Being the zenith of the motorsports racing world, F1 sports the highest performing and most complex race cars in the world while putting race drivers under conditions where they must endure forces of over 4.5G’s. Understanding the sport’s extreme technical nature can be a daunting task. One of Codemasters Racing’s goals with this year’s F1 game was to make it more accessible. Accessibility is not always a term I like to hear when it comes to games, especially when it is a game I am a fan of. Can F1 2012 please the hardcore fans of the sport, improve upon last year’s game (which we loved), and appeal to a wider audience? That’s no easy feat but F1 2012 just happens to pull it off.
Fans of the sport and series need not worry. F1’s trademark career mode returns intact. As a series rookie you begin the game on one of the smaller F1 teams and must work your way through F1’s 20 race season by outperforming your teammate and rivals in order to eventually move up and drive for the top tier F1 teams like Ferrari, McLaren or Red Bull. Race weekends are faithfully represented in every detail from practice sessions, qualifying and on to race day. Depending on just how deep you want to go you may very well spend more time in practice and qualifying tweaking your set up than you do in the actual race. This can be a bit intimidating for those new to the game or who are looking to just experience race day.
This year’s game introduces a number of new game modes to help ease newcomers, or more casual players, into the game. The very first thing you do the first time you boot up the game is participate in the Young Drivers Test. This mode replicates actual off-season testing for young drivers that have not yet taken part in an actual grand prix. Its’ goal is to develop their skills in an F1 car. It also serves as a tutorial with various tests that teach not just driving techniques but some of the more complex elements of F1 such as DRS and KERS. I could give or take these license test-like challenges but this mode should appease both hardcore fans of the sport in bringing more of the F1 experience into the living room while helping more casual players come to grips with the different elements of F1.
Probably more impactful toward accessibility than the Young Drivers Test is the new Season Challenge. As I mentioned earlier, playing 20 full race weekends is a lot. Sure, you can skip sessions and go right to the racing, but with just 10 races and a simpler, more finite set of goals, the Season Challenge makes it significantly easier to just pick up and get right into the racing. If you need a break from your season/career mode, there is also a new Champions Mode this year. In this mode you are faced with six sequential challenges against popular drivers. Each challenge features a different set of conditions that you must overcome in order to be successful and move on to the next. This mode is a nice diversion for sure, but my greatest enjoyment of this game comes from replicating the full F1 season.
As for the racing itself, it is fantastic. There is a difference between racing games and driving games and F1 is a racing game in every sense of the word. Codemasters Racing has continued to refine how the cars handle. Control is both tight and smooth and the game plays beautifully with the controller. The snappiness of the cars from two years ago is now a distant memory. I am not saying the cars are easier to drive though as the ferocity of these machines is very much intact. They react with minimal steering input and without 100% concentration you will find yourself facing the wrong way on the track in no time. The absolute best moments of F1 2012 are when you find yourself racing amongst a pack of other drivers for position. The AI continues to be some of the best I’ve seen in a racing game. There is little margin for error. This creates a terrific sense of tension when playing whether you are racing three wide down a straight or contending for position into corners. Dynamic, localized weather creates situations where you may have rain on one section of the track yet dry conditions elsewhere. This makes strategic decisions all the more critical.
As usual Codemasters Racing offers strong options for playing online. The co-op career returns and allows you to play a full season alongside a friend online as your teammate. Online races support up to 16 players and the ability to add up to 8 AI drivers to make up a full grid of 24 cars. I did not have much of a chance to play online given that the game is not out on retail shelves yet, but once I do get to hit the online track at launch I will update you if the experience is a negative thing, but given Codemasters Racing’s track record, you may not be hearing from me about this issue.
Much like the gameplay, F1 2012 doesn’t revolutionize the visuals over what was seen in last year’s game. Instead the game improves and refines an already solid base. The frame rate is absolutely rock solid whether there are no cars in sight or if you are mired in a battle for 12th place. Crashes produce greater particle effects than seen previously. This isn’t on par with something like Burnout but seeing your nose cone and front wing shatter into pieces adds to the sense of impact when you do damage. There are also several presentation enhancements in the menus and cut scenes that add a sense of polish more than anything relevant to gameplay. The car models themselves are gorgeous and the screenshots that are in this review are very much like what you will see in the game. There is also plenty of eye candy in the loading and menu screens. I did notice a little bit of pop up here and there when racing but it was nothing major and the environments and backgrounds are well populated. When standing still there isn’t anything amazing about the graphics but it looks pretty amazing when you’re pushing 300km/h.
Racing games typically are not the most sound heavy games out there. There is not a ton of voice acting or much of a soundtrack, but F1 2012 is a game that screams for you to play it at high volume. Codemasters Racing has perfectly captured the wail of these engines being pushed to their 18-20,000 rpm limits. With a proper surround sound setup or pair of 5.1 headphones, the attention to detail that Codemasters Racing puts into the game’s sound becomes apparent. Whether it is the whine of an opponent stalking you from behind or the sound of gravel hitting up against the bodywork, both the detail and directional properties of the various sound effects impresses.
Codemasters Racing said they wanted to make the game more accessible and they have achieved this without compromise. Whether you want to just jump in and race or go through every detail of a proper F1 race weekend and full season, F1 2012 offers the means to do it thanks to new ways to play such as the new Season Challenge mode. Codemasters Racing’s typical attention to detail and presentation values continue. This is a good evolution of the F1 series and the most enjoyable F1 game I have played since 1997’s F1:CE.