Formula 1 is a sport known for jetsetting around the world in a haze of glitz and glamour. An experience, I’m sure you’ll agree, that is difficult to recreate if you’re sat on a couch in a 2-bed flat. So does F1 2012 manage to recreate the exciting highs and lows of the sport, or does it end up careering into the wall of chumpions?
• Developer: Codemasters Birmingham
• Publisher: Codemasters
• Reviewed on: Xbox 360
• Also Available On: PS3, PC
• Release Date: Available Now
Codemasters has increasingly become known for its range of excellent driving games that seamlessly blend elements of both arcade and technical, simulation-heavy racers. It’s no secret that Formula 1 is one of the most complicated sports on the planet – with a rulebook stuffed full of tyre regulations, how drag reduction systems (DRS), kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS) and other highly complicated systems with impenetrable acronyms can be used in a race. That being said, Codemasters’ previous F1 games (unsurprisingly titled F1 2009, F1 2010 and F1 2011) managed to handle these potential snags with aplomb – creating BAFTA Award winning games that were only as complicated as you wanted them to be.
So how does F1 2012 fare – and has it done enough to differentiate itself from its predecessors in the series, especially considering that the 2012 season of F1 is practically unchanged from 2011? At first glance, you may not think so – but if you scratch the surface of the game by the slightest of amounts, you’ll see that a great deal has indeed changed since F1 2011.
The most obvious difference that will strike you is that Codemasters have done away with all that ‘living the life’ malarkey. In previous iterations of the game, you spent an inordinate amount of time in a Portakabin with your assistant, occasionally interspersing that particular slice of tedium by heading off to various interviews with the press; this sounds all well and good, but the vast majority of characters you conversed with looked like particularly constipated residents of the uncanny valley. I cannot express how happy I am that this aspect of the game (which always felt a little janky) has been cast aside and replaced with a nice, simple and well laid-out menu system.
The game itself, much like earlier titles in the series, plays excellently and just about every aspect of it can be configured to your tastes. If you feel like it, you can set everything to make the whole experience feel like an arcade racer – but, believe me, the game is taken to a whole other level if you turn driver assists off, the full set of rules on and tyre degradation and fuel simulation on. Whilst the notion of worrying about your tyres and the amount of fuel you have left sounds potentially tedious, it adds a real – and completely compelling – level of strategy to each race, meaning that you not only have to out-race your opponents, but try and outwit them as well.
Whilst on-track, you’ve got an additional couple of tricks up your sleeve to spice things up as well. As I alluded to earlier, KERS and DRS (which are essentially ‘go-faster buttons’ for the uninitiated) are present and correct in the game – although both have stipulations in how they can be used – both of which allow you to squeeze a little bit extra from your car. But, much like the real sport, both DRS and KERS have their risks as well – overzealous use of either can quickly lead to a rather unfortunate car-wall situation. You can also alter your fuel ‘mix’ during a race as well, meaning that you can choose to have increased horsepower at the expense of fuel efficiency; this can be a real boon if you’re chasing an opponent down, but can result in your car running out of fuel before the end of the race. It’s this kind of balancing of risk and reward that very much defines the sport – F1 2012 recreates this superbly and manages to do so in a manner that greatly enhances the game.
F1 2012, thanks to being an officially licensed Formula 1 product, also has faithful recreations of every track, driver, car and team – which, as I’m sure any fan of any sports game will tell you, really enhances the atmosphere in the game. In fact, to see how good the virtual versions of the tracks were, I raced round Suzuka before last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix – and I was blown away. Every turn, camber and elevation change was absolutely spot-on and, thanks to the fantastic game engine, looked spectacular to boot. As a result of this mind-boggling attention to detail, I spent the rest of that particular afternoon nerding out. Rather a lot.
One of the other differences that I noted was that the relative performance of the various teams seems to be a little more marked in F1 2012. In F1 2011, I can remember winning a season in an HRT (as in the racing team, not the medicinal product to help middle-aged women go through ‘the change’) – something that just wouldn’t happen in real life. However, in F1 2012, each team’s cars behave very differently and have their own strengths and weaknesses insofar as top speed and cornering ability are concerned. One thing I did note, however, is that the AI doesn’t really seem to simulate the racing styles of the various drivers – this is undoubtedly a very minor niggle and, as a result, you thankfully don’t run the risk of being obliterated if you’re anywhere near Pastor Maldonado or Romain Grosjean.
Car handling also seems to have been refined since F1 2011, with the cars feeling a little weightier, more precise and a bit more forgiving. That being said, you still need to drive with a great deal of care as, much like their real-life equivalents, the cars in F1 2012 are on a knife-edge of performance – for example, slamming the accelerator to the floor as you come out of a corner will invariably lead to you spinning off the track.
Another fantastic addition to the gameplay of F1 2012 is the all-new weather system. Whilst earlier F1 games simulated the weather, the conditions were the same throughout the whole circuit – so if it was raining, it rained everywhere on the track. However, Codemasters have really outdone themselves with the weather system in F1 2012 – as the weather can differ across separate parts of a circuit. For example, it can be bone dry on one half of the track but chucking it down with rain on the other – a situation that makes tyre selection entertainingly difficult. You could play it safe and use a set of full wets, or chance it with a set of intermediate or dry tyres so as to maximise your performance on the bits of the track that don’t resemble a lake. The weather system is also dynamic, meaning that track conditions can change during a race – so it could start off in pouring rain, but dry out by the time you cross the finish line.
F1 2012 also does a much better job with easing you in to the somewhat complicated world of Formula 1 thanks to the ‘Young Driver Test’ mode. This mode is essentially a series of tutorials that run you through the basics of racecraft, teaching you tricks such as the best way to take corners and how to use your KERS and DERS effectively. While some players may not find this a necessity, those new to the F1 series of games will undoubtedly find it more useful than the advice to ‘get in that car and be awesome’ that was prevalent in previous games.
There’s also a couple of new game modes on offer in F1 2012 to spice things up a little. The ‘Season Challenge’ mode comprises of a series of five-lap races across 10 randomly selected tracks, each with a one-shot qualifying lap – you start off in a team at the very bottom of the pecking order and move your way up the food chain by displacing your selected rivals from their cars. This mode is a whole lot of fun – especially since your performance gets converted into a score that gets posted on a leaderboard – and is a great way to have a quick race if you’ve only got 15 minutes to spare. There’s also a new ‘Champions Mode’ that pits you against previous F1 World Champions such as Kimi Räikkönen, Lewis Hamilton, Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button – but these challenges are not for the faint-hearted and can be brutally (but not unfairly) difficult.
All in all, F1 2012 is an excellent game – but it wouldn’t be unfair to label it as an iteration on previous titles in the series. Once again, Codemasters have managed to create an F1 game that is not only faithful to the sport but also manages to be highly accessible to anyone who fancies taking a Formula 1 car for a spin. If you’re in any way interested in Formula 1, you’ll have a blast with this game – but if F1 isn’t really your thing, the various rules, regulations and nuances of the sport that feature in F1 2012 might not be for you.