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F1 2010

Push the Button.

It probably sounds scarcely credible now, but there was a time when Formula One titles were gaming's hottest ticket.

Back in the halcyon days of the mid nineties when Damon Hill was being roughed up by a petulant young Michael Schumacher on a weekly basis, it was a thrilling spectacle, and the huge sales of games like Psygnosis' Formula 1 and Geoff Crammond's awesome Grand Prix 2 reflected that.

Yet despite the huge advancements in technology that followed, gamers' disinterest in the games mirrored the depressing decline in the sport. By the time of Sony's F1 swansong in 2007 most of us had had our fill.

But being put out to pasture could well have been the best thing to happen. With the various rule changes and the emergence of exciting contenders like Lewis Hamilton in recent years, there's a genuine buzz around the sport again - something of which Codemasters is perfectly placed to take advantage.

With its superb recent track record in racing games, and its ever-improving EGO engine providing an excellent foundation, there's growing optimism that it can put Formula 1 games back at gaming's top table.

Playing a near-finished build of F1 2010 this week, first impressions go some way to justifying the hype, with a visual representation of the sport that's head and shoulders above anything we've seen.

Shower power.

By far the most impressive aspect of the demonstration is the astonishingly realistic dynamic weather effects - an area that, up to now, developers have struggled badly to adequately simulate.

Heading out in murky conditions, we watch the whole scope of the race change as the heavens open. From a few spots on the lens, soon the camera is awash with a dancing procession of water droplets buffeted by the wind, obscuring our vision in an uncannily authentic manner.

Once the storm really starts to lash down, a palpable fear creeps into your driving. Squinting through the mass of mist and spray being kicked up in front of you, an intimate knowledge of the track layout becomes all-important as you slam into a hairpin turn.

Of course, track conditions will have a much more realistic bearing on how you perform, with the degree of grip affected by real-life variables, such as overhanging trees, bridges and wind.

Our good friend Jaunty Angle is back!

Transitioning between wet and dry parts of the track, you'll immediately notice the car handling differently - especially if you're controlling the game with a swish racing wheel.

Joypad paupers needn't feel left out, though, according to Codies' rep Andy Gray: "We've been working on the balancing on the pad for the last six or seven weeks, getting that as tight as we can, so that you do feel little nuances like the feel of understeer and oversteer."

From our brief practice session in Monaco and at Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi, the sense that Codemasters has nailed the overall feel you look for in an F1 game is overwhelmingly apparent.

Despite the presence of 24 cars battling it out on the track at once, the frame-rate will, we're assured, be locked at a super-smooth 30; in fact, even in its unfinished state there's an instant, responsive conviction in both the look and feel.

Whether your careering down the straights in dogged pursuit, or gingerly threading your car through a tight chicane, it marries a twitch-gaming feel with a quite beautifully detailed degree of realism that instantly distances it from the rank and file racing game.