Developer: Codemasters Birmingham
Publisher: Codemasters | Namco Bandai
“It’s lights out, and away we go!” Yes, it’s that time of year again, as Codemasters deliver us their latest annual offering of Formula One racing - putting you in the driving seat against the most highly skilled and highly paid drivers in the world. And Max Chilton. And the big USP of this year’s iteration is that of classic cars and tracks to race around as opposed to just those on the current calendar. But will this addition and the package in general, see you racing to the shops, or leave you looking for an early retirement? And yes, the racing puns get worse.
Firstly let me be really clear on something. I place myself in a (what I hope is a fairly broad) demographic of gamers that love watching Formula 1 on TV, but when it comes to displaying that passion in an F1 simulator game, I’m useless. Seriously, I’m very, very bad at F1 games, and whilst this means that I won’t ever win the World Championship without some help (more later), it does also put me in a spectacular position to critique the game for the less skilled in F1 games, or those new to the genre or series. So strap yourself in, and prepare for the ride (told you).
Your first step into F1 2013 will be the famous ‘Young Driver Test’ that happens each year to find F1’s latest prodigal talent. It’s a way for the game to not only introduce you to the controls and mechanics of the game, but also provides a premise for unlocking teams that you can drive with in the main career mode. The better you perform in each of these tests, the more notice you’ll attract from better teams, giving you more options in Career Mode. It’s a great introduction, both with its pacing but also with its unforgiving policy of performance. If there’s anything newcomers can learn from the Young Driver’s Test, it’s that that driving in an F1 game is all about precision, control and skill. Any wayward braking or cornering will be punished through lack of car performance, and failing tests. It sounds hard, harsh even, and it is, but this is F1, and the sport itself is a specialist sport for a reason. F1 gaming veterans will eat this test for breakfast, with it offering little difference from previous iterations, but as a familiarisation exercise, it still works competently enough.
So, onto the racing proper and F1 2013 gives you plenty of options. Where you’ll undoubtedly want to plump first naturally is into a full season proper with the best team you unlocked in the Young Driver’s Test. In it you can race a full 19-race season from this year’s calendar, including all practice sessions and qualifying before the race itself. I think it’s safe to say that I know Melbourne’s Albert Park like the back of my hand now, because I spent so much time practicing to work out which driving aid combination will work best for my skill level, and you will need to do the same – but it’s time well spent because it allows you to fully enjoy the game at your own pace. Driving aids such as racing lines and brake assists can be configured to suit your preferences, but the good thing is, at no point does all this support turn this anything less than a strict F1 game. 100% brake assist might sound appealing to those just wishing to hold down accelerate and steer, but the game won’t allow you to be wanton with your driving. Stray too much from the racing line near a turn, and the game automatically slows you down to a crawl to prevent an accident / teach you a lesson. It means this game never turns into a GT5 shuffle race, and that’s a good thing. It stays true at all times to what it is, and the sport it is trying to replicate.
The meat and potatoes of the racing itself feels honest and true to form. Sure, every now and then Felipe Massa takes me out with no reprimand, to the point I swear he has family in the stewards’ box, and sometimes penalties and warnings can seem a bit hit and miss. But in reality, this is what happens in real F1, so it never feels overly frustrating. For every foul move against you, you’ll get away with a cheeky / accidental nudge, and 99% of the time if you try to cut a corner or do something even more devious, the game recognises and punishes you accordingly.
Another career option sees you take on a shortened 10-track season, where you can start as any team. The idea here is to pick a rival from a different team, and try to beat him. If you manage to beat your rival twice before he beats you twice, you are offered a place on your opponent’s team for the next few races of the season. It’s a nice twist to a normal season as the opponent dynamic freshens up the standard competition of a points race. This option is also good for those looking for a shorter burst of a season, as not only are there only 10 races, but these are limited to 5 laps. Again driving assists are enabled so you can alter them to your play style. I was amazed at how compelling this game mode was, and how competitive and aggressive I became towards my selected rival. Grosjean didn’t deserve the mouthful he got, purely because I chose him as my opponent, but it’s amazing how fired up you get, when your engineer is keeping you updated on their progress, good or bad.
Furthering the single player mode, as well as the normal time trial modes, there’s also a scenario mode -20 pre-created scenarios depicting various stages of an F1 driver’s career, from rookie, to champion, to final swansong. Each of these scenarios give you are target to achieve, such as achieving a certain points finish from a given position, or to claw back a certain amount of lost time. You are awarded with medals and points, based on your performance that can be compared online. As these are fixed scenarios, the driver aids are fixed for this, so those using a brake aid for example will be in for a rude awakening on corner one. But this, along with the Young Driver Test section really are the best way to hone your true F1 skills due to their requirement for solid steering, braking and acceleration. Scenario mode however puts you in the thick of the action on track, causing you to practice driving in tight situations, rather than meandering at your own pace, and the targets and rewards feel more appealing and satisfying as a result. Managing to brake into a designated zone in the Young Driver Test will always be trumped by finishing on the top of the podium in Scenario Mode, having clawed your way through the pack, and it’s why this section flourishes and will get more replay time.
Multiplayer modes are also your standard fare of split-screen, LAN and online multiplayer. But certainly for people like me there’s something quite daunting about going online with a low skill level on such a tight and precise game, that people dedicate endless hours to. Luckily the wealth of tweakable options allow you to create or search for the race that will suit your preferences. You can tweak basics such as the track or cars allowed, but also plenty of things, such as weather conditions, and even driver assist allowances. It means that not only can experienced drivers find suitable challenge, and newcomers can find a race to suit them, but also friends of different abilities could still race together and it be fun, which in a game that can be as divisive as this, is a truly welcome thing.
A lot of the above will sound very familiar if you are a fan of the series, and especially if you’ve played F1 2012. However, what Codemasters have bought to the table unique to this year, is the options to drive in a variety of classic cars from the 80s as well as some classic tracks such as Brands Hatch. It’s a nice addition – especially when the delightful Murray Walker introduces things in his memorable tones – if really a mostly aesthetic one. Sure there are slight control variances in the ways the classic cars drive, and there is a lot to be said for how uber-cool they look when placed against the drab regulation-restricted designs of today. However there’s also a nagging feeling that once that novelty wears off, there’s not really a whole lot here to keep you coming back. 90s cars can be unlocked via charged DLC, but that’s really going to be for the real F1 enthusiasts, and even then I can imagine apathy setting in eventually. But that’s really because this is all about 2013, and the current drivers and teams, and the completeness you can experience in this game of an entire championship. That is what an F1 game should be about. The most useful other addition is the new mid-session save which allows you to save and quit mid-race rather than doing the whole thing in one sitting. This one will be mostly appealing to those wanting the realism and tactics of a full length 2-hour race, but may not have time or the bladder to do it all in one sitting. It’s a great little feature that works simply and well, and one I found I used quite often to break up the racing.
Annual games like this will always be judged on how it performs, and it’s improvements to its predecessors. It’s a shame then, that with F1 2013 not being the first F1 game of this generation that it suffers from what most yearly sports games do, and that’s its worth has to be measured on what it brings new to the table, and in this case, it’s mostly additional, cosmetic content which is nice, but not revolutionary. It’s still a game of a very good standard that stays true to the sport and the skill and dedication it requires to be truly good at it. It also requires plenty of patience, which is a good thing, seeing as though you’ll need to be through the overkill of autosaving the game feels the need to do.
So, all in all, whether or not you should spend your money on F1 2013 depends on your experience with the series so far. If you’ve played F1 2012 to death, there is little new here to make you part cash for a whole new game, unless you want to race this season’s tracks against this season’s drivers, or you’re an avid classic F1 fan. A much stronger recommendation comes to those new to the series or those that may have taken an F1 sabbatical, as the standard of game on display is actually very high, when you’ve put in some time to realise it. Once you’re kissing those apexes and nailing those braking zones, that’s when you realise the true joy of this game, and what it is trying to achieve. Plus it gives you the opportunity to stop Vettel winning another title, which is a big plus in this racing fan’s book.
- Firm controls
- Suitable for all skill levels with some practice
- Visually very good
- As true to F1 as any game yet
- Autosave times
- Additional classic content is mainly cosmetic
- Not a revolution from F1 2012
The Short Version: F1 2013 provides a very good formula one driving experience both to veterans and newcomers alike. Its gentle introduction, tweakable driving aids and different single and multiplayer modes mean there is something for everybody. However the similarity to its predecessor may mean that those having experience of F1 2012 won’t find enough here – despite the allure of classic cars and tracks – to tempt them away from what they know, and more importantly to part with their hard-earned cash.