In a sport where the main changes year on year are small adjustments to the car shapes and a few drivers swapping teams, the job of releasing a worthwhile addition to a racing gamer’s collection must be a tough one for Codemasters and their F1 series. And yet with F1 2012 they’ve taken the incredible racing action from last year’s title, added some new features and improved physics and come up with one of the best racers on the current generation of consoles.
Making a return to the action is every track on the real F1 race calendar, which this year includes the new circuit in Texas and gives you a chance to race on this brand new track before it’s even finished and ready for the real racers. Each track is beautifully reconstructed right down to tricky bumps in some corners and inch-perfect placement of trackside detailing, and with the cars themselves receiving a similar amount of love it’s clear that Codemasters haven’t taken their foot off the gas when it came to developing the look and feel of the game.
They’ve rebuilt the menus too, giving a more modern feel than last year’s efforts and making everything a much more straightforward affair, right down to the EA-esque “New” badges that accompany those options not seen before. These new modes are integral to the feeling that F1 2012 isn’t just an updated set of cars and add a lot to the overall experience. Fans of the career mode will get to enjoy the new driver test sessions, acting as both a tutorial for all of the controls as well as giving you tips on cornering and suchlike. After a final single lap test you’re presented with your choice of teams, and depending on how well you did could leave you stuck with HRT or fancying your chances in a Toro Rosso. Either way leaping into a top team isn’t the way to start; working your way up through the teams season by season is a long and challenging task (especially on the tougher difficulty settings) but one that ultimately reaps a very rewarding completion if things go well. Knowing you started your career in a Marussia and battling for 20th place, but managed to impress enough to end up in a McLaren is very satisfying indeed. You’ll need masses of time and patience to get the most out of it, but if you love your racing then it’ll keep you busy for ages.
Another new feature takes this career and squeezes it into a single slightly shortened season. Again starting in the lower teams you select a rival to compete against. If you beat them in 2 out of the next 3 races you’re offered their seat, otherwise you stay where you are and have to pick another rival. Failing your objective isn’t just depressing, but made worse by having effectively wasted some races which you should have been using to climb the ladder, so choosing the right rival is key. Don’t expect to be beating Alonso while pottering round in a Caterham – if you’ve got the difficulty set up right for your skill level, you won’t even get close. It’s a great new game mode, combining strategic choices with close intense racing, and the single-lap qualifying means that nailing a perfect lap first time out is more important then ever. For racing fans who want to climb the team ladder without putting in countless hours of testing, practice and qualifying before even starting a race, this is spot on.
Elsewhere we’ve also got the Champions Mode, which puts you up against the six world champions still racing in this year’s F1 season – these six scenarios are all different in terms of what you need to do, and give a nice challenge away from the normal qualifying/race options. It’s a shame this hasn’t gone the route of EA’s sport titles in terms of giving regularly updated scenarios to play through based on real life races, but Racenet goes some way towards that – more on that later though.
Simulation-based racers live or die by their accuracy in terms of the handling and car responsiveness, and in F1 2012 Codemasters have looked in huge depth at how F1 cars are set up, and the new aerodynamics and suspension modelling makes the cars behave more like their real life counterparts than you’ll have seen in another other F1 title. Hitting corners too hard won’t get you round the corner any faster than taking the correct line, and leave you vulnerable to spinning out or losing hefty amounts of time. Cars don’t instantly change direction, and heading through a chicane means thinking about the time it’ll take to change your steering lock from one side to the other – that said, at high speeds with DRS open and in the slipstream of the car in front, flicking to the side too quickly to overtake is also problematic. The physics behind the movement of the cars is stunning at times, taking you from wide-eyed fear through to insane grins as you hit the perfect lap with every apex, braking zone and overtake working to perfection.
Your multiplayer options are much the same as you’ve had before, with online races and the co-op championship taking centre stage, but now we have the added bonus of Racenet. Codemaster’s relatively new (but already well used) online system not only provides a central hub for all of your Codemasters Racing stats, but also delivers regular events with set time limits to complete the events in. Fans of DiRT Showdown will know these well, and whether they remain as they’ve started with simple time trials or progress to scenarios like I mentioned earlier it’s simply more ways to beat your friends and point out just how much faster you are.
F1 2012 is so much more than a simple update to a few obvious elements. The changes go far deeper than a simple surface polish, and the new modes are very welcome, very enjoyable and very accessible. The cars are fast, unforgiving and look incredible and an improved AI will race you every step of the way. Whether more could have been done with Racenet is a question mark and there’s a very steep learning curve with the handling for those unfamiliar to the sport, but for F1 fans this is an absolute must. F1 2012 is without doubt the most glamorous adaptation of one of the world’s most glamorous sports.
Reviewed on PS3