Codemasters’ Formula 1 efforts have always excelled at making players feel like legends. Races stretch out into lap after agonising lap, racing lines become second nature, incidents and mistakes cost valuable seconds – for the willing masochist, each race can become as challenging as a Dark Souls boss, where finishing even in the top 10 feels like a victory in its own right. Since 2010 the publisher’s Birmingham studio has nailed what it means to be a driver of any calibre in the world’s most popular motorsport. They are unshakeable champions of repeating the same feat year after year.
As the years pile up, each new title demands closer scrutiny. Much like FIFA, Tiger Woods or any other sports franchise worth its salt, the F1 series must balance annual iterations with innovation to avoid looking like a cop-out or a money-spinner.
• Developer: Codemasters Birmingham
• Publisher: Codemasters/Namco Bandai
• Reviewed on: PS3
• Also Available On: PC, Xbox 360
• Release Date: Available Now (Europe, US digital), November 30th (US retail)
With respect to this, F1 2013 is the definitive title of Codemasters’ tenure with the license. It’s also one of the most comprehensive entries in the F1 gaming timeline. However, it’s a sequel of refinements rather than revolution. Up-to-date driver rosters, rulesets and track layouts are present and correct. The in-house EGO engine, now in its third official iteration, delivers pristine visuals, licked with a little motion blur at a smoother frame rate. Everything is presented in slick, glossy menus, scored with suitably dramatic music and packed with incredible detail.
The same sense of exhilaration the F1 games are renowned for remains behind the wheel. For the hardcore, that thrill might stem from consistent performance across full race weekends and a finish in a points-earning position. You’ll balance fuel and performance, planning around the elements and unexpected developments during the race. For the less initiated, it might come from fighting a close-knit pack as you learn the racing line. Thorough driving aid configurations can turn each race from a full-on simulation into something more instantly gratifying.
It’s these latter, easier-going players that Codemasters is seeking to grab more of than ever through quicker race modes and more accessible features, building on foundations laid in F1 2012. The Young Driver Test tutorial returns to ease new players into some of the most gruelling cars on the planet. Races can now be saved mid-session, meaning that living the authentic F1 experience needn’t mean taking a full day off work. Flashbacks, used to jump back a few seconds in time to fix mistakes, can be re-earned with good driving. And that’s just for starters.
Season Challenge sets out a championship of ten 20 minute races in which a driver can advance from team to team to gain a performance edge. This compliments Scenario Mode, which commences races from a strategic moment such pitting to repair damage near the end of the race, or sitting two places below a championship-winning position. These take 20 minutes or so to complete, giving you the ability to play satisfyingly in a short space of time.
Scenario Mode is the only saving grace of the new F1 Classics content, an effort to mark F1 2013 as the defining title of the series. Available in a limited capacity in the standard edition of the game and fully featured in the Classic Edition, the Ferraris, Lotuses and Williams of the Eighties and Nineties are rampant fun to drive and they have been given an astonishing amount of attention with regards to how they look, sound and feel. Brands Hatch, Jerez, Estoril and Imola make up the track roster, but the newer tracks can be raced on with the old cars as well. It’s exhaustive in the selection of content it includes, but not too packed as to put the main game in its shadow.
The issue with the Classics content is that the collection of cars and tracks simply isn’t supported well enough. No amount of spitting flames, sepia filters or turbocharger kicks – borrowed from the DIRT 3 engine for spot-on authenticity – can blot out the simple fact that a handful of 20-minute quick fixes and a quick race mode aren’t quite what you’d call a comprehensive toybox of features. As beautiful a little extra as they might be, they fail to amount to little more than that.
These points are clutching at straws. It’s the blessing and the curse of annual sports franchises: reaching a plateau of quality means that differences become few and far between and there’s usually very little to fault once a developer has nailed the basics.
F1 2013‘s improvements are largely under the hood. The handling is twitchier and more responsive, meaning it’s easier to correct mistakes. The AI drivers are more aggressive and competitive, occasionally making mistakes of their own or taking one-another out. The whole experience is as complete as it can be compared to Codemasters’ other F1 efforts, so the uninitiated could do much worse than buy this over the others glistening at them from the pre-owned shelf.
For the already-familiar, F1 2013 has plenty to offer. The Classic content should have been better utilised, but the pull of older cars, legendary drivers and additional circuits does come with its own sparkling golden allure. The simulation is, as before, as hard or as easy-going as you like. That there’s now more ways to play than ever is only to be applauded. This is, as F1 games go, the absolute definitive article, a super-refined race machine of past and present. Whether or not it’s quite enough to justify a purchase will boil down to your own personal need for speed.