|Developer: Codemasters Birmingham
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: 2-16 online & system link, 2-player split-screen.
Despite more than their fair share of bugs and glitches us lot at Gamecell have found ourselves playing both F1 2010 and 2011 right up until the release of their respective sequels, and although we freely admit we’re inveterate petrolheads we don’t find we do that with any other regularly updated game franchises; and you can include FIFA, Tiger Woods, Forza, Need For Speed, Call of Duty and all.
F1 2012 starts well with a fantastic intro, backed by a great song that’s been stuck in my head for some time (I suspect its weekly use on Soccer AM has something to do with that); What a Life by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. The presentation menus are as slick as ever, with a clean F1-centric look and some apt selection screen and event music. The voices of Anthony Davidson and David Croft give it the authentic Sky F1 feel.
As an intro to the career mode there is now a “Young Driver Test,” a 2-day programme staged at Abu Dhabi’s spectacular Yas Marina circuit. It has you performing various tests and techniques.learning how to judge braking distances and how to use the car's KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) and DRS (Drag Reduction System).
Last year our reviewer Jensen said of F1 2011 that it felt “unleashed,” and I think this year they've gone even further and have got the handling and physics closer to the real thing than any game has done before, with the performance differential between the top teams and the likes of Marussia, Caterham and HRT slightly more pronounced. The biggest change becomes apparent when your car reaches the limit of its adhesion; you get an audible tyre squeal to let you know you need to ease off, in the two previous games if you heard your tyres “complain” then you were already in what was almost always, an unavoidable spin. If you do get into a slide—whether it's through braking too hard or cornering too fast— it can all almost always be saved with a deft dab of the brakes or by simply easing off the power for a fraction of a second. Like the real thing, when the limit of adhesion is reached, few slides can be ‘powered through,’ although we have perfect examples of how both dabbing the brakes and ‘keeping your foot in’ can control a slow skid on a wet slippery track and a really fast slide (170mph) in the video below.
I also found that 4-wheel drifting, just like the real drivers do, is now possible on many corners as the grip level and lateral forces seem more realistic, or at least what I perceive as realistic. The feeling of going just over the limit and collecting up a four-wheel drift and powering out of a corner is extremely exhilarating. What’s now commonly known in F1 circles as “Track Evolution” has been faithfully reproduced, so the grip levels are also more distinct than in previous games. There seem to be four distinguishable track conditions; dry, wet with heavy rain, wet with light rain and wet track drying. The four dry tyre grades (tyre walls marked silver, white, yellow and red) are only suitable for a dry or damp track surface with an obvious dry line developing; intermediate tyres (marked green) only work on a drying track or with light rain; and wet tyres (marked blue) are only usable in heavy rain. The grip conditions are very distinctive and you immediately know when you're on the wrong tyres, although your engineer will usually tell you which tyres you should be on just after you’ve selected the wrong ones. This means you face at least one lap that feels like you have no grip whatsoever. Sometimes track conditions seem to be impossible no matter which tyre you have on, but hey, I’ve never driven an F1 car so maybe that’s just realism-some of the understeer-related crashes you see in real F1 make you wonder what’s going on. The main gripe I’d have with this is that being just one lap late in changing tyres can completely wreck your race-but again, maybe that’s just realism rearing its ugly head. Disappointingly when grip levels and track conditions are this critical you get no prompt from your engineer until it’s too late, as all he seems to do is report on what the weather’s going to do in 15 minutes and what tyre selection the other teams have just made. Either way, like me you’ll probably find yourself fumbling with the quick tyre selection menu (mapped to the D-pad, which is also assigned with fuel mixture and brake bias settings) as you enter the pit lane, praying you choose the right tyres for the predominate conditions.
When choosing a camera view you can choose between full screen, TV pod (central and offset), cockpit and close and distant chase cameras. For me the level of control has not only been improved by tweaks to the handling model, but also by subtle but noticeable changes to the TV pod and cockpit cameras so they give you a better feeling of attachment to the car. They still move slightly to point in the direction you are steering, but it’s very slight without the lurch of last year’s game, and this means you feel more connected to the car-and that’s always a good thing.
All of Codemasters racing games of late have been “lookers,” but to continue into dangerously sexist metaphor territory, F1 2012 is a truly gorgeous, big-boobed glamour model of a game. But she's no dumb blonde, there’s also admirable attention to detail like water droplets on the car’s paintwork, splashes and misting from the tyres in the wet, marbles, grass or dust on the tyres picked up when you go offline (I was actually surprised that your tyres don’t show flat spots when you lock up your front brakes) and remarkably realistic-looking gravel spraying around should you spin off into a trap. The scenery and track modelling is top-notch but the focal point is obviously the cars, and they don’t disappoint. They look curvy, detailed and shiny, and thanks to more sophisticated lighting effects even better than before, with logos just about as up to date as is practically possible (teams add/lose sponsors throughout the season.) For the sake of the overall look the game could have done with some more tyre smoke, water spray and carbon fibre flying around during big crashes but if this was done at the cost of the frame rate then I’m glad they did it this way. The wet weather rain and spray effects are amazing and I appreciate the designers want you to see plenty of instances of them in the game, but when I played career mode I got 100% chance of rain in both Abu Dhabi and Bahrain! I know they do have a bit of rain in the Gulf States in October and November, but seriously, come off it!
As before the game allows you to enter your name and play as yourself, which is a nice feature that not all F1 games have had in the past, but it's about time they upgraded the library of audio names for use in the multiplayer modes, rather than limiting you to nicknames and past and present drivers’ names, like ‘Champ’, ‘Nigel’ or ‘Pastor’. I'd also like to see a helmet design editor and the ability to personalise your car (the car you drive will still be labelled with the name of the driver that you replace) and scan your face (well, eyes anyway) into your driver’s helmet in a similar way to EA's Gameface does—this shouldn't be too difficult to facilitate and I'd even be prepared to pay a few Microsoft points for this if it were released as a DLC add-on.
A new mode to the Career section is Season Challenge, a truncated 10-race season consisting of 5 lap races in which you try to beat other “rival” drivers as chosen by you. Depending on which difficulty setting you choose your choice of starting teams may be limited; Hard difficulty means you only have the choice of Marussia, Caterham and HRT. This mode is designed to be a lighter, arcadier version of the career mode with one-shot qualifying and a quick setup menu to keep things simple and umm...immediate. Beat your chosen rival in a best-of-three mini-competition and you'll get a contract offer from his team, effectively nicking his seat; you can change teams up to five times within a season. It’s obviously not a good idea to challenge Fernando Alonso if you’re playing on Hard and driving a Caterham, but you soon get the feel of who you and your current car is capable of beating depending on your chosen difficulty setting.
I don't think I can recall a game that feels both so direct and responsive, and yet has such a varied and believable handling model. The crash damage can be spectacular if the collision is violent enough and involves enough vehicles, but I'm surprised there aren't even more bits of carbon fibre flying around. Of course, if crashes got too wild you'd get to the point where they'd be endangering virtual drivers’ lives, and Codemasters obviously didn't go there and I don't blame them.
We were impressed with F1 2010’s online racing two years ago and had a lot of fun with it despite a few glitches. Last year (F1 2011) seemed to improve things slightly but still suffered from too many time penalties seemingly being arbitrarily awarded for some very minor contacts, while kamikaze pilots who T-boned other drivers seemed to get away scot-free. This year the racing is as thrilling as ever but the same problems with penalty awards frequently mar races, particularly at the first couple of corners of a race when everyone is trying to gain "cheap" positions. The racing however, when kept clean (and yes, it does happen), is just about the most exciting thing I've done with my trousers on, and the net code handles up to 16 online players admirably. The collision detection is more consistent and it is possible to race wheel-to-wheel and have a light brush with an opponent without ending up in the wall, which happened too often with the 2011 game.
You can either join or set up your own ‘custom race’ and specify everything, from the race location and number of laps, short weekend, one-shot qualifying or race only, car availability, equal or 2012 performance levels, weather, damage, flags and rules, allow or ban any particular driving assists and camera views and make a race public or invitation only.
The racing has familiar XP levelling system, but now you will have a predicted finish allocated to you according to your ranking and can lose XP for underachieving, which seems harsh but certainly encourages you to race clean and avoid collisions at all costs. The same problem arises in multiplayer as in solo play, with penalties sometimes being awarded unfairly.
There is no option to play online with the collision detection off (although cars go "see-through/drive-through" if they spin and face the wrong way, either intentionally or otherwise), which will please the purists, but put off those who, perhaps unrealistically, expect to be able to race completely clean in an F1 game with 'ordinary Joes' from all over the world. In sessions we played when reviewing the game, we had racers from the US, Japan, Australia, Brazil, France, Portugal and all over the UK, and while there are plenty of collisions and bad driving, there were few instances of serious lag. One thing I’d like changed and I can’t understand why it’s there is the message that pops up if someone drops out of a game. If it was done in a subtle font up in a top corner or just out of your eye line that would be fine, but a whacking-great oversized white panel pops up! It’s clumsy, ugly, unnecessary and VERY distracting.
The popular co-op championship mode from last year's game returns; you can choose short (one-shot qualifying) or long race weekends, number of laps (three, five, 25% etc) and which team you both want to race for. There is also an extremely slick split–screen mode; this allows you both to select which team and real-life driver you want to be, the race location and distance (3 laps to 100% race distance) select the difficulty level, select either one-on-one or against an entire field of AI cars on any track, any distance with any weather, with separate control and assist setups. I'd have been impressed enough with this if it chugged along at 20 frames a second, but somehow they've made it just as smooth as the solo game and the cars remain incredibly controllable and smooth to drive. Impressively, you can even watch a full race, full-screen replay at the completion of the race, swapping between cars at will.
As you'd probably expect the game isn't perfect and as usual us lot at Gamecell found a couple of glitches; starting with a couple of minor ones, some tracks have bollards to mark the apexes of corners, and often when hit by cars the top part will just remain hanging in midair. There's also a glitch with the replay mode; if a race that started dry finishes wet, then the replay of the race will sometimes show the start with wet weather. We also had a couple of instances where we just drove through cars for no apparent reason, and worst of all had a strange glitch at Monaco in which our car hit a barrier and then disappeared through the bottom of the track! We couldn't however replicate either of these anomalies, so perhaps they’re as rare as Grosjean and Maldonado both having a clean race.
If you've read this far, then well done, you've nearly reached the chequered flag! To put it simply, and succinctly F1 2012 is the slickest and most playable representation of F1 I’ve seen, and I’ve been playing Formula One games since Geoff Crammond’s 1992 benchmark Formula One Grand Prix game on Amiga and PC. If you bought a Formula One game in the last 15 years and, like me, have been regularly disappointed, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by Formula One 2012, it's as complete and polished a simulation of a major sport as there is around at the moment.
- Improved, “friendlier” handling.
- Looks amazing throughout.
- Plenty of racing to do.
- Quality online racing.
- Split-screen and system link too.
- A couple of glitches and those "unfair" penalties.