Developer: Codemasters / Publisher: Codemasters / Played On: PS3 / Price $59.99 / ESRB: Everyone
You’re on the grid in a multi-million dollar hypercar that accelerates so fast your eyes and your nuts swap places. There’s only one inevitability – that wall ahead of you. You’re hitting it.
This, for most people, is all F1 games amount to – frequent encounters with walls. F1 games face a unique challenge. Most good games are designed to be instantly gratifying, intuitive and accessible – all the things that F1 is inherently not. F1 cars are unforgiving, twitchy and incredibly complex. How do you simulate such a sport and still achieve accessibility?
F1 2012 manages this feat, and while it’s still not for everyone, it has hugely scalable difficulty settings while providing the level of insane depth, detail, and brutal challenge that F1 nerds will thrive on.
F1 2012 packs a generous selection of modes for a racing sim. The game kicks off with a Young Driver’s Test – an impressive recreation of the real-life tests teams host to offer young rookies a chance to prove their worth for a seat in F1. The Abu Dhabi events are voiced by Anthony Davidson, a pro race driver and presenter on UK’s Sky Sports F1 channel, who explains everything from the basics of race driving – braking points, racing lines, etc. – to more advanced stuff such as DRS and KERS. What the fuck are they? Exactly. Google it.
Season Challenge mode is an interesting option that lets you play a 10-race season as a rookie driver with the aim of quickly working your way up the ranks. Before the race begins you select a ‘rival’, who you must beat during the race. Doing so puts you in with a chance of stealing their seat at their team, gradually working your way up to a seat in a leading team.
For those moments when you feel like a quick blast, a new Champions mode sets you mini challenge scenarios racing against one of this year’s six competing world champions; Hamilton, Schumacher, Vettel, Button, Räikkönen and Alonso. Choose a difficulty, hit the tarmac and complete the challenge set. Simple.
All said and done though, the main Career mode is where F1 nuts will make a bee-line to; an uncompromising recreation of the full F1 2012 season – practice sessions, qualifying, races, the whole nine. This is where you plug in a nice steering wheel, put the gearbox in manual mode, crank up the surround sound and lose yourself in the fantasy of being an F1 driver. And it’s brilliant.
You start off as a rookie in one of the lower teams on the grid. You have an email inbox through which your team communicates with you, offering guidance and race targets, career progress and track reports. During practice sessions your Race Director gives you tasks – such as completing a number of flying laps within set time – to test new parts, which you’ll get to keep for future races if you complete the task.
Hitting your race targets gets the attention of the bigger teams, who will eventually offer you contracts, putting you in a car capable of winning a championship – the ultimate goal.
The car handling in F1 2012 is immensely scalable thanks to a range of driving assist options. Complete beginners can switch on racing lines, which show the correct route around the course and where to brake. Full traction control keeps those 750 horse powers under control on bends, and you can even turn on braking assistance that’ll handle all that slowing down business without you ever having to release the throttle.
Intermediate players can opt for moderate traction control, and partial racing lines, giving them more control over the car without being overly touchy in turns, and this is how the majority will play. You can hammer the gas out of turns, and throw the car around without it biting your leg off. There’s also a rewind feature, which lets you take back mistakes a limited number of times.
But proper racers (aka mental cases) can switch off all the assists and this is where F1 2012 comes alive – the real art of racing. Brake too hard and the car responds with chronic understeer. The throttle is a hair-trigger ready to oversteer and spin you around if you fail to modulate your right foot gently as you exit a turn.
Put a wheel on the grass and you’re in for a spin, if not instantly then likely at the next turn, where your dirty tires will punish you with vastly reduced grip. The stewards don’t miss a thing either – corner cutting or dirty racing will earn you penalties.
Insane levels of customization off the course – downforce levels, weight balance, suspension, gear ratios, engine settings and more – are followed up with on-the-fly adjustments of fuel levels and brake bias that can be performed while racing – just like the real sport. Your racing engineer keeps in touch during races too, giving you info on the state of your car (advising you when to pump up engine tune levels or nurture tire temperatures) as well as info on surrounding cars. You have to be mindful of fuel levels, overheating brakes, or cold tires that offer low grip. And dynamic weather makes picking your tire compounds just as crucial.
Combine this with the impressively captured roar of the F1 engines, that exhaust burble as you downshift and the fantastic sense of speed, and as a huge fan of F1, I can tell you Codemasters has lovingly crafted a definitive F1 game here.
Head over to multiplayer and you’ll find local network, split screen, and online modes, all customizable to make the racing as easy-going or ridiculously realistic as you like. You can turn collisions on and off, edit race rules, and toggle car damage. Another nice touch is the option to select whether you want cars to drive based on their 2012 performance or equalize them so everyone’s even despite their team choice.
Playing from my home in Vegas, I had a most enjoyable online session with Codemasters staff in New York, L.A., and England all in one race, and experienced near-to-no lag. Occasionally the net code would fall behind and cars you see crashing would reappear on the track as the server realizes that the player didn’t actually go off course, but this was an intercontinental session.
And a ranking system that awards points for wins and deducts them for losses will hopefully keep you in races with people who are genuinely of even skill levels.
F1 2012‘s visuals are a mixed bag. Most of Codies’ effort clearly went into the cars, which look great right down to the individual suspension bars, tire groves, and every button on the fully rendered and functional steering wheels. Heat hazes out the back of them when sat on the grid, and water streams off the tires in wet conditions, blurring the vision of racers behind.
But the track environments leave a lot to be desired. Admittedly, race tracks aren’t the most interesting-looking places in real life, but in the game everything other than the cars appears low-polygon, lacking detail and texture. It doesn’t compare to Gran Turismo 5 or Forza 4, which have some truly spectacular-looking environments.
On the plus side, it runs smoothly. I never noticed a drop in frame-rates even with 20 cars ahead on track, and at 200mph you barely get a chance to worry about a low-poly fence or tree anyway.
F1 2012 is surprisingly accessible for an F1 game, and can guide even the greenest of racing game players around a track. But does that mean it’s perfect for everyone? No. Despite the potential for mommy’s-boy-handholding, this is a nerdy simulation of a very complex sport in which going fast is just one small part of the overall challenge. It’s about strategy, setup, and reacting to changing scenarios. It’s a 200mph RTS.
Crucially, it’s like a Madden game – if you don’t get it, you’ll have a hard time appreciating it. If you just want to drive fast, the new Need for Speed Most Wanted looks awesome and will probably be more your thing.
But if you’re a big fan of F1 – or motorsports in general – and you’re up for a challenge, you can’t go wrong. F1 2012 feels like it comes from a developer that truly gets the sport and has tried not just to simulate the handling of an F1 car, but capture an insider glimpse of what its like to have an F1 career. And it totally nails both.
9 / 10