It all started with the ToCa series which later evolved into what is one of the best, if not the best arcade/simulation racing game ever made, and which introduced the Flashback concept: Grid Racedriver.
Since Grid, Codemasters racing, have brought us four Dirt “rallye” arcade simulators, and three fully fledged, FIA licensed Formula 1 arcade sims, the latest one being F1 2012, which is the one I’ll be looking at today.
Firstly, as an avid F1 fanatic, I’d been looking forwards to playing on the new tracks, with the new tyre rules, new teams and drivers and the inevitable new features that game developers tend to include in their new games. Unlike EA Sports, who release their “seasonal” sports games slightly before the actual sports season begins, with the occasional hilarious result (this year the ONLY NHL hockey played, will likely be on consoles, thanks to the players unions being locked-out by the team owners but I digress…) however Codemasters have taken a different road and have been waiting until about mid-season to release the F1 games.
This is a good thing and a bad thing.
On the one hand it’s better to wait since it was impossible at the beginning of the F1 season to predict what was going to happen with the tyres, cars and new pilots, some of which have been surprising like Team Force India, Sauber with Perez in particular, and Ferrari who are doing far better than expected.
On the other hand though, it would’ve been easy to release a mid-season patch, something EA used to do but have stopped since 2008.
So on to the actual game then. First contact with it was delayed because even though I had pre-loaded the game off Steam, when the game finally unlocked it took about half an hour to decrypt the files -even on a Core2Duo@3.6Ghz- and start the game, this was unexpected and probably not relevant to anyone purchasing the retail version of the game, it was nevertheless quite annoying.
Then once you start the actual game you’re forced into something they call the “Young Driver Test” and which I’ve grown to loathe. Last year when playing F1 2011, I pestered against the fact that there were an incredible amount of unskippable cut-scenes, verbal tutorials which involved the team engineer or your manager performing a monologue about how to use email or change helmets. The key word here being unskippable, and what it really means is that once you get the game started, you have to sit through 15 minutes of tutorials before you’re allowed to finally go and enjoy driving.
That was last year. This year, to improve things, Codemasters have included more unskippable ‘on track’ tutorials. Look guys, I have nothing against tutorials, I understand the need to show rookies what are known as ‘the ropes’, but this is the third iteration of the game franchise and frankly, forcing anyone who’s played through even only a few races of the previous versions, to go through the on track tutorials is like forcing Rambo through basic bootcamp. In other words it sucks.
And then there are the presentation videos. Someone who sits down to play an F1 game, probably already knows what KERS and DRS are, allowing us to skip these videos would’ve been better than forcing us to sit through them.
Moving on then, once you finally get behind the wheel of an F1 car, things largely improve. The physics model is literally identical to the 2011 and when I say identical I mean it for you see, in the 2011 game, as a rookie, you are offered a job with the three weakest available teams, and Williams F1. If you chose any of the weakest three (not Williams) all you had to do in order to easily win all the races except Budapest and SPA Francorchamps, was to use the following car setup:
Front wing – 11
Rear wing – 11
Front height – 1
Rear height – 1
Front spring strength – 11
Rear spring strength – 11
Front torsion bar – 11
Rear torsion bar – 11
Finally, tweak the transmission to hit the rev limiter just as you hit the brakes with DRS and KERS (when available) at the end of the longest straight, and leave the rest of the car unchanged, if you have any driving skill you should be able to outqualify and win 3/4 races. Sadly for Codemasters, even though the bottom three teams have changed, the car setup is still the same and as far as I could see, yields the same results in the 2012 version of the game.
As far as the controls go, they are largely unchanged except that somehow, they’ve built an extra dead zone into the steering wheel, in my case, a fully supported Logitech G27. So your first reaction is to go into the advanced wheel settings and narrow it down, only when you get there, it’s already at zero!
I’d like to assume Codemasters will release a patch to address this issue because at zero, there should be NO steering dead zone, not about 5%.
Untouched are the instant replay and flashback systems included in all the Codemasters racing games since Grid Racedriver.
The rest of the game is quite impressive, difficult, intriguing. Occasionally you’ll be racing on a track like the aforementioned SPA Francorchamps where the settings don’t work as well as the other tracks, and you’ll be forced to actually work. Missing in this year’s F1 game is the practice mode where you could tweak the car to your liking for a whole hour. Instead, you can run the regulation three session qualifying followed by a longish 25% race length (I preferred 20% which allowed me to play two races in one evening but this is acceptable) and forcing you to change tyres at mid race.
A nice touch is the tyre behaviour which is close to what we see on the actual F1 races. Tyres are good for about five laps, at 25% distance proportionally, which translates to about 20 full length laps, then they begin to seriously slide around and before you know it, you’re either understeering onto the grass in turn one and two, or overaccellerating out of turn 9 in Melbourne and into a spin.
F1 2012, also sounds fantastic, the engine tones vary from team to team and the engineer giving you instructions is never too intrusive, although at times he is hilarious like for instance when you’re coming out of a pit stop and are told that your last sector was 16 seconds slower than the one on your previous lap and to please push…
Finally, dynamic weather is something that’s been built into previous versions of the game, and this year it’s no different with clouds and rain coming in and out as the weather predicts, or sometimes not.
All in all, playing the game is a phenomenal experience, marred only by loads of unskippable cut-scenes, training runs and videos which range from “No! Why?” to “I will throw this large rock at the television!” in severity. Once on track though, the game is almost flawless except for the steering dead zone and a few tweaks like a more obvious indicator when applying KERS or DRS.
Because of all that, it gets 8/10.