The F1 racing circuit has always been a solid breeding ground for video games. As with most specialized types though, F1 is definitely not for everyone. You really need to be a huge fan of the sport to appreciate everything that Codemasters Birmingham does with these titles. That said, F1 2012 is easily their best effort to date. Taking the brutal difficulty of earlier games and finding a middle ground for all players really helps keep this title more accessible. Combine that with the unparalleled realism the game offers, and you easily have the best F1 game ever created.
Taking to the training grounds is a must for anyone new to the series, or even series vets to get re-accustomed to the mechanics of the game, as well as the KERS and DRS systems. This mode aptly dubbed ‘young drivers test’ will take you through all the motions as a driver. You will learn braking, lines, driving in wet weather and more. You will also be graded on performance giving you an idea of how to prepare for each race. This lengthy tutorial takes place on a gorgeously rendered version of the Yas Marina Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
A lot of what makes Codemasters’ F1 series so popular is its attention to detail. This year’s outing is no exception, as you still have the option to participate in full race weekends with test laps, timed runs and qualifying laps. What has changed this year is the ability to shorten all of this and simply run a qualifying lap followed by a race. This makes things much more accessible in career mode. For those of you who simply want to focus on the racing bit, this is a welcome addition for sure.
There is also a brand new Season Challenge mode that consists of ten races where you choose a rival, and race them for their car. This still has most of the amenities of the full career mode, just in smaller portions. In addition, you can also take on scenarios for even shorter bursts of action. The amount of content that gives players quick access to the action is much appreciated for being able to jump in, and just enjoy the racing.
The one thing you need to realize with this series is that it is a simulation. Learning how to drive the cars and how to handle them are imperative to victory. Veering off the track, even for a moment can result in penalties, and even disqualification. The game is strict but rewarding, and like last year, it offers up plenty of difficulty options and assists. You can tone down driver AI and turn on auto-braking much like any simulation racing game, but learning the ins and outs of the cars and how to perform is actually addictive. When you overtake a racer while barreling down the track at 200 MPH, it is truly exhilarating.
In addition to the robust offline offerings you can also hop online for some serious competition. Probably the coolest feature here though is the co-op career. You can team up with a friend and drive opposite each other as a team through the season mode. This is easily the most enjoyable portion of playing online. The rest is simply straight racing with a limited feature set. Rivalries would have been a great addition; sadly, they are absent. Codemasters has also included split-screen and LAN play, both of which perform admirably.
Visually, the game is stunning for lack of a better word. Granted last year’s game already looked fantastic, and the improvements are minimal, but this game really is a looker. The most obvious example is the weather system. Racing over a long weekend can result in rain developing and pouring onto the track. The lighting and reflections of the water are simply amazing. Watching storm clouds form in the distance really draws you into the atmosphere. It is also worth noting that the rain is not only cosmetic, it completely changes the dynamic of the race, forcing you to switch styles as well as tires and such.
The tracks and cars also look fantastic sporting some incredible detail down to the cockpit gauges and tire tracks. This game is truly gorgeous on so many levels. Sound is equally impressive with the roar of these engines purring through your speakers. The voice work for your crew is also decent with proper accents and an ample amount of dialogue. Music feels muted and background most of the time, but the rest is simply incredible. Codemasters are kings of presentation.
F1 2012 isn’t a huge leap forward for the series, but that doesn’t change its overall quality. The game is simply outstanding on every level, and fans of F1 racing definitely need to check it out. If you played last year’s game, it might not be a full-price purchase, but if you have been clamoring for an F1 sim racer and not taken the plunge since Codemasters took over, you are truly missing out. While the learning curve may be steep, the rewards are endless. F1 2012 is truly an example of master craftsmanship in the world of simulation racers.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.