The lads at Codemasters Birmingham have achieved a lot in only a year. At first glance you might think that F1 2012 is just the usual gloss of new liveries, updated drivers, and tweaked teams. But there is so much more going on once you dig deeper. It’s evident once you actually get under way that Codemasters have set out to broaden the scope of their F1 series, and widen its appeal to gamers - fortunately though, without any obvious loss to that simulation feel.
In F1 2012, new game modes do a great deal to help newcomers understand the sport. The new Young Drivers Test mode gives gamers an introduction to the key aspects of racing, from starting and stopping, to the more complex cornering and DRS (Drag Reduction System) or KERS (a speed boost from a battery pack that absorbs braking energy). Alongside this are a number of modes which are focused more at the arcade gamer than hardcore simulation fan, but are nonetheless a blast.
The first in line in the aptly-named Proving Grounds is the Champions Mode - something I think many of us will have been wanting for a long time: an opportunity to test your skills against some of the more recent F1 champions. Scenarios in this mode (such as being a number of places behind Kimi Raikkonen, and having to catch him when he is on worn tyres and you have a fresh set) range from Easy to Hard difficulty, and allow no customisation of the car setups - so they really are an opportunity to just jump in and drive.
In the simulation focused Career there have also been some significant changes. The greatest of which is the introduction of the Season Challenge. This is a hot lap qualifying, five lap, ten race career mode, which allows only quick car setups and is focused at those who want the feel-good sensation of completing a career mode but find the 25% minimum race lengths slightly too taxing. It’s great that having a life outside of your career as a Formula One driver now doesn’t have to be a barrier.
The fully-fledged career mode is still here, and allows full customisation of the difficulty level you want to race at; from damage to race rules, automated pit-stops, and AI difficulty. You can then select either 25%, 50%, or 100% race distance, as well as a full or short race weekend. As some of you will know, real life F1 has numerous race sessions over a weekend, from Practices to three qualifying events to the race proper, and being able to tweak your race weekend to suit you is great.
The driving model has seen a significant overhaul. Initially I found this to be really challenging, even with ABS on full. To start with, I was turning my wheels to full lock, applying too much power, and spinning out. But what this has encouraged, and the game engine has supported, is a far more finely-tuned race experience. Now, I do a great number of calculations prior to entering a corner; calculating the entry angle, gently touching the apex, and moderating the power (it's a 2.4 litre V8 engine, after all) - all of which help to keep me in control.
Overall the experience has become more refined, more satisfying, and - in many ways - what I would imagine to be more realistic. It’s very clear from the driving model that simulation fans are not being left high and dry, and Codemasters Birmingham are continually striving to provide an even better experience to fans of the sport, and fans of the title.
Graphically the game hasn’t changed as much, still retaining it’s gritty realism. Some tracks are outright beautiful, such as the Singapore night race or the famous Monte Carlo circuit. The cars look magnificent, each accurately modeled after its real-world counterpart. The addition of falling leaves, and flying grass-blades, adds a subtle improvement, contrasting the high-speed carbon nicely.
The framerate really impresses, remaining silky smooth regardless of the number of cars on the screen. The weather model - which has always been a feather in Codemasters' cap - has also been refined, with a focus on realistic weather and visual cues (you will now be able to see a storm front brewing on the horizon, before it sweeps across the track dousing the corners in a liquid hell if you haven’t wised up and switched to a set of wet tyres.)
Codemasters have again brought an epic multiplayer experience to F1 2012. Racing with a total of 16 players online is an amazing experience, and a well-balanced penalty system has been implemented to ensure players who are too rough-and-tumble pay the consequences. Those of you who played previous F1 titles online will know of the carnage that the first corner of any grand prix usually results in.
The best addition though, if you’ve got an equally F1 addicted mate, is that you can now start an online co-op career. Or, thanks to the solid game engine, the split-screen mode allows you to race against a friend on the same console with very little graphical or frame-rate degradation, if any. Unfortunately it’s not possible to do a co-op career in split-screen mode, which is disappointing, but given the precision nature of F1 it’s hardly surprising - you’ll need all the screen you can get.
F1 2012 is by far the most satisfying, all-encompassing F1 experience yet. From the immersive graphics to the full-on career mode and the brilliant Season Challenge, it’s as though Codemasters have thought of everything. Highly recommended.