Platforms: Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC
Reviewed on: PC
Thanks to Codemasters for providing this game for review.
Another year has passed and we’ve had a fantastic Formula 1 season filled with action and some tight racing. And of course that also means it’s time for another one of Codemaster’s F1 games. Since Codemasters took over the F1 license we’ve had two absolutely fantastic titles, both exhibiting the studios almost legendary talent for racing, but with yearly releases comes the ever-present fear that each new game won’t be enough of an improvement over the last one to warrant spending gamers hard-earned cash on at release. So, just three games into their yearly franchise, have Codemaster’s managed to craft another stellar racer? Absolutely! But does that means it’s actually worth your time? That’s a bit trickier to answer…
It all kicks of with the Young Driver’s test, a brand new addition to the series that’s based upon the real event that occurs every year. In the context of F1 2012 it acts as a tutorial of sorts, providing newcomers to the series a chance to learn a little about the sport, such as what the hell KERS and DRS are, and how to handle the cars. It’s a smart move on Codemasters part as their previous two F1 outings have been great for F1 fans such as myself, but to newcomers there was something of a steep learning curve as they attempted to master the vicious power of the cars, learn the language and understand the sport in general. Of course on the other hand it’s hard to imagine anyone without a love of the sport actually picking up a Formula 1 game, but I suppose anything can happen. For veterans of the series the Young Driver test doesn’t offer a whole lot except for a short amount of boredom as the career mode is inaccessible until you’ve completed it, but for newcomers it takes you through simple things like driving in a straight line to learning how KERS and DRS works. The only shame is that Codemasters didn’t use the Young Driver’s test to delve even further into the game’s mechanics, such as teaching the player the basics of setting up the car or how to manage tyres, since this year tyre management is more important than ever for getting good results.
Once you’ve worked your way through all of that it’s on the career mode, the core of which haven’t changed at all: you pick a low-level team and then proceed to race through multiple seasons of F1, with good performances at race weekends potentially earning you a contract offer from a higher team for the next year. The first noticeable differences to the career mode here is that your fancy virtual trailer is gone, replaced by a new menu system, and all the PR mcgubbins has been almost removed entirely – no longer must you pointlessly chat to the press or lament the fact that there’s no option to either punch them in the face or call them some sort of childish name. The only thing that remains is news clippings that are presented to you before and after races. In other words, while Codemasters desire to recreate the life of a real driver was an admirable one, the loss of this side of the game is by no means a blow to the overall quality. And just like the previous two iterations playing through F1 2012’s career mode is quality: there’s a deep sense of satisfaction to meeting your teams goals, competing with your team-mate to take over the number 1 drivers seat, developing the car, earning new contracts and eventually winning the drivers championship. Of course actually taking on the career mode is something of a momentous task. Even if you’ve set it to short weekends, meaning you just do one practice session, a streamlined qualifying and a shortened race, it’ll still take around an hour to an hour and a half to complete each event, and with twenty in a season and you’re looking at something of a long slog. Even as an avid F1 fan I find myself struggling to keep momentum toward the end of the season, for the simple reason that race after race becomes tiring. Still, this is the ultimate Formula 1 experience: just choose to do long race weekends that encompass all the practice sessions, the three qualifying sessions and a two-hour long race to see what I’m talking about it. It might be tiring at times, but it’s worth it.
However, a few changes have been made that are sure to leave fans feeling a little bit perplexed. For a start you’re no longer able to have race distances of less than 25% in career mode, making it even more of a massive undertaking. The second change is that you can no longer have three practice sessions like the real sport does, instead you have to make do with just one. While this isn’t a major loss, it’s one that purists will likely be unhappy about, and really, who can blame them?. And finally there’s no longer the option to have a single, twenty-minute long qualifying session, instead you can either do just one qualifying lap or do the full three-session knockout system. While having a one-shot lap qualifying system is a welcome addition to the series, the removal of the twenty-minute session is not. Why take away options from the player?
But now there’s an alternative to playing through the rather time-consuming career, a mode designed for those that simply don’t have enough spare time to sink into playing entire seasons. I speak of the brand new Season Challenge mode, a series of ten races with 5-laps each and single lap qualifying sessions determining the order of the grid. At the start of your Season Challenge you pick a rival racer: beat that racer three times in a row and you take their seat, at which point you select another rival and repeat the process. In comparison the main career mode it’s a far more intense way of playing the game and a most welcome addition to the series, providing a way for those that perhaps don’t have a lot of time free or those that simply don’t want to sink loads of hours into the game a viable and fun alternative.
And then there’s another new mode joining the mix as well: Champions mode to be exact. Since there’s now a total of six World Champions lined up on the grid, Codemasters decided to take the opportunity to create a new scenario-based mode where you test your skills against them in conditions known to suit. There’s a total of seven of these badboys for you take on, each one tasking you with beating the champion at hand under certain conditions. For example you might have to chase down and pass Sebestian Vettel while getting the first lap of the race, or you might have to climb up the order and overtake Jenson Button in quickly changing weather. There’s not a lot of content here: the seven challenges, the final being against all six champions on the new Austin track, will only take you around an hour to an hour and a half to complete, but what is there is an enjoyable diversion from the Season challenge and career modes.
Speaking of which I’m going to briefly touch upon the Austin track, even though it doesn’t really impact this review. The new 3.4 mile circuit that makes up this years US Grand Prix is something of a copycat, incorporating several elements from other tracks in its design: a mirror-image of Istanbul’s turn 8, a series of corners that feel very similar to Silverstone’s outstanding Beckett complex and a stadium section that is rather like the Hockenheimring. It’s like the concept behind the track was that by taking these much-loved sections and stitching them together the resulting track must surely be outstanding, but the actual result is that it’s trying to replicate the character of other tracks while having none of its own. Anyway, back to the game as a whole.
If you fancy getting a friend involved then the popular co-op career mode returns. Nothing much has really changed here: it’s still a mode likely to ruin friendships as the competitive juices start flowing. Still, for those that perhaps didn’t pick up last years title let’s quickly run through what you can expect here: you and your chosen “friend” pick a team to race for and then work your way through the entire career mode as described earlier in this review. Obviously as a team your goal is to win the constructor’s championship, but it probably won’t be that long before things start to get competitive as one of you outperforms the other at a race or during qualifying. The constant drive to be better than your teammate is one of the biggest factors in the real world sport and Codemasters title replicates it well, especially since there’s a menu in the pit-garage which gives a run down of how often your team-mate has outperformed you or by how many points he or she is ahead of you in the championship. The only trouble you’ll really have, apart from the broken friendships, is actually finding someone to play through an entire season with you, but if you then it’s an absolute blast.
The new modes added to the game do come at a price, though: Grand Prix mode has been completely removed from the game. That means that those that don’t wish to take their custom created character through the career have no other option than Quick Race if they wish to take on the role of their favorite F1 racer. Why this feature has been removed is both a mystery and a disappointment.
As for the competitive side of things the multiplayer is still as good as ever. 16-players can take to the track with AI making up the other 8 slots on the grid for the full 24-car line-up. As before the experience can be somewhat marred by the simple fact that there’s a lot of people online who just want to get rough and read in the first corner, but find a lobby full of people looking for some clean, tight, skilled racing an it’s an absolute joy to play. But there’s been almost zero changes here, a theme that’s familiar throughout the entire game.
But enough about modes and other such trivial things, what really matters is how the cars handle on track, and the answer is absolutely fantastically. Of course we expect nothing less from Codemasters these days, but the tweaks they’ve made this year ensure that F1 2012 is the best in the series to date. Underpinning the changes is the games new suspension system which lets you attack the curbs far more than before while also providing a much better sense of connection between the track and your car. The result is a handling system that lets you feel how close you are to the edge of your car’s performance, something which the previous two games rather sucked at – you’d just be driving along taking a few tenths out of your lap time when WHAM! The car would just slide out on you with no warning. This time though the car will begin to get a little skittery and slidey as it reaches the edge of its performance threshold, allowing you to correctly judge just how far you can push it. This time around spinning the car feels like it was your own fault because you misjudged a corner, rather than the game’s fault for simply not telling you that you were pushing too hard. It’s also easier to counter the car’s attempts to spin, making for some hair-raising saves.
Other tweaks to the on-track action comes in the form of more noticeable boosts when using KERS, DRS or a richer fuel mix. Hit the KERS button and you can feel a subtle speed increase and change in engine pitch. It’s not overdone to the point of feeling like an Arcade boost button, though, so don’t worry. Tyre and fuel management also feel more crucial this time around. Fail to manage your tyres and you’ll find yourself struggling far more than you did in the previous two games, although still nowhere near the same degree that has been seen in this years real-life season. Likewise using too much fuel is far easier this time around as well, bringing in a little more strategy into the game, unless of course you turned off the fuel and tyre simulation options to focus on more pure racing. Yes, the options available to tweak the game to your skill level are completely intact: you can select AI difficulty, turn off or on the ABS, traction control and Dynamic Racing Line, and even set how many Flashbacks you get, which to the uninitiated are essentially the ability to rewind time in case you screw up and hit a wall.
The weather system has also seen a couple of changes, most notably that driving in the rain is now a far more challenging experience, requiring delicate throttle control and deft use of the brake so that you don’t just go sliding into the back of Sebastian Vettel at the first corner, unless, you know, you want to. They’ve also done away with the magical ability in F1 2011 to drive in the pouring rain on slick tyres without a problem and thrown in a new localised weather mechanic so that it can rain on one part of the track while the other is dry, bringing in another degree of strategy to tyre choice.
But the biggest and best on-track improvement is that of the AI. In previous games getting in fights with them was something of a let down as they’d often make silly mistakes or freak out for very little reason, making for seriously easy overtakes. In F1 2012, though, getting into fights with one or more cars is an absolute joy as the AI is now capable of extremely tight wheel-t0-wheel action, replicating the real life sport beautifully, although they still on occasion go a little bit mad. Nothing quite compares to the thrill of catching an opponent and finding yourself inches away from each others wheels around a hairpin or a series of corners, each looking for that little bit of extra grip to nail the overtake. It also helps that the AI are no longer as prone to breaking light years before a corner, making those late-breaking passes far more satisfying. They’ve also become far more effective at overtaking you, the player. Several times I got caught out by a sneaky last-second dive up the inside or a well-driven outside pass.
Still, given all the small tweaks and improvements that Codemasters have made to F1 2012 it’s saddening to see that they didn’t take the opportunity to fix some problems that have been plaguing the series since the first 2010 outing, namely the wildly inconsistent penalty system. In Codemaster’s defense it is slightly better than what we’ve seen in the past two outings, but not by much. Performing an illegal overtake no longer results in a straight penalty, instead you’re given a short amount of time to give the position back. It’s a nice addition, but other than that the system is still prone to daft mistakes. On one occasion Hamilton screwed up an overtake and slammed in to me, somehow resulting in me getting a penalty. At other times completely unavoidable accidents might net you a disqualification. In Codemaster’s defense it is quite hard to create a system that can judge whose fault a particular situation is, so perhaps it’s not that surprising that they’ve managed to perfect it, but what is far more disappointing is penalties awarded for cutting corners, which is a relatively simple mechanic that racers have been using for years, still hasn’t been fixed. Some corners can be massively cut without penalty, while others require you to barely put a wheel out of line to get a warning. Even going wide on a corner and thus losing time sometimes earns you a warning as well. Part of the problem again comes from the games inability to judge a situation: did the player deliberately cut that corner, or did he/she simply misjudge speed and overshoot? To help combat this a little Codemasters have introduced a mechanic that slows the car down slightly when you go off the track to help ensure no advantage is gained, although again this can be annoying if you run wide on a corner and be forced to lose speed from both that and the fact that the game is deliberately slowing you down. In short, the penalty system still needs considerable work.
Another flaw that is yet to be fixed is the unrealistic representation of cars performance, by which I mean it’s still far too easy to take something like a Caterham and qualify in first before going on to win the race by more than ten-seconds. Sure, this may keep the more casual racing fans happy, but you’d very rarely see it in the real sport, and since this is supposed to be a realistic rendering of the sport it’s strange to see it here. The only way to fix this is by using the games unbalanced difficulty selection: ramp it up to the highest and you’ll find it hard to place 15th on the grid in your Caterham, which is far more realistic, but drop the difficulty level down just one notch and you’ll suddenly find yourself winning races again with ease. This couples with yet another problem that still needs fixed: the team objectives. Every race in your career comes with objectives that your team would like to meet, such as finishing up in tenth or higher. These objectives, though, are often all over the place. Have just one good race even on the toughest difficulty and you the team objectives will suddenly become unrealistically high for the next few races.
The game’s graphics have also had some small upgrades, most noticeably the more dynamic lighting system that helps bring the cars to life. Like before the level of detail on every machine is absolutely brilliant, and this year is no different. The only mar in the beauty comes not from the game itself but from this years car designs which feature that bloody awful step-down nose. Other than that, though, there’s not been any major leap in looks since last years release, which in the case of the off-track action is rather disappointing as your pit-crew still move like they’ve got wooden poles in them instead of bones. The sound design, on the other hand, has seen much bigger improvement with far more realistic engine sounds and a better sense of where other cars are on track relative to you by simply listening to the sounds of the engines.
Here’s the problem with F1 2012: it’s undoubtedly the best F1 game to date, but only by a small amount. We’re only three games into Codemaster’s F1 yearly series and it’s already starting to feel a little stale. Still, for the hardcore fans the handling tweaks and small upgrades might be enough to warrant a purchase of this years title. For the more casual fans, though, the new modes are fun but don’t add all that much and the handling changes just aren’t quite enough to justify going out and spending £40 on. And that leaves me in a strange place for the end of this review. Codemasters have again created a stunning representation of one of my most beloved sports and the best game in their series, and yet that doesn’t stop the simple fact that little has really changed in F1 2012.
+ Handles great.
+ Plenty of content.
+ Coming from the back of the grid to first in the rain!
– A lot of old problems are still here.
– Not a lot has changed.
– Getting a penalty for someone hitting me.
Lovingly rendered cars and an upgrade lighting model make this a pretty game to look at.
The sound design has had a decent upgrade with more realistic engine sounds and a better sense of where other cars are on track relative to you.
No. Just no.
The changes aren’t huge, but they’re refined the handling model so that it’s the best yet. Throw in some new modes and you’ve got a winner! Although a few sacrifices have been made along the way.
Playing through the career is a hefty endeavour and multiplayer should keep you going for a while as well.
The Verdict: 8.5
Codemasters have once again proven that they’re the masters of racing with F1 2012, a game that replicates the on-track magic of the sport beautifully, providing thrilling racing and a hefty career mode. But while the game is outstanding, it’s only a little bit better than F1 2011. So the question is: are you willing to pay full-price for a slight upgrade? Only you can answer that one.