It's difficult to see how a game replicating Formula One - an incredibly detailed and technical sport - could fail to offer anything less than a detailed and technical simulation, and indeed that's a tenet to which Codemasters have held strong since taking over the franchise's mantle in 2010. But in delivering two games of phenomenal depth and accurate replication, the inevitable accusations of inaccessibility have plagued them in certain quarters. We've long held that it's possible to have an incredibly deep game that can prove accessible, you often just need to provide a barnstorming tutorial.
Thankfully, F1 2012 gets that absolutely spot on.
The new Young Driver Test serves as a brilliant introduction to the game, delivering an impressively detailed overview of the game in the space of an hour. Boasting a mixture of hands-on tutorials and instructional videos, Codemasters guide players through the basics such as handling, track navigation, and balancing the speed of the car, before moving onto KERS and DRS, penalties and pits. It's a thoroughly useful tool, not just for the novice, but also for returning drivers too, considering that there are a few little changes to the engine that veterans would do well to note.
On the track, the most noticeable change from last year is that the tail of the cars you'll drive feel far less wayward. The endless fishtailing that proved a little problematic last year has been replaced with an incredibly responsive, almost twitchy handling model that harks back to a more refined version of F1 2010. It might take a little bit of getting used to, especially if you spent hours with last year's game, but it makes for a more realistic experience that demands absolute attention.
In all honesty, the tutorial can only do so much. Although it fulfils it's remit in providing new players with a fairly comprehensive introduction to Codemasters' virtual recreation of Formula 1, practice makes perfect. Make no mistake, this is still the hardcore simulation we've come to love, and small margins of error will be punished. But that's why we love this sport, and Codemasters is betting on you loving it for those reasons (amongst others) too.
However, although unquestionably temperamental (what do you expect, these are recreations of F1 cars!), it means that racing is an absolutely thrilling prospect. Every corner makes you hold your breath as you pray you've got things right, whatever set up you're boasting. We tested this both on a single 32 inch screen with a DualShock 3 gamepad as well as on a multiple screen rig with a Playseat set up, and both experiences were nerve-janglingly intense.
Conviction and consistency are the order of the day. Confidence in your driving ability, particularly when it comes to those faster corners is essential. F1 2012 is a game that dares you to push harder, and gauging when to do so, when to be brave, is a skill that comes with much practice. The upshot of that investment is that you feel utterly fantastic when making the perfect pass, and that holding your nerve can pay out massively in terms of satisfaction.
Even with all of the driving assists turned on, F1 2012 still asks much of the player, but this is aided by a series of fantastic additions from ex-driver, and Sky analyst, Anthony Davidson, who unpacks each of the twenty tracks featured in the game, providing essential insights into the nature of each twisting, turning beast, and imparting knowledge and information in a manner that holds far more personality than a mere racing line. It's just a shame that his features aren't integrated more closely in with the on-track action, stuck as they are out on the game's front end.
Speaking of which, the paddock is gone, replaced by slick menus that do much to aid navigation at the expense, perhaps of personality. Indeed, while the on-track action might be more refined and in better shape than ever before, it's difficult not to feel a little disappointed at the lack of progress in terms of modes and features. The irritating Live the Life bits from Career Mode are gone, but there's nothing that's come in to fill the off-track gap that they've left behind. Career still feels a little half-hearted to be honest, and the game does precious little to fuel the drama created by track tensions, frenemies within your own paddock, pending jumps to rival companies.
Career Challenge is a new addition that attempts to provide an alternative to the season-by-season slog up the grid, letting you dip in and out of a season by essentially playing through a highlights reel - engaging in ten short races to give you a flavour of the longer term, rather than the full calendar itself. You can earmark rivals for challenges over three races, and leapfrog them up the grid should you prevail, in a nice little twist. Champions mode is another new arrival, this time encouraging you to take on six F1 legends in a series of racing trials, such as attempting to both beat Vettel at Hockenheim whilst also setting the fastest lap time.
But while these distract from the main event, they also feel like distractions, and it's a shame that Codemasters simply delivered new modes and got rid of features rather than looking to improve what was already there. Career mode is still engaging, of course (any sort of framework would be), but it could, and arguably should, be a bit better. Not being able to take an existing driver through a whole season, and give Mark Webber the Championship he so richly deserves, is infuriating. Career mode isn't bad, it's not even average, but a little more flair, and an attempt to go all out when it comes to in-game hype, could really elevate it.
The feeling that the developers might have spent more time than necessary on things that weren't asking for huge amounts of attention is difficult to shake off at times. The game looks absolutely gorgeous, with the new lighting effects proving to be simply stunning. The all-new dynamic weather systems razzle and dazzle, too,but they come at a cost on PS3, with very occasional patches of slowdown and framerate drops that can ruin everything, especially if you're doing a full race. With split-second margins of error at high speed on the track, even the smallest technical hiccup can be infuriating, especially if you're on a tight bend.
By and large, though, Codemasters have delivered another solid F1 title, even if it does rest rather heavily on its predecessors. The annual iterative process is starkly visible here, and it makes you wonder if the series might not be better served with bi-annual releases, with roster updates and technical patches perhaps in between. The multiplayer options from last year return, but look relatively untouched. That said, it's still one of those games that will utterly fry your nerves, and captivate your attention completely if you're a fan of the sport. It's the best F1 game so far, even if it is by small margins.
- Better handling model than last year's effort
- Unparalleled authenticity when it comes to the driving
- Accessible new modes are a nice addition
- Slowdown on PS3 version
- Career mode could use an update
- MP completely untouched
The Short Version: In spite of an increasingly-unassuming career mode, and seemingly untouched online options, F1 2012 is the best representation of Formula 1 currently available, and the new modes and concessions to accessibility don't take away from the phenomenally detailed gameplay and hardcore simulation aspects.