F1 2010 has done very well for itself! Ahead of its release the game received very favourable reviews and it debuted at number one in the UK sales charts despite sharing its release week with Civ V. Codies must have been popping champagne to the tune of Les Toreadors until player feedback started coming in.
Unfortunately it's become apparent that F1 2010 wasn't quite done yet. Here's a quick rundown of just some of problems the game shipped with:
Pitting at the same time as AI cars can result in getting stuck in the pit lane for long enough to ruin your race.
AI cars sometimes don't pit at all, although the player is obliged to.
Time penalties and disqualifications are given out too readily; often penalising the player when it is the AI that crashed into them.
AI drivers aren't slowed down by fuel load to the same extent that players are.
A disappearing driving line indicator.
Teams setting the player wildly varied, often unrealistic objectives for the player in career mode.
Many players have experienced save data corruption, destroying hours and days of progress.
It's really frustrating stuff for the paying customers, especially when a couple of those bugs could accurately be described as game breakers, but we haven't even got onto the most contentious issue yet.
A lot of players were left feeling that things just weren't quite right about F1 2010, even when disregarding the long list of bugs. Some suggested that the AI opponents weren't operating on the same rule set as the player; that they were cheating, or worse. They pointed out inexplicable discrepancies between lap times, such as five second differences being recorded in qualifying despite driving right on the opponent's gearbox for the entire lap. It was even suggested that crashes and spins in races were scripted and that the drivers were tantamount to ghost cars or mobile physics objects with pre-determined lap times.
Confirmation of some of these accusations came candidly from the Chief Game Designer on Twitter who admitted that they couldn't get the AI to be competitive enough in qualifying and that the lap times the AI cars recorded had no relation with the time it actually took the car to get around the track. Codemasters dismissed claims that similar trickery was in effect during races but large, vocal sections of the playing community still feel cheated. Justifiably so if you ask me.
I'm not the world's biggest motorsport nut but from my casual interest I know how integral time is to the sport. Have you ever watched a race on telly and taken note of how many times the commentators talk about tenths and hundredths of seconds? When AI times are fabricated and unaffected by track conditions while the player has to contend with traffic, debris, and the drying and dampening of the racing line you're not competing against FIA Formula One World Champions as the game's official site claims - you're competing against botched game design.
All of this is sorely disappointing because the driving is actually a lot of fun and I really want to enjoy this game. F1 2010 is extremely accessible to the casual driving game player, like me, and a range of assists can be toggled on or off to your taste. With everything on you can pretty much put a brick on the accelerator and let the assists handle the rest, but as you take those aids off the game will gradually give you more to think about and scale you up to a more realistic experience. With all of the assists off it felt sufficiently real and remarkably dangerous to me but I've read that some hardcore players feel that the game has catered to us noobs at the expense of giving them a true simulation. I'm not qualified to speak on that but the impression I get is that if you're the sort of person who owns and frequently uses a racing wheel controller, this isn't the 100% accurate experience you're after.
One of the game's much touted additions to the typical F1 game formula is the "live the life" aspect of its career mode. When you boot up the game for the first time the very first thing it'll do, before you see any menus, is ask for your name and nationality. They really want to shepherd you into playing as a persistent character, even if you only ever intend to play one-off races or compete online. The menus themselves are navigated from a first person perspective and items hover around their related people and objects in the paddock. You'll come back here between races and qualifying sessions to check the standings or consult your agent about contract offers.
Sometimes you'll be stopped by members of the press for comment or called into a conference during a race weekend but the pool of possible questions seems very small and it feels more like a proof of concept and declaration of intent for F1 2011 than a genuine attempt at a fleshed out experience for F1 2010. A seven year career of working your way up from a team at the back of the grid to a team of championship challengers is exactly the kind of thing I need to keep me interested in playing a driving game for more than just one race around each track so I applaud the concept but I hope they can make it a bit more expansive next year.
Visually the game is pretty sharp and ran well on my machine, though I've heard some complaints of frame rate issues. All I can find fault in with the look of the game is the presentation of character models and the way the world can look quite dark, even on reportedly sunny days. The sound is worth mentioning as it's one of the few games that allows me to feel smug for selling my favourite aunt to get a pair of 7.1 surround sound headphones. I've never had the pleasure of sitting in an F1 car but I feel like my ears have come close.
At the moment I'm reluctant to put a lot of time into the game because of how often I've heard of people having their saves corrupted but I do think I'll come back to F1 2010 once Codemasters have put out their patch. As annoyed as I am about the state the game shipped in and the way they papered over the cracks of AI design and programming, the fact I'm willing to give it another go after the patch tells me that this isn't a bad game. If you haven't yet picked up F1 2010 then I'd strongly discourage you from doing so until the patch is out and confirmed to have fixed the most serious bugs. It's definitely worth keeping an eye on though because it ought to be worth a go from then on.