I’m told this year’s F1 season has been a classic so far, great for fans of the sport, maybe not so great for the expectations bestowed on Codemaster’s latest simulated adaptation as a result. But in all fairness, since they took over the F1 reigns, they’ve done a more than adequate job, with each year’s release improving on the last, offering fans of the sport, and indeed the genre itself, some of the finest simulated racing you can experience on home consoles. The 2012 edition is no exception, taking the successful achievements of last years release, adding a few new tweaks, and crafting an altogether much more refined and complete package that proves quite possibly the finest Formula 1 game yet seen.
As soon as the F1 licence fell into the hands of Codemasters, their hard work in bringing a little prestige and credibility back to the name has been evident each year. It’s been hard to judge just where they might spend their time improving for the next yearly release, but improve they have, and whilst many annual sporting titles are criticized for offering only minor differences from the last, Codemasters have clearly pulled out the stops each time for their F1 releases. Although saying that, there is only so much you can tweak a title without changing it completely, so don’t expect anything radically different from the established game you’ve seen already.
The actual handling of the vehicles is essential to this games core, and the key to its entire success. Thankfully, this is something Codemasters has always placed great emphasis on, and has been a staple of the series ever since they took over its rights. Fans of the franchise know exactly what to expect when it comes to manoeuvring their cars round tight corners, requiring as many smart decisions and careful planning as it does selected bursts of speed and precise timing. An arcade style racer this certainly is not. Where this might present a problem for any new fans of the series, it delights those who have been following it for a while. Ideally, this is the trait that separates the men from the boys, and while the learning curve is indeed a steep one, its proven incredibly rewarding for any seasoned driver who dare master it.
For those who are new to the game and wish to get to grips with how it handles, you are presented with an elongated tutorial in the form of the Young Drivers Test. Set in Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Stadium, you’ll be shown everything you need to know from how to correctly handle your vehicle, acceleration and breaking, as well as advanced elements and techniques, all in the form of hands on play runs, and informative instructional videos. The fact that this introductory tutorial can take anything up an entire hour to get to grips with is sheer testament to the game’s detailed precision, something few developers daren’t even come close to for fear of scaring gamers away. By and large, the game plays pretty similar to the previous year, but the new additions make it a little friendlier for newcomers, albeit slightly more brutal to master.
As always, the games career mode is as accessible as you might wish for, with as long or as brief race day options available for anyone with either limited time, or time to burn. With a much improved interface to allowing easy navigation and access to any such option in mind, the game is altogether more inviting and well presented for any potential Fernando Alonso out there.
As seems standard now, the main game revolves around Career mode, which can be as long (full 20 race championships at 5 seasons each, with full Formula 1 style practice sessions and qualifying races) or a slightly less demanding Season Challenge, (a shorter 10 race season where you climb the ranks in order to earn your spot the hard way). In addition to these two modes, Proving Grounds is intended to challenge as well as improve your skills on track, Time Trial puts you into practice mode as you race alongside ghost cars of friends or top ranked players, and Time Attack mode gives you a certain scenario before you hit the track to compete directly with ghost cars again. In addition to all these, a new mode called “Champions Mode” lets you square off directly with the sports biggest names, as you race directly alongside the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Jeson Button, Sebastian Vettal and Michael Schumacher. You must best each champion in turn before finally facing them all in a stern final challenge that will test even the best drivers out there.
While it’s missing the Grand Prix mode from last year, the new modes collectively make for a concise and detailed racing game, which was already an accurate and challenging interpretation of the popular sport, a series that has earned the loyalty its fans now award it. In addition, there’s also the ability to race online against friends and seasoned drivers too, with up to 16 racers in multiplayer against an improved lobby system. Split-screen racing is on hand as well as a co-op championship mode that sees you and a friend gunning for a title together. New copies of the game allow players to access these online features for free, otherwise a pass will need to be acquired first, as is expected nowadays.
Visually, it’s becoming increasingly harder to find fault with F1’s graphics. It looks amazing and seriously, as times it’s a challenge to distinguish it from the real thing. The cars, tracks, locations and fine details have all been recreated right down to the most minute detail, all in all building up to what looks like the best, most impressive looking Formula 1 game to date. The sound is equally impressive too, as authentic and realistic as you could ask for, and how they might top themselves here in terms of next years release is anyone’s guess.
Bottom line, Formula 1 2012 is a solid racing game, that manages to improve on last years edition and still deliver what F1 fans ask for, namely a challenging, accurate and detailed simulation of the sport they know and love. Fans new to the series will also find a lot to appreciate, and if they manage to deal with the steep learning curve, Formula 1 2012 is a very rewarding racing experience indeed.
8/10 – Review by Andy Buckdawg