Review: F1 2012 (PS3)

Title: F1 2012
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (6.72 GB)
Release Date: September 18, 2012 (US), September 21, 2012 (UK)
Publisher: Codemasters
Developer: Codemasters Birmingham
Original MSRP: $59.99 (US), £39.99 (UK)
ESRB Rating: E
F1 2012 is also available on Xbox 360 and PC.
The PlayStation 3 version was used for this review.

Due to the imminent release of F1 Race Stars, there was a school of thought to suggest the core F1 series would become even more technical and serious, to ensure that the two offerings are on opposite ends of the spectrum – catering for the people who don’t even know what the sport is, to the most hardcore of fans. Peculiarly, Codemasters have actually made some changes for F1 2012 that pander to the masses slightly more than in previous iterations. This isn’t an arcade racer by any means, but there’s been a definite shift in order to make the game more accessible.

Gameplay:
Immediately following the snazzy new intro video, you’re greeted by ‘young driver testing’; a new mode that helps bed in newcomers to the intricacies of the sub-genre. This glorified set of tutorials was a glaring omission from past F1 games and will act as a vital easing-in period for casual players who may feel somewhat daunted at the prospect of being thrown in at the deep end. Even for veterans though, the tutorial has been presented in such a great way, that you won’t feel bored or frustrated. The voiceovers and instructions can occasionally seem a little dry and full of jargon, but the pit-lane garage setting with your various mechanics and team-members gives it a welcome level of personality. Overall a brilliant way to avoid the culture shock that simulation racing can provide.

With that virtual weekend of testing under your belt, you’ll have learned the basics of how to tackle corners, handling and speed, as well as how to most effectively utilise the KERS and DRS functions to your advantage. The latter two features are elements of the tactical gameplay F1 supplies, which is arguably the main reason to buy the game. This really is the thinking man’s racer of choice. Along with that duo of limited boosting techniques, there’s a plethora of other things to take into account during a race; such as weather, tyre selection, tyre wear, fuel, penalties, team members, damage, laps remaining, density of the pack, and much more.

With the difficulty of the game also relatively high (indeed, 180mph in 6th gear is ‘slow’ so keeping the car on the track is a challenge in itself at times), the strategic and tactical elements of F1 are absolutely essential. Playing it safe and then picking the right moment to go on the offensive, overtaking or weaving in and out of the pack, is both a frustrating contest of patience and a purely exhilarating experience that F1 2012 nails so convincingly. Add to that the new weather system, which realistically affects the race and does an excellent job of making you appreciate the difficulties it poses for real life drivers. Scrambling to the pit-lane and changing to wet weather tyres is a must once the rain starts pouring.

It isn’t all good though. F1 is crying out for a far more sophisticated damage model, rather than this second-rate version which doesn’t match up at all with the minutiae of the sport, where the most microscopic of dents should affect the entire race. Another facet of the game which annoys me due to lack of realism, is the trademark Codies ‘flashbacks’. Include them in Dirt; fine. But for F1? Quite frankly, it’s a joke. A realistic simulation such as this need not have a feature where you can rewind the race – this completely flies in the face of all the tension and strategy which makes the game what it is.

The modes available in F1 represent something of a mixed bag. The sheer variety of modes on offer is to be admired, but you can’t help the feeling that there should be more here, both in depth and breadth. Strangely, the Grand Prix mode has been completely removed, which is a big mistake in my opinion. There’s no logic to the decision whatsoever – sports series improve year-on-year by adding new modes, not substituting them. It now means that you cannot play a season as your favourite real-world driver; the only option is to use your faceless, virtual driver in the Career or Season Challenge.

Career mode has seen some changes in this iteration, benefiting for the most part but it still isn’t overly compelling. It needs more of a sense of progression through the contractual situations and your driver’s ambitions. It’d be nice to have a season before you make the Formula 1, so we can experience the lower reaches of motorsport before hitting the big time. Season Challenge is one of the new additions, which dilutes a year of racing into 10 events, focused primarily on beating your selected rival. Definitely a mode included for more casual gamers who aren’t ready for a fully-fledged career.

Elsewhere, Time Attack and Time Trials are available once again, as expected with this type of game which is built upon aiming for perfection. The other day I was 0.001 seconds off the target time and spent an hour repeatedly playing the track, just striving to shave off that tiny fraction from my lap time. ‘Addictive’ doesn’t even begin to describe it, though that only really applies to the gold medal obsessives.

Finally, Champions Mode is an interesting (and successful) bonus for this season, to coincide with the unprecedented six former champs on the 2012 grid. I quite enjoyed this challenge (which involves you re-enacting pivotal moments from their glorious seasons) and would certainly welcome a more fleshed-out version in 2013. Even in its limited form this time around, it presents a nice extra time-sink that will have you vying to prove your mettle by toppling all the champions on the hardest difficulty, to earn the elusive gold medals.

F1 2012 is definitely the best recreation of the sport available on PS3, and arguably even the greatest ever Formula 1 sim. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect however – far from it. So the only hope is that Codemasters don’t rest on their laurels, and next year correct all of the faults to develop a faultless racing experience that will continue their dynasty which has been moulded by Grid and Dirt.

Visuals:
F1 2012 is outstanding aesthetically; a consistently stunning game that you’ll seldom find any visual flaws with. I was extremely surprised to find it looked so fantastic, with both the environment and the vehicles finely recreated to resemble a real-life race. The textures are sharp and highly detailed while the lighting has undergone a huge upgrade since last year’s release; epitomized by the realistic reflections off your car’s shiny surfaces. The tracks – along with all their trademark staples such as the spectator stands, pit lanes, advertising hoardings and surrounding areas – not only look superb but are also painstakingly precise in appearance and location.

As mentioned earlier, the new weather system adds an extra layer to the tactical gameplay – and you’ll be pleased to know it also further enhances the visual quality. At times the rain hammering down on the tight-knit pack looks nothing short of incredible. Apart from those key areas, the attention to detail continues in plenty of other aspects too. For example, if you veer off the tarmac, you’ll notice some of the greenery and debris sticks to your tyres. Furthermore, during the young driver testing, it’s evident how much effort has been put into the pit crew’s faces and character models.

F1’s user interface has been revamped to great effect, making it much more akin to Gran Turismo or Forza through a very glossy, premium feel. The slick new hub presentation also makes navigating the menus a whole lot easier, which was a much needed upgrade to increase efficiency and make the experience more streamlined. Plus, for a sport that basically has a prerequisite of owning a yacht in Mote Carlo, the luxury style is imperative. Overall, the entire game has had a lot of love poured into ensuring the visuals are of excellent standard.

Audio:
Formula 1 engines don’t so much roar as whine and screech in a spine-tingling (and possibly ear-destroying) manner – and Codemasters have captured it perfectly. The sound is generally awesome in F1 2012; filtering down to an audible difference in engine sound depending on the camera angle you choose, which is a welcome nuance appreciated when toggling through the various cockpit and external views. The arcadey noise on cornering is a particular low point however, in an otherwise exemplary effort in creating a realistic sounding race. Off the track, voiceovers are passable and the music isn’t too grating. Race introductions stay faithful to the TV broadcasts, which is a nice touch. Perhaps F1 2013 will add full commentary throughout all races, although I presume that could be difficult to implement in a believable fashion.

Online/Multiplayer:
Nowadays it seems that there are two conditions in releasing a game: have a ‘special’ online pass and a fancy name for your multiplayer wrapper. Fortunately Codemasters have adhered to both of these in requiring a VIP Pass and pioneering their new Autolog-rival; Racenet. Still in its embryonic stages, Racenet not only compiles global game stats online but also adds a new gameplay feature. It is now possible to go through a co-op career online – a feature that won’t have mass market appeal, though it has already garnered interest between the hardcore race-nuts who want a team experience for their virtual drivers.

Other than that, the modes are pretty basic. Quick Race is the go-to option and now supports up to 16 players, but unfortunately you’ll rarely find even half that number most of the time, so it’s only feasible to arrange a session with friends in order to take full advantage. From the little I’ve played online, the experience was stable and it ran fine, as we’ve come to expect from the UK’s premier racing studio. F1 2012 also offers split-screen races and even LAN support for the real uncompromising fans.

Conclusion:
If I could some up F1 2012 in one word, it would be ‘identity’. This may not be the perfect racing game, but what Codemasters Birmingham have successfully done this year is to carve out their own identity for the series going forward, with some very solid foundations in place. With last year’s Vita version, I was disappointed that Codemasters played it safe and offered a run-of-the-mill racer. I have no qualms in saying this is an infinitely better game though; a prime example of how good it can get if you decide to take risks.

The presentation is emphatically improved, whilst the gameplay experience is uniquely thought-provoking and enjoyable, thanks to the tactical elements and general difficulty. A few annoying issues definitely need to be ironed out for next year, but there’s no doubt F1 2012 is a special game that will certainly be challenging for many ‘racer of the year’ awards.

Score:
8.5

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Written by Raj Mahil

Raj Mahil

Journalism & Marketing student in London. Freelance writer. Gaming collector, with a slight fanboy bias towards PS. Life revolves around football/soccer (The Arsenal), but also love most other sport, especially the NBA and NHL.

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