There’s nothing like the romance of Formula 1. Talented drivers racing in the most advanced racing machines in the world. Not only that, but they get to do it exotic and classic locations, places that have become synonymous with the sport. Monaco, Silverstone, Spa, Monza, Albert Park. It is a sport that can make a legend of Ayrton Senna and a villain of Alain Prost. It can turn an Australian garage mechanic named Jack Brabham into the most successful Formula 1 driver of his time. Even today, legends are being made with names like Vettel, Webber, Button, Raikkonen, Alonso, Hamilton and Schumacher.
The global appeal of Formula 1 has always made it an attractive target for video game developers, and games trying to simulate the sport date back to the 1970s, with Sega’s arcade racer Monaco GP. That game was primitive, but its popularity proved that people wanted to race in F1, and a string of successors followed. Namco brought us Pole Position, which seemed to be ported to every machine of the 1980s and Sega offered up another go in the 1990s with Virtua Racer.
The modern F1 sim can trace its lineage back to the early 1990s, with Geoff Crammond’s legendary Formula One Grand Prix. The game used polygons for the first time in an F1 game, and provided a much deeper and more realistic experience than anything before it. The game and its sequels have becomes something of a yardstick for the hardcore racing simulation community, and it has influenced almost every racing game since.
Crammond’s games lacked one thing that would have made them perfect, however: The F1 license. Sony picked that license up in 1997, and a series of mediocre (and platform exclusive) titles followed. Finally, after a decade of Sony, the license was picked up by Codemasters, who have delivered a series of improving titles since 2009.
I decided that the best way to test the latest instalment in Codemasters’ series was to get my Dad to play it. My Dad is a bit of a revhead, having worked in the automotive industry for most of his adult life, and having a genuine passion and knowledge of cars (he can still recite Chrysler Valiant part numbers off the top of his head.)
Dad mostly spends his weekends playing Forza 4, but when a new non-Forza racing game comes out, he generally gives it a good run (there was a time when Gran Turismo 5 was a permanent fixture in our PS3), and he had a good time with F1 2010. So the both of us were interested to see what’s changed in the two years since we last looked at this series (we skipped last year’s F1 2011).
Overall, we’ve decided that F1 2012 is about refinement. The simulation was pretty good in F1 2010, and they just feel a little better this time around. The menus have all been redesigned, losing the big chunky visuals of the older game with something more understated and, in my view, stylish. Visually it looks a little better, with Codemasters having toned down the lensflare-heavy camera for a clearer, crisper view.
Our setup for racing uses a Fanatec ClubSport wheel and pedals. F1 2012 handles this set up quite well. The most important aspect of any wheel setup is how well the game translates what’s going on with the car to the wheel in the form of force feedback. Good force feedback wheels give you an innate sense of the car and the track and allow you make decisions while driving by feel, just like you could in a real race car. F1 2012 does this very well, and experienced racing wheel users should be able to jump into the game without any trouble.
Dad and I did find that the game can throw you into the deep end quite quickly. The simulation accuracy is great, but can be overwhelming if you’re not used to a racing game where car damage can permanently end your race. Fortunately, the game now offers a rewind feature in the form of Flashbacks. These allow you to pause the game and rewind time, reversing any accidents or other mistakes you might have made. To keep things balanced, you’re limited to a certain amount of flashbacks per race. Unfortunately, activating this feature can be quite difficult, as you have to enter the replay mode, then wind the replay back and start the race again. Compared with the single button rewind of Forza 4, it’s quite cumbersome.
F1 2012 introduces a new Season Challenge mode. This mode offers a less complex season than the full career mode, allowing you to spend a few hours racing through ten races to win a shortened F1 championship. If you don’t have the time to put in a full career mode, then this is a good option, as you get all the excitement with less of the management-oriented options that Career Mode has.
While Season Challenge is a good step towards making the series more accessible, the game’s simulation options are still pretty terrifying for beginners. Don’t expect to do well in your first few tries, as this is a game that requires you to learn both tracks and cars before you can really start to get anywhere. The Quick Race mode can be especially terrifying, and don’t be surprised if you feel like you were thrown into the deep end without any warning when you start it.
The multiplayer mode works reasonably well, although it’s questionable as to how easy it will be to find players after a few months. If the game can succeed and build a small, constant community around it, then it should be good until at least the next game comes out. As it stands, however, it’s fairly easy to find players and get into a race. Racing was smooth, even over my somewhat laggy internet connection.
All in all, if you’re into racing games and Formula 1, then this game is a no-brainer. While it will never replicate the feeling of really driving an F1 car, it offers enough of the sport to satisfy most fans, and there’s enough depth to keep you coming back. If you’re not as much of a racing game player, then the game is a tougher sell, as it doesn’t offer the easy accessibility of a Forza or Need For Speed title. Either way, Codemasters have done a great job replicating the world’s most popular motorsport.