Formula One is a hugely capital-intensive sport, where each and every element involved is expected to perform at no less than a hundred percent. Year after year, we see cutting edge technology pushed to the very edge by unrelenting super-human drivers. Positions are swapped within the blink of an eye, races are lost due to factors as small as a wheel-nut failure, and history is re-written in milliseconds. F1 2012 arrives into the market with no less pressure. The rather unpredictable 2012 season so far has only made life more complicated for Codemasters. With high expectations from casual F1 fans and simulation enthusiasts alike, F1 2012 aims to cater to the entire range of gamers with diverse difficulty settings and simulation options.
The first change you’ll notice about F1 2012 is the new menu system. It’s simpler, slicker and far better optimised than F1 2011’s motor-home based menu system. The menus are easier on the eyes and are faster to respond even while racing. The graphics and presentation too have seen a positive improvement, with realistic modelling of the 2012 cars and with Codies restraining from using its (much loathed) “p**s” filter. The visuals on the PS3 version are in no way comparable to the PC version, but the game definitely runs smoother and is better optimised than last year.
The game feels great with both the controller and the racing wheel. Although my Driving Force GT (DFGT) wheel felt brilliant while driving and hitting the curbs, I couldn’t feel the minute twitches and bumps on the track, which I’d have liked. Another gripe is that the game cuts off the engine when the car runs wide onto the run-off areas. Although it’s being done to stop people from gaining an advantage, it does take away from the realism.
Codemasters has raised the bar a bit higher in F1 2012 as far as the sim aspect is concerned. The cars look and feel ever so closer to their real life counterparts. The grip levels in varying conditions are more palpable now, and even the various types of curbs have been captured well. KERS and DRS have been implemented nicely too. Earlier this week, I spent some time setting up my Williams car, but still couldn’t take the 130R at Suzuka with my DRS open. I had to dis-engage it for a second and re-engage it again after the turn. I was amazed to see the same being done at the same spot on the track by Pastor Maldonado during last weekend’s Japanese GP.
Such is the level of accuracy in detail in F1 2012. Tyre sim and fuel sim options have been taken out this year as Codemasters feels that the scalability of these two factors isn’t as good as it would’ve wanted. Both these factors are turned on automatically now, but are much less rigorous. F1 2012 is not a hardcore sim by any stretch of imagination, but still takes the racing a step closer to reality this year.
One aspect of F1 2012 that has seen little to no innovation from last year is the online gameplay. It features the standard quick race and custom race modes for some instant multiplayer action. There are also split-screen and LAN modes for some local multiplayer action. The split-screen mode is pretty smooth and impressive, but the co-op championship mode still remains the main attraction amongst the multiplayer modes. Nothing beats teaming up with a buddy to compete in a full-blown championship season. There’s also a new feature called Racenet, which offers an unbiased, weekly time trial challenge with all conditions and setups locked; a neat feature that fans have been requesting for some time now.
The meat of the action in F1 2012 is with the single player section. The developers have innovated quite well here. We start off the game with the ‘Young Driver Test’ held at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi. It’s a section where we’re taught the basics and given a few assessment challenges. Even though there isn’t much incentive in it, it’s still quite refreshing for someone like me, and would be a nice platform for newcomers to acclimatise themselves to the franchise.
Following the Young Driver Test, all the various other sections of the game get unlocked, including the career mode. The standard career mode remains largely unchanged from last year, however, there’s one noticeable change in the ‘long weekends’ this year. Long weekends offer only one practice session instead of three, which is a pity because I really enjoyed going through all the practice sessions. New to career mode this year is the Season Challenge, which is a non-technical, select ten-race season with one lap qualifying and minimal setup options – a very good take on the 2012 F1 season for casual players.
The Proving Grounds section offers the standard time attack and time trial modes. Apart from those, there’s the new ‘Champions mode’, where you face off with each of the seven F1 champions on the grid this year and a finale with all seven champions. This mode has three difficulty modes based on which medals are awarded. Difficulty balancing has never been Codies forte in their F1 games and the trend continues this year. While it’s appreciable that the developers have upped the ante at the sharp end of the difficulty settings, the difference between any two difficulty levels is huge.
The end result is that if you find yourself too good for a difficulty level and switch to a higher difficulty setting, you are hopelessly outperformed by the AI. I must’ve come across at least three multiplayer lobbies discussing the very same issue. Ideally, a game has to cater to its audiences’ difficulty needs rather than the audience yielding to the game’s difficulty needs. But one place where the devs have done a commendable job is the AI. The AI is far superior to both the previous F1 iterations. Not only does the AI respect your track presence, but gives a closely fought competitive challenge as well.
Yearly sport-based games often get criticised for their lack of innovation year on year. F1 2012 clearly doesn’t come under this category. It is a solid and true interpretation of the 2012 F1 season and is as close to living the high life of Formula One as it can get. It appeals to a wide audience and even non-F1 players can appreciate the fun gameplay that F1 2012 offers. It’s an instant buy for Formula One fans.