Despite F1’s worldwide appeal, since 2010 Codemasters’ annual F1 videogames have presented fans with a uniquely British proposition. This year it’s no different: F1 2012 opens with a montage, and around 70% of the footage takes place not in Monaco or Abu Dhabi, but in rain-sodden England. In addition to that, it’s all set to the melancholy strains of Noel Gallagher’s downbeat “What a life!” which helps to make for one of the strangest and most morose openings to a computer game, ever. Last year’s F1 2011 was far superior to its predecessor – adding vastly enhanced visuals and a decent online lobby system, to name two significant improvements – but is F1 2012 a needless new instalment, or have Codemasters outdone themselves again this year?
Nobody buys an F1 game for the story, but as usual there is a semblance of plot in F1 2012’s Career mode.... it’s just not very interesting. Rise to the top, be the best, win the championship etc.
The best thing about F1 2012 – without question - is the superb new tutorial mode. The previous games seemed determined to treat F1 like an exclusive club, and rarely helped you to understand what was actually going on. This year, you’ve got “Young Driver’s Tests” which not only give you a handful of helpful hoops to jump through, but also bombard you with relentless information. What the hell is KERS? Why do I keep losing grip on certain corners? How does the horse power of each car determine how I should drive it? All of these questions (and many more) are answered during the tutorial, and the information is relayed in a chatty, unpretentious style that even very young players will be able to understand.
Career mode is much the same as it was last year, although those utterly pointless first-person sequences – in which you constantly movedaround the paddock for no good reason – have thankfully been scrapped altogether. You’re still asked to deal with lots of email and read through press clippings, but between races you now exist in what looks like an ice-cold car showroom. This should make the experience much more jarring but somehow it doesn’t, and the stripped-back approach allows you to progress through your career without being distracted by pointless bells and whistles. Menus are faster and slicker too, and loading times have been slightly diminished.
Champions mode is the most attractive new addition to the gameplay roster. In it, you do battle with some of the sport’s top dogs: all six former F1 world champions. These are primarily challenge-based – overtake a certain driver in a specific number of laps, for example - and they’re quite furiously addictive. The new “Season Challenge” is constantly inviting too; you’re given the opportunity to challenge a driver from a rival team, and if you win two (of three) races against him, you steal his position.
There’s also an overhauled suspension system, which makes taking corners at high speed a lot less skittish than it was last year. F1 2012 still supports a full line-up of 24 cars online (16 players and 8 AI) and another welcome selling point last year was the brilliant split-screen co-op championship option, and that returns here too. Incidentally if you’ve never tried playing an F1 game on co-op, it’s well worth a punt.
F1 2012 doesn’t offer up the graphical quantum leap that its predecessor did, but this is still one sleek looking game. The weather effects are still periodically jaw-dropping, and just about everything – the cars, the tracks, even the people - are rendered beautifully. The only bum note (again) is the damage animation. Crashes look completely weightless and consequence-free, turning a hardcore racing sim into a toddler’s cartoon in seconds. The game itself is quite forgiving in this department – you have to work really hard if you want to execute a massive smash – but every collision continues to look like two Tonka toys hitting each other in a playpen.
That issue aside though, stunning.
It’s a damn shame that Codemasters are now stuck in this routine; once again, they’re delivering their new F1 game towards the end of the calendar year, which means that it arrives just as the F1 season is coming to an end. For some people, each driver being with their current and correct team is the most important thing in the world, and it would probably serve the publisher well to think about leaving it 18 months instead of 12 before releasing the next iteration. That said, if you can forgive its minor shortcomings, F1 2012 is yet another stellar release from the team at Codemasters Birmingham. Better looking than last year’s game, better content, better control.... if you’re a fan of F1 in real life or in videogame form, you’re heartily encouraged to get involved.