/5
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