Another year sees Codemasters making good use of its recently renewed Formula One license. The jet-setting racing sport is certainly growing in popularity while the gaming franchise continues to grow in quality. Like a new year’s model entering the showroom floor, Codemasters Birmingham is keen to show off the improvements it has made over last year’s outing with F1 2012.
This time out we see a number of improvements across the board from previous titles, but more than anything else there seems to be a concentrated effort to make F1 2012 a much more approachable game to newcomers while still keeping the vets satiated. It never reaches the level of accessibility that other genre stalwarts like Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo do, but Codemasters does enough to make F1 2012 a game all racing fans can strap into and enjoy.
The Graphics Can Take a Victory Lap
The first thing you’ll notice about F1 2012 are the impressive graphics afforded to the cars themselves. Codemasters Birmingham has implemented a painstaking level of detail for each car model, and there are times during each race where the line between reality and virtual reality can prove too difficult to distinguish. It’s not just the cars though: F1 2012 features dynamic weather rendering with both light and shadow including their relationship to the varying weather changes, as well as the accurate reflections off surfaces. And for F1 fans and graphics whores, little added detail like being able to spot the different tire types (slick tires, intermediates, full-wets, etc) and things like accumulated gravel, dirt, and mud all add to the visual vibrancy.
During races, you can choose between five different camera modes, with racing mainstays like cockpit and chase views all available. Naturally, the greatest level of detail is afforded to you during the cockpit mode, where everything from the driver’s hand movement to an endless array of controls saturating the steering wheel demand your attention and respect.
While the majority of car and in-car visuals are stellar, where F1 2012 tends to veer off the graphical road is with its surrounding visuals. Before each race you are treated to a brief flyover of each track. These short cinematics are generally great to look at, but belie the visual detail actually encountered during races. There is also a tendency for the pit crews to look a little too stiff and wooden, and for the environments to seem a little off. Fortunately, these elements never detract from the actual gameplay, but they do break up an otherwise vivid and rich F1 experience.
Welcome to the race
Whereas former F1 games have seriously struggled to accommodate newcomers to the fray, F1 2012 does an excellent job of removing that intimidating “super-sim” barrier the series is known for. Right off the bat — and before you can begin your long (and hopefully illustrious) F1 career — you’re tasked with completing a rookie driver’s test in Abu Dhabi. More than anything else, this mode serves as a crash course — not just to the intricate dynamics of an F1 car — but to the overall complexities of the sport. So, say you stare blankly at the mention of KERS or DRS, you’re treated to some easy to digest and helpful videos explaining these two very crucial systems. There are also a number of challenges that need completing as well, which range from simply breaking and bringing your car to a complete stop in a designated area, to maneuvering a rather pesky switchback without veering off the track. It might spark the ire of series vets a bit, but the importance of the tutorial cannot be overstated, and must be completed before playing Career mode.
Once that’s out of the way though, you get to enjoy the bulk of what F1 2012 has to offer. In keeping with the more accessible theme, F1 2012 features Season Challenge, which provides the excitement of a regular F1 season in an abbreviated form. Here you compete in short, five-lap best of three races over 10 Grand Prix weekends. Beat your rival and you get offered a contract to race for that team.
Another new addition this year is “Champions mode.” Here you take on six F1 World Champions: Kimi Räikkönen, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, and Michael Schumacher. Champions mode seeks to add some scripted drama to the game, requiring you to tackle different race scenarios. For example: one scenario has you trying to catch up to and overtake Räikkönen, while another sees you defending your lead from a pesky Hamilton on a rain-soaked track.
While the new modes are a great addition, fans will be disappointed to learn that they come at a price. For 2012, Codemasters Birmingham has removed Grand Prix mode from the equation. That means those not satisfied with guiding their created character through Season mode will have no other recourse than to look to Quick Race in order to play as their favorite F1 star.
Custom character aside, the real meat and potatoes of F1 2012 is the exceptionally fun, and deep, career mode. As mentioned, here you’re charged with guiding your character up the F1 ranks. All in all it’s all fairly straightforward. The more you race and successfully complete your objectives the more recognition you get. The more recognition you get the more top racing teams will pay attention to you – culminating in contract offers and better cars.
Where tactics and track meet
Of course all the pretty graphics, official licenses, and cool new modes in the world won’t make a difference if the driving dynamics and gameplay sucks. Thankfully, that’s simply not the case here. . While many of the cars on the track may look similar to the naked eye, each handles differently, with a personality as varied as the drivers inside them. Simply put, F1 2012 delivers on the track. Each car soaks up the various surfaces in a convincing manner, so whether you’re dealing with a gravel, grass, or newly slick surface, the results are remarkably noticeable.
As for being on the track and in the thick of things, F1 is fun, but it’s also very tactical; it demands a greater deal of strategy than most of the other racers out there. Naturally, this might turn off newcomers that would rather turn their brains off and their engines on, but sticking with it, managing your fuel, deciding when to pursue and overtake that driver in front of you, or when to make that crucial pit stop becomes just as rewarding as blazing down a country road in a Ferrari 458 Italia.
For novices and gamers just now getting into the F1 franchise, Codemasters Birmingham have also added some driving aids in the form of a guided racing line (think Forza’s guided visual line and you’re on the right track), brake assist, and an incredibly helpful — if not a little shame-inducing — rewind feature that lets you re-do an embarrassing crash or miscalculated corner – just like in real life!
Of course purists will scoff, but these new and friendlier tweaks help open up F1 to an audience that might otherwise stay away from its sim-racer’s roots. And truthfully that’s good for everyone involved. Plus, as your skill level increases you can always adjust the type or amount of driving assists you want active at any given time. The replay system is a great addition, and one that I may or may not have abused during my time on the circuit…
We touched on this a little bit earlier, but one of the most eagerly anticipated tweaks for F1 2012 is its improved, active and dynamic weather system. As any F1 fan can tell you, weather changes can have a major impact on the racetrack, and F1 2012 manages to mostly simulate this natural phenomena. We say mostly because although Codemasters has done a beautiful and convincing job mimicking nature’s transitory ways, it never truly affects proceedings on the track; coming as more of a shallow visual gimmick than a true game-changer. For instance, many times the rain will set in long before your pit crew even alerts you to the issue. And even then, there is no real noticeable difference between a rain-soaked track and a dry one on your tires. Given that F1 racing requires just as much planning, strategy, and on-the-fly decision making as it does sharp reflexes and a fast car, it feels like Codemasters has missed a huge tactical opportunity here.
Unfortunately, other inconsistencies emerge on the track as well. F1 might not encourage jostling, bumping, and otherwise unsafe behavior, but that doesn’t mean it never happens. In fact, bump into a car too much or too often and you’re supposed to be given a 10-second time deduction. Where the discrepancy exists, however, is the fact that this isn’t always the case, and the times it did go unpunished were far too frequent for a game that prides itself on delivering the accuracy and realism of the F1 experience.
Despite some of its problems, overall, F1 2012 is a fun game — and really that’s what matters. There is enough substance in the Career mode to keep F1 fans busy for months on end, while the excellent tutorial and broad range of driving assists give newcomers to the franchise a much more forgiving (read: helpful) jumping off point. Of course, if that doesn’t keep you busy, and you desire a challenge of the living, breathing variety, there is always split-screen and online modes to partake in. You and a friend (or enemy?) can tackle Championship mode together either online or split screen.
It might veer off the track occasionally, but F1 2012 does a great job recreating the dramatic and tactical F1 experience, while at the same time supplementing the skill and offsetting the time required to truly get into the game. For fans of F1 this is a no-brainer, while racing fans full on Forza, Gran Turismo, and other more mainstream genre leaders would do well to check out this thinkin’ man’s racer.
(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by Codemasters)