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Review: F1 2012 - Xbox 360 version
It’s become a bit of a tradition since 2010 – every autumn a new F1 game is released by Codemasters, I buy it on release, play it for a little while and all the other new gaming releases that follow in October/November swamp it and end up stealing my attention.
I was determined not to let this happen again with F1 2012 – I knew there was a good game here that a lot of talented folk had sweated over. I’ve really dug deep and logged some hours this time. Just as well – as this game does not reward immediately. It ranges from being pretty tough to very challenging, depending on how you choose settings etc.
But this is this appeal of the game. There is a hard core of sim-heads out there who love the difficulty and fastidious attention to detail that the F1 games bring. They set up their force-feedback steering wheels and take on all comers online – woe betide you if your skills aren’t up to scratch. It’s a different proposition to racing games such as Forza 4 – where casual players can get a great deal of involvement, not just from driving but also from collecting, customising and photographing cars – indeed the forthcoming Forza Horizon caters for the casual racer even more. F1 2012 is a much more narrow corridor to work in.
In an attempt to make the first few hours of game time more accessible, the game starts with a Young Driver Test. This is set in late 2011 at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, just as the real F1 young Driver Test was last year. This is an invaluable tutorial. In the game it is set over two days – the first familiarising the player with acceleration, cornering, correct racing lines, wet weather driving (so treacherous!). It’s vital practice.
Day two introduces the player to some of the game’s other intricacies. Do you know what KERS and DRS do? If so then this game is definitely for you. These two items are part of the latest raft of changes to the F1 tech regulations in order to spice up racing and promote easier overtaking. In a nutshell – KERS gives an 80 horsepower boost for a brief period and it recharges every lap. DRS is a flap that opens on the main element of the rear wing to reduce drag.
Both of them have surprisingly large effects – not just in terms of straight line speed, but on the balance of the car. So the second day of the Young Driver Test familiarises the player with how and when to use these. Definitely use them on long straights. Try to save some of your KERS in reserve in case you have a bad exit from a bend with a rival closing in on you. Don’t use DRS while cornering or severe oversteer will result.
It works pretty well as a taster. Next the game encourages you to enter the game’s Career Mode and use the Season Challenge feature. This gives a cut-down calendar of 10 races – each 5 laps in length. It’s slightly less daunting than the full 20 race calendar at longer lengths. The other feature that this introduces is the rival system – select a driver you want to be your rival and if you can beat them in the best of the following three races, you can take their race seat.
Personally, it was quite satisfying starting in a Williams, poaching a Lotus race seat and then Felipe Massa’s seat at Ferrari. Then it was also quite satisfying beating Jenson Button, being offered his McLaren drive and turning it down.
All good fun. This takes things to the next level and with a few races’ experience the first hard-fought pole positions and wins should follow. After this, the game encourages you to play Career Mode fully, with the whole F1 calendar of 20 races open to you. This year brings the new Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas – it’s not a bad track, a bit featureless but challenging. I got my first win there, so I’ll always love it for that. Last year’s game introduced the Indian Grand Prix and 2010’s edition included the Korean Grand Prix – so the calendar is really quite varied now.
The visuals are better than ever – 95% as impressive as the graphics in Forza. The wonderful scenery of city tracks such as Monaco and Singapore impress as much as ever, as does the incredible architecture of Abu Dhabi. The cars look fantastic and detailed – only the textures of logos and badges look slightly blocky on replays. Also, the track surfaces look varied and detailed – but they don’t reflect the sunlight quite as well as a certain other well-known driving game... But overall it looks great – I’m nit-picking here.
The sounds are just as detailed and enjoyable – damn the engines sound good. It’s also possible to pick up nuances such as the onset of understeer on a wet track by the “scoooosh” sound of the front tyres scrubbing along. Deploy your KERS system and the engine takes on an even more urgent note as the revs build faster and you bounce off of the rev limiter, which also sounds evocative and accurate.
The handling of the car is challenging, but responsive. Your car will bite you – either understeer or vicious oversteer if you apply just a smidge too much or little throttle, braking or steering angle. But it’s a satisfying balancing act to try and hold for as long as you can. Just keeping on track and ahead of your rivals is stressful and exciting. At first – don’t feel bad about leaving the traction control fully on, there is way too much to worry about as it is! There are still many ways to spin out, understeer off etc, even with the system fully on.
Multiplayer is still the same compelling challenge it always was. There are some really, really good players online. Many of them have full steering wheel and pedal set ups and spend their evening’s honing their car’s exact suspension and aero setups as well as their steering wheel’s force-feedback settings… And then again there is always the small percentage of players who are incapable of braking for the first corner and ram you straight off of the track – but fortunately the game penalises such players heavily, with time penalties, drive-through penalties and more…
So it’s a deep, tough and detailed game. Not for everyone but I would encourage most gamers to take a look. If you are prepared to put some effort in, there is a rewarding game in here – and if you can eventually master the career mode then the multiplayer mode will never stop challenging. Good job, Codemasters.
F1 2012 is out now for Xbox, PlayStation 3 and PC