Now on its third outing since Codemasters obtained the Formula One licence, F1 2012 is at once a brilliant and infuriating racing game.
A lot of effort has gone into making F1 more accessible to the average racer, with the introduction of a ‘Young Driver’s Test’ section to learn the ropes, and an abbreviated practice and qualifying element to the game, so you only have to go through a single qualifying lap, but the biggest evolution is the new, ‘Season Challenge’ mode of only 10 races of 5 laps each, where you choose a ‘rival’ driver to focus on trying to beat each time. This allows gamers who aren’t as familiar with the lengthy nature of Formula One racing to get a little more comfortable with the format before they embroil themselves in the full experience.
The game includes all 12 teams and 24 drivers from this year’s F1 season over 20 real-world circuits and, thanks to some nifty licensing negotiations, includes an all new ‘Champions’ mode. This mode pits you against six of the best F1 drivers in the world, all previous world champions and all in this game, comprising Kimi Raikkonen, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, and Michael Schumacher.
Online, you can race with up to 16 players, choosing from brief, quick races or anything up to full, a co-op World Championship mode consisting of 20 races. There’s also local split screen racing – thank you Codemasters, thank you! – and commentary from former F1 driver Anthony Davidson, which is pretty good, even if he does sound a little too much like Simon Cowell at times.
Being Formula One, however, your average gamer is going to get a swift kick in the pants very early on in the game, as the true, unforgiving nature of F1 handling becomes apparent.
The cars are capable of extraordinary acceleration, torque and top speeds, and the developers have faithfully recreated those elements in F1 2012, with the result being that you’re going to have to spend a fair bit of time with the cars before you venture out onto the track, unless you have no problem falling into spins, smashing into other cars or ending up in the tyre wall by the side of the track.
Even if you do put that practice time in, chances are you that won’t escape those spins, as the fidelity to the sport means F1 2012 plays unlike any other racing game you’ll have tried. And it plays rough.
From the get go, players can change the overall game difficulty on the fly, which includes all the ‘driver assists’ such as painting a 3D braking guide onto the track.
If you choose the novice setting, all the assists are turned on, allowing the gamer to navigate the entire circuit holding the accelerator wide open, as the game automatically brakes for them at every corner. But you’ll likely quickly graduate beyond that setting, as it completely removes the inherent challenge of mastering the piloting of such viciously powerful machines, which is surely the whole point of playing an F1 game in the first place.
In any case, hats off again to Codemasters for at least trying to make F1 racing a less onerous prospect for more casual players.
Annoyance, however, is most likely to kick in with the harsh time penalties that you are ‘awarded’ for the slightest deviation from the track. The cars habitually understeer, necessitating a fine touch on the controls and proper straight-line speed, braking and turning in at precisely the right moment on each corner.
Miss by a fraction, and you’ll find your car running on or over the verge, with your tyres picking up dirt, debris, grass cuttings and whatever else, with a corresponding drop-off in speed and/or handling. This is very realistic and most impressive in terms of modelling for a videogame, but also most frustrating and more so if your deviation is deemed as ‘corner cutting’, given that any kind of time penalty effectively ends your race for you, with no chance of making up the ground.
And if you cause a crash – childishly simple to do on the first corner of practically every race – it’s a black-flag disqualification instead, no messing.
The inevitable consequence of attempting to authentically replicate the F1 driving experience is that it limits the commercial potential of F1 2012. Such realism will only ever attract a small, subset of driving game fans but as a world-class driving videogame outfit, Codemasters has done this consciously, of course, and the forthcoming ‘F1 Race Stars’ will go some way to redressing appeal to the larger, more casual audience.
Nonetheless, F1 2012 is a magnificent racing game for hardcore petrol-heads and, provided they can find like-minded colleagues online to play against, will happily entertain them right up until the next iteration of F1 pulls up onto the starting grid.