If you were a racing gamer in the nineties, you had two choices for Formula 1 games. The PC market was dominated by Geoff Crammond’s Grand Prix games which showcased unrivalled realism, while the console market had plenty of arcade-like F1 games to offer. When Codemasters acquired the F1 license, they merged both approaches into a single and well-received experience. Today we look at F1 2012, their third entry in the series.Upon starting the game, F1 2012 immediately tackles one of the points of criticism gamers had towards last year’s edition. This time around, a tutorial helps those new to the series cover the basics in terms of car and race mechanics. Through a mix of interactive challenges and video guides, even newcomers will quickly grasp all the central concepts that would have seemed random to them a year ago. The tutorial is well-paced, and an extremely welcome improvement. My only criticism is that the game makes it a requirement before opening up the career mode. Seasoned players will breeze through it because it’s paced so well, but if you regularly take your copy to a friend’s for some split screen racing then the mandatory tutorial might become a little bothersome.
One important note about the career mode is that the option to race a full season with your favorite real life driver (‘grand prix mode’) has been taken out of the game. For fans supporting a specific driver this may be a tough nut to swallow, but there are plenty of game modes left to enjoy. You can still do a full season, but only when using your own custom driver. You can also still race with Vettel, Alonso or Schumacher, but only in single races. The building blocks for ‘grand prix mode’ are still there, even if the mode itself is missing.
Instead, career mode takes you through the career of a young driver who first has to demonstrate some basic skills (the aforementioned tutorial) before moving up the ranks. This involves challenges, offers from better teams and competing for the top spots as you develop your career towards the ultimate goal of winning the championship.
In additional to career mode, F1 2012 also has time trials, ghost cars to race, single races and the so-called “Champions mode”, which involves racing against the six F1 world champions currently competing for the real life title. Each challenge offers you a different scenario, with weather changes and tire choices all playing a role. This may make the experience feel mission-based more than race-based, but it’s a fun addition to the game and very well presented.
The actual racing feels like a great mix between simulation and arcade. All the tracks and cars are there, weather conditions make a real difference and configuring your car just right can make or break your result. And for those who feel like managing when to change to different tires or fuel types is a little too daunting, you can also just rely on the in-game advice. The game also looks and sounds absolutely great, with race replays so convincing that they managed to captivate onlookers who weren’t even interested in the game itself.
The sound design also deserves a special mention, because the days of just throwing a bunch of engine sounds together in a loud mix are gone. F1 2012 of course still packs plenty of horse power in its sound design, but adds subtle details that make all the difference. Water splashes and wind blasting by your head on the home stretch have to be heard to be believed; it’s that good.
F1 2012’s multiplayer mode seems a little hit and miss, but this isn’t due to the game’s design. An online race can easily be ruined by someone who decides it’s way more fun to run others off the track, but one on one racing with a friend who is roughly at your skill level can be incredibly exhilarating. If future versions add some kind of ranking system or gameplay modes that create the same experience for everyone, then there’s multiplayer racing gold here.
While there may be room for improvement, F1 2012 is the best one in the series and (for the first time in the series) perfectly geared towards F1 novices as well. With so many gameplay and tweaking options, fans of the sport and the series will be right at home here, even though they might miss grand prix mode. With the series still improving, I’m curious to see what Codemasters comes up with next year!