Heard the one about the Spaniard, the German, the Australian and the two Brits? If you follow motorsports, it's unlikely you haven't, because it's difficult to remember a Formula One season as competitive and as exciting as this year's. The performance gaps are tiny, the talent on-track enormous. Even legendary, when you consider the presence of Herr Schumacher – the man may have underperformed dismally to date, but his past achievements in the sport stand (and his consistently inventive efforts to try and barge former team-mates off the track are at least entertaining).
As the season heads away from the European circuits, with less than a race win separating the five leading drivers and an identical number of events left on the calendar, F1 2010's arrival is as exquisitely timed as a McLaren pit stop.
Hot on the exhaust of last year's fun-filled Wii release, the 360, PC and PS3 version is Scalextric to its predecessor's Fisher-Price. But that's like putting a Ferrari F1 against a souped-up Fiat – a direct comparison is unfair, not least because the two are aiming at very different markets. Here, there's no room for arcade arrive-and-drive immediacy. F1 2010 aims to be as serious as the sport it depicts.
It also sets off with the intention of being the most comprehensive depiction of F1 in videogame form. So you get the usual suspects: all of 2010's 19 circuits, 12 teams and 24 drivers, every session of a race weekend, along with all of the major rules and regulations, a three-, five- or seven-season Career mode, Time Trials and single (or multiple – you select the roster) Grand Prix. But F1 2010 attempts to power ahead of past efforts by including some off-track elements such as impromptu press interviews or post-podium media sessions.
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You experience these in Career mode, the powertrain at the heart of F1 2010. Disappointingly, they are the game's weakest component. Spoilt as we are by the character animation of Heavy Rain and the voice acting of Uncharted, F1 2010's 'human element' appears stilted, the press interview sections not helped by uninspired, limited questions and generic response choices. In addition, you get a sense that your choices don't have a significant effect on proceedings.
Part of the issue, particularly for UK players, will be the inevitable if partial expectation that you're entering an environment in the style of the BBC's F1 coverage – certainly, the excellent presentation suggests as much – while what you're actually getting would be more at home on Channel 5. Granted, team manager interviews, the views of your competitors, stewards' hearings and even "Fernando is faster than you" moments are all too far down the track given the development team's production schedule, budget and the likely licensing restrictions imposed by the FIA.
Still, Codemasters deserves credit for trying to bring a new element to F1 gaming and, if the result is disappointing, it's primarily because the contrast is so sharp with the rest of F1 2010 - which is so brilliantly accomplished.