“I emerge from the famous Monaco tunnel at just under 180mph and readjust to the light before dropping four gears and braking heavily into the Nouvelle chicane. I ease gently round the tight left-hander just ahead then throw the car through turns 13-16, before braking heavily approaching La Rascasse and turn in slowly. My McLaren threatens to hit the barrier as I battle a wobble of oversteer from applying the throttle too early. One more corner now, slowing to 50mph to take the Anthony Noghes turn before straightening the car and pressing my foot to the throttle, activating the DRS and deploying what remaining KERS I have left…approaching the finish line…is it pole position…?”
F1 2012 is Codemasters Racing’s third outing in their BAFTA-winning Formula One series and, not unlike a Red Bull at the Spanish Grand Prix, arrives with a raft of upgrades aimed at keeping it at the head of its field. The introduction described my emotions as I took my first lap around the notoriously difficult Monte Carlo circuit and highlights just what F1 2012 does best: immersing the player into feeling like a Formula One driver. Each of the 12 teams, 24 drivers and 20 circuits (including the as-yet incomplete Circuit of the Americas in Texas) are realistically represented in F1 2012, but Codemasters’ focus isn’t on them, it’s on your experience in the world of Formula One.
Immediately the player is introduced to one of the key additions to the series: the Young Driver’s Test in Abu Dhabi. The test acts a tutorial; teaching you the basics of accelerating and braking, introducing the KERS and DRS power boosts and showing you how to take a corner quickly and effectively without wearing your tyres. There’s even something for the most experienced F1 veteran to learn as this provides a necessary introduction to the different way the cars handle.
Codemasters Racing have made a real effort to make the player feel like a Formula One driver in F1 2012. The Young Driver’s Test is just one aspect to the immersive experience Codemasters have crafted, with Career mode in particular benefitting from a major facelift that reinvents the campaign entirely. No longer does the five-season career mode feel like a laborious “next race and the next race then the next race” experience. The greater focus on beating your teammate, fighting for position within the team, keeping track of your tyre wear over the 20 races and developing your car throughout the season helps put you in the mindset. It won’t be possible for you to win a race in a back-of-the-field Caterham or Marussia car; in fact you’ll need to put in the lap of your life just to out-qualify your teammate, let alone make it through to Q2.
Also new to the series is “Season Challenge”, a ten-race campaign that focusses on picking a rival and beating him in a “best of three” series for the chance to take his race seat. The World Championship is also up for grabs in Season Challenge, but the focus is on beating your rival on-track and is a good way for the less-experienced to get acclimatised before taking on Career mode.
Champions Mode is another new feature to F1 2012 and requires you to beat each of the six world champions on the Formula One grid in separate scenarios, from stopping Lewis Hamilton overtaking you at a wet Brazil to beating Kimi Raikonnen, who is five places ahead of you, in three laps. The traditional time trial and time attack modes make their welcome return, as does the online multiplayer which runs smoothly and is ruined only by the traditional “happy bashers” running you off the circuit at any opportunity.
The mechanics don’t significantly from the previous entries but keeping control of your car is noticeably harder. Whilst your V8-powered machines aren’t quite as prone to oversteer round corners as they were in F1 2011, it’s much more difficult to take a corner perfectly and apply the throttle early without losing stability and smashing into a barrier. Even with the traction control and anti-lock brake assists turned on, measuring how much speed you take through a corner versus the overall stability of the car is a difficult task and often means you’ll be using the trademark “Flashback” feature to re-take a corner you just lost your front wing on. Tyre wear is also difficult to manage with your Pirelli rubber wearing quickly should you slide round corners or lock up your brakes too often, presenting a new challenge to the balls-out racer in all of us.
At first glance the game appears just like its predecessors but it arrives with a few extra graphical refinements that push it into the realms of genuine beauty. A full-distance race around the Abu Dhabi circuit as the sun sets in the background is awe-inspiring as are the lights and fireworks of night-time Singapore. The weather system has also been enhanced, with rain no longer falling in random spots but across the track in line with cloud movement and wind direction, making the decision of when to switch from dry to wet tyres more intelligent. The wet-weather effects are stunning; rain bounces off the chassis and into your visor as you follow another car in the poor conditions and cars realistically aquaplane on the slippery surface.
The biggest improvement is the AI of the other 23 drivers on the grid. The likes of Hamilton, Alonso and Maldonado will put up much more of a fight when you try to overtake them, aggressively defending their position and moving to prevent you outbraking them on the inside of the corner. The AI also puts up an intellectual battle when attacking; waiting for the best moment to dive down the inside and deploy their own KERS power boost before turning their engine up to maximum revs and power to pull away from you. The sheer difficulty of passing and defending against your rivals means gaining a place feels like an accomplishment, and losing one on the last corner of the last lap crashes down like an absolute hammer blow.
There is very little to complain about aside from some sporadic drops in frame-rate around the streets of Monaco and the penalty system, which still occasionally penalises the player for accidents caused by the computer. The aesthetic is stunning and speeding through the forests of Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium is an absolute joy, whilst the improved AI and increased difficulty in car control creates a more challenging but always enjoyable experience for racers old and new.
F1 2012 is a superb title, possibly Codemasters Racing’s finest to date. It brings the feeling of being a Formula One driver directly to your TV through its intense racing and superb presentation. If I do have one recommendation for anyone looking to buy F1 2012, play it with a steering wheel and pedals as opposed to the traditional controller. The experience of grabbing that first pole position at Monaco, just as I did, is so much better for it.