September 17, 2012
In the space of just two short seasons, Codemasters has almost already reached a pinnacle of quality with its F1 series, representing the sport with an almost unerring level of accuracy and attention to detail. With F1 2011 proving to be one of the finest Formula One games ever produced, you have to ask where the series can possibly go from here. How can Codemasters continue to evolve and develop F1 as a franchise when it's as authentic and all-encompassing as it is? It's accessibility that seems to be the key for F1 2012, making the point of entry less daunting for simulation virgins and F1 fans keen to dip their toe into a video game of their favourite sport. Has Codies managed to pull it off without dumbing F1 2012 down though?
From the off F1 2012 rings in the new, with a front end menu that's slick, intuitive and inviting, like the majority of AAA racing games on the market. Gone is the parc ferme from previous games, replaced by something much prettier with all of the options and modes clearly laid out for you. It's a statement of intent that F1 2012 is a game that's positioned towards both the hardened racing fan and the Formula One newbie, with the the first day of the new Young Driver's Test kicking in as soon as you fire up the game and enter your name. It's the perfect introduction to the world of F1, and a brilliant way to gently ease you into the various mechanics of the game, as well as the depth and other minutiae that you can learn in more detail during the option second day of the Young Driver's Test, which doubles as your tutorial.
The first day simply shows you the ropes, acquainting you with the basics, making your first tango behind the wheel of a Formula One car in the game's Career Mode or Season Challenge less of a frightening prospect. In fact, Season Challenge proves to be the perfect place for anyone wanting a quick fix of Formula One or a primer for the bigger, more detailed Career Mode. It's F1 2012's gateway to the rest of the game, providing a truncated, easy to digest season broken down into relatively short and sharp five lap races, preceded by a single qualifying lap.
It's much easier to digest than the full career, which is still available in all its unrestrained, fully-featured glory with an entire 20 race calendar to tackle, complete with practice sessions, qualifying and the Grand Prix itself spread across a whole race weekend just like the real thing. With the game's weather system now taking into account weather fronts that can affect specific areas of the track, considering your strategy and tyre choice is still of paramount importance too, potentially making or breaking your race. Knowing when to break out the KERS and DRS is also vital, and your team will keep you abreast of developments on the track over your radio, giving you the information you need to plan your tactics during a race accordingly.
Career Mode is huge then, but Season Challenge does a fantastic job in drawing in newcomers, presenting you with any of the 12 official FIA Formula One teams to choose to race for, meaning you can dive right in with Ferrari, McLaren or Red Bull Racing if you like, before you're then able to choose your race rival from any of the other 23 drivers. You're then given a flying 'one-shot' qualifying lap and a quick race for each Grand Prix across a pared-down ten race calendar. While Career also features aspects like setting up your car with the right tyres, downforce and so forth, based upon the information given to you by your engineer, Season Challenge does away with all the trimmings, leaving the bare bones racing to enjoy.
Career Mode itself meanwhile is as in-depth as it's always been, although the lack of the parc ferme takes away from the behind the scenes immersion somewhat. Yet as most of your setup and preparation for a race still takes place within your team's garage, you still feel the buildup mounting towards racing each Grand Prix, adding to the sense of involvement. Career and Season Challenge provide the backbone of F1 2012 then, but there's more where that came from, with the new Champions Mode to tackle within the Proving Grounds menu.
Consisting of six distinct challenges that see you facing off against six different F1 champions, the new mode is about as close to battling a boss as you can get in a racing game. It's immensely challenging, starting with battling through the pack to beat Kimi Raikkonen as his teammate in a Renault Lotus, taking you through to races that see you clashing with Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher. Getting through each challenge is hard as nails, and should you succeed, there's the final challenge on the new Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas against all six champions in one sitting. Madness!
In the Proving Grounds menu, you'll now also find Time Attack and Time Trial modes, while the game's multiplayer offerings are the standard fare, with the return of online Quick Match for a simple one-time race, Custom Race and the Co-Op Championship to take on with a buddy. You can also compete against a rival in split screen, making this as fully-featured in the multiplayer stakes as F1 2011 was. You'll enjoy your time playing online should you find like-minded racers, or else you'll be spending most of your time in Career or Season Challenge mode, lapping up the solitary F1 experience.
On the track, Codemasters' proprietary EGO Engine shines once again, with a handling model that's perfectly pitched as a happy medium between F1 2010 and F1 2011's, while the physics too have been overhauled. It's the most fun we've had playing an F1 game since the series first released with F1 2010, with exactly the right amount of grip to prevent you from spinning off on every corner, while providing enough of a challenge and simulation for the hardcore F1 faithful. It's superb, impeccably balanced and a genuinely playable racer that caters to drivers of all skill levels.
This year's selection of achievements are slightly more attainable too, with less in the way of grinding and more attached to simply racing and progressing through Career or Season Challenge. You can acquire career achievements in either the fully-fledged Career Mode or Season Challenge too, so rubbish racers like myself are able to snap up a slew of cheevos through tearing through the 10 race calendar. After completing the third race at Silverstone for instance, we managed to snap up five or six achievements in quick succession. Satisfying! On the whole, this is an improved achievement list, although much of it has been carried over from F1 2011.
F1 2012 is undoubtedly the best in the series to date, embracing all-comers with the same kind of deep and involving Career Mode that's always been the crux of F1 2010 and F1 2011, alongside the new Season Challenge for the less seasoned Formula One veterans. It's the best of both worlds, with driver aids, a dynamic 3D racing line to help you in learning the best racing lines around the 20 official 2012 FIA Championship season's circuits if you're a newbie, or the undiluted F1 Career Mode for the veterans. F1 2012 is essentially all things to all Formula One fans, and every bit of it oozes quality from every pore. It's the best Formula One game we've ever played bar none, just about edging out last year's effort to take pole position.
Once again, the engine noises are realistic, so each car sounds like a buzzsaw going through a beehive, while the menu music is decent but unremarkable. All of the menu stuff features voiceover to guide you through the ins and outs, and the tactical babble from your team during races is still a welcome touch. A commentary option for a TV-style experience wouldn't go amiss though.
Again this year, it's impossible to pick fault with F1 2012's visuals. The cars are incredibly detailed, each and every circuit is exactly as it should be, probably down to the last tree, and the weather system is still exemplary. The sense of speed too is superb. A visual tour de force, if ever there was one.
Codemasters has got the handling model absolutely right this year, as far as we're concerned. It strikes the perfect balance between being realistic, yet playable. Newbies to Formula One needn't be put off. F1 2012 plays brilliantly.
Another deep and vast offering, with the all-encompassing Career Mode now joined by a more palatable Season Challenge for the casual F1 fan or hardcore players with less time on their hands. Champions Mode is also a huge challenge, while the inclusion of split screen and an array of online options make F1 2012 a racer that gives you loads of bang for your buck.
Not quite as grind-laden as previous F1 lists, F1 2012 pours on the achievements, especially in Career and Season Challenge modes. It's a list that isn't quite as smart as last year's, but it's a hell of a lot more accessible and dare we say it, a lot more fun too.
Another podium-worthy effort from Codemasters that deserves to be doused in expensive champagne once more. F1 2012 is the best Formula One game Codies has made to date, welcoming newcomers with open arms, while refusing to dial down the realism for the established fans. A tough balancing act that F1 2012 pulls off with aplomb.