There are many reasons why video games are popular. Some allow us to escape, others to become the hero, they all take us on a journey, and it is that journey that allows us as audience to be absorbed wholeheartedly into events far out of the reach of the common man. Over the past year I have had experiences, many great, some poor, from shooting kidnappers in South America to using my hands to control a lightsaber. All in all these experiences are ‘escapism’, a chance to escape the mundane of nine to five, and play in a world I could never imagine possible. This may sound like a peculiar way to start a review about a racing game, but stick with me. Whereas most of us enjoy these outer world fairy tales, there are still games that appeal to the inner child. The ones that fulfill that need to fly a spaceship, become a footballer or, in this case, become racecar driver. These games, have another power over us entirely, allowing us to follow dreams and where some may feel underwhelming, there are some that fulfill that most basic of desires. F1 2012 is one of those games.
New to this year’s installment is the young drivers test, your first chance to learn the ins and outs of Formula 1 racing at Yas Marina Stadium and racetrack in Abu Dhabi. This feature has been sorely lacking in previous titles and one that softens the blow for series newcomers. The tutorial, although not exactly ground breaking in its approach, features a series of videos and maneuver trials that serve as a great foundation. Accelerating, breaking, DRS, KERS are all given attention, bridging the gap for those lacking in race confidence and being a refresher for those ‘in the know’. Overall it starts relatively easy but slowly becomes tedious, in particular sections requiring you to hit all apexes. These become a case of trial and error, which are extremely unforgiving. Expect to take a good hour rattling through these that although at first may feel tiresome; you’ll soon begin to realize how vital this training will become in not only preparing you for the challenge ahead but also accustoming you to the nuances introduced in this seasons race calendar.
F1 2012 starts as a means to go on, enveloping you in the driving experience, all part of Codemasters endeavor to surround you in everything Formula 1. Cars, real world drivers, even team member’s show up, to give a polished and sheened approach that creates a simply great gaming experience. From the offset you truly feel like an up and coming racer, put in the midst of a season. The career mode does a fantastic job of providing you with all the tools necessary to feel part of a team. Emails from agents, crew advisement from the pit all play a part in creating an immersive experience that places a degree of expectation on your shoulders one you feel you should not only meet, but also exceed.
It is this expectation, provided via expected rankings and particular drivers you should be able to outpace, that places a firm emphasis on continual driver development. This improvement through the career is one that is given particular attention, meaning if you fail to keep up with the pace, you won’t find the races that enjoyable. Concentration here is a must, where one lapse (or maybe five given the four flashbacks available) can cause any number of irreversible consequences that could see you lose, minutes if not hours of game time. It is challenging, brutal and at times infuriating, certainly not feats for the faint of heart, but ones that truly describe the feeling of being in a Forumla 1 car.
This attention to detail in career mode is taken just as seriously in terms of design. Tracks look glorious, sunlight shimmers off track surfaces, rain reflects graciously against the car chassis, it all adds to a perfectly weighted and realistic adventure. When driving at speed, you can almost feel the G-Force, the splash of upturned grass as you shift nearest the edge of an apex, at times I could have sworn the smell of burned rubber tinged my nostrils. It’s never as if one system feels overpowering either, all here are the sum of their parts creating a fully holistic racing extravaganza.
The most awe-inspiring element on show here though is the weather system. Continually shifting through weekends and even in races it keeps you on your toes. Whilst it may start as a small summer shower, dark storm clouds brew overhead that soon turn into torrential downpour. It works beautifully, crafting a true to life experience that British race fans will no doubt be accustomed to. However, at times, it can cause momentary lapses in AI competence, slowing them down, causing accidents and so forth that may cause the occasional unwarranted penalty.
Don’t anticipate all the fun to be had by those chasing the constructor championship either, there is plenty on offer for those looking for a more accessible game. Champions mode, pitting you against six of the top racers in varying challenge scenarios offers more Arcade style gameplay. A welcomed addition to those not able to spare the time to complete practice, qualifying and a full race in the fully fledged career mode. There is also Season Challenge, providing a faster paced single player campaign, once again fulfilling the need of those squeezed for time. Pitting in you in only ten races for a season, at five laps each, this is a much tighter season mode over a much shorter time frame. Both modes will appeal to the more intermediate player and are a great feature for those fearing the nervy jump to the out-and-out career mode. There is also the standard online multiplayer and split screen options available, both performing as expected with no noticeable lag or frame rate drop to speak of. You can also hop onto a co-op championship and progress through a career with an online companion.
Whilst F1 2012 may be seen as a racing game, it couldn’t be far from it when compared to the multitudes on offer in the genre. This is simulation racing at its most fierce, offering one of the most challenging, visceral encounters I’ve ever undertaken. It requires your full attention from start to finish, a level of concentration that may turn away some players, but one that can be completely satisfying for those willing to put in the effort. There is lots of fun to be had, but also lots of skill required to get the most out of what can be best described as unforgiving at best.
This is simply the best F1 game released to date, capturing the dynamic, exciting and instinctual world of Formula 1. It will demand almost all of your wit, skill and determination to master, but an experience so rewarding, it’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up.