Believe it or not, Formula 1 games used to
be a big deal. Back when PlayStation was on top of the pile, the F1 series sold shedloads of copies and racing game fans, rather than just fans of the sport, looked forward to each new release.
Over the years, though, the license languished under the Sony exclusivity deal and the games fell into a seasonal update rut. After 2006, the license was quietly dropped, just in time for the arrival of wunderkind Lewis Hamilton and an injection of fresh interest in the sport.
With Codemasters in the cockpit, the plan is to make F1 games that all racing fans will adore. With one of the most exciting seasons in history about to kick off and Codies' racing game stock riding high after DiRT 2, the stage is set for something very special indeed. Because the game is based on this year's championship, up until now all we've seen is concept art. Even these screenshots only show placeholder cars from 2009, because the 2010 ones that will actually be in the game have only just been unveiled. We've been bothering the team to show us the real thing for ages, so now that we've finally seen it, we're more excited than Murray Walker on his fifth Red Bull.
For a start, the game is stunningly beautiful, and not just by racing game standards. The traditional test of any F1 game's visuals is to fire up the Monaco circuit, which winds its way through the narrow streets of the tiny principality - it's easy enough to make a circuit in an empty field, but rendering 26 cars whipping between tightly packed buildings is a real technical challenge. Fortunately, even at a relatively early stage, the EGO engine smashes it out of the park. The harbourside circuit is densely detailed to a distracting degree - we reckon there'll be a few mangled front wings from people cooing at the scenery at 180mph. Even the more traditional circuits feel rich and atmospheric - whether you're blasting through the forest at Monza in Italy or the smog in the heart of Brazil's Sao Paolo, it's a feast for the eyeballs. Codemasters isn't yet ready to show off the night and twilight races, but based on how jaw-
dropping the evening tracks in DiRT 2 looked, we reckon the floodlit venues will be equally gorgeous, if not more so.
Come rain or shine
Tied into the visuals is an element that the team at Codemasters Birmingham is particularly proud of; the dynamic weather. Rather than simply picking a dry or a wet event, the weather changes in real-time during the course of a race. You might start in baking sun, but as the clouds roll in and spots of rain appear on the camera, you'll have to decide whether it's worth ducking into the pits for a set of wet weather tyres. Helping you make that decision will be the ever-changing track - the wet weather effects are incredible, with puddles and rivers appearing on the circuit as it gets more and more saturated.
Equally, once it stops raining, and as the tyres clear water from the circuit, drying lines will visibly appear and you'll need to stick to them for the fastest times. With some clever tech called Active Track the game knows, based on the conditions, contours of the circuit and paths of the cars, exactly how wet it should be on every 30cm2 section of asphalt. Somewhere, we can guarantee a motorsport nerd just exploded with joy.
Recognising that it'd be a waste of a brilliant racing game if only F1 fans played it, Codies has resolved to make the off-track experience much more engaging than previous racing titles. Building on what was achieved in DiRT 2, rather than just chewing your way through a series of dry sessions, F1 2010 aims to give you a glimpse of the life of a multi-millionaire racing driver. Your base of operations is the paddock, and your time will be split between your motorhome - where you can pore over trophies and your agent sorts through your contracts - and the waiting media scrum, who will have a wealth of questions to ask you after each session.