In this third F1 iteration, Codemasters follows its now established annual tradition of stepping forward with overall refinement, of drastically changing the most important aspect of the game – being handling physics – and of making a total balls-up of several critical aspects.
First: the handling. Once again, it’s completely changed. 2011’s cars were twitchy beasts and the power and grip levels were minutely and wonderfully tangible. Balancing the throttle was key, and every undulation of the track was felt and had an effect on balance. That’s all gone. The new model smooths things out and adds an almost impossible-to-break level of rear grip.
Codemaster’s spoke with pride of a better tire model pre-launch, but also went out of its way to frequently drop words like “arcade” and “accessible”. The new cars ride very flat and stable on the road, and once you’ve pointed the car at the apex you can safely stand on the gas with almost no throttle modulation needed, even on traditionally tricky turns.
Up the front of the car, there’s very little feel from the front tires, and – worse – grip. Understeer is now a very big deal and that all combines to totally change the way you drive the cars. It’s all about braking early, now, positioning the car for a perfect exit line, then mashing on the gas.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and driving can be very satisfying when you figure it out. Pity, then, that Codie’s F1 project lead Steve Hood announced just a few days ago that they acknowledge this as an issue, and that they’ve have found a fix that will be released in a post-release patch.
Conclusion: bells and whistles are more important to the developer than nuts and bolts.
Lovely bells and whistles they are, though. Despite using the same EGO engine, graphics have been polished nicely. Detail and colours are better and it runs faster on a given system than 2011. Track surface textures in particular have been vastly improved and vary wonderfully track to track. Loading times are fantastically improved too, and the menu system is lovely to look at.
But still, flaws need to be inserted. The PC version maps UI functions to wheel or controller buttons, and I bet you don’t know which one is ‘button 6’, for example.
The view from the cockpit position has been tweaked and it’s very nice; though your on-screen eyeballs are positioned a bit higher up than in a real F1 car, it’s a nice tweak that improves track visibility without denting immersion.
But what of the enormous oversized mirrors? They’re about twice the size of a real F1 cars’ and do a great job of blocking your view of the apex. We’d understand if they were actually useful, but they’re not. They are 100% useless. Cars can only be seen if they’re within a car length of you, beyond that they pop out of view – despite being able to see a vast stretch of the track and its surrounds.
In racing the AI is fast, but too careful. They do make mistakes, though, which is nice. A tweaked penalty system sees a timer pop up with a chance to relinquish an illegal pass, also nice. But corner cutting has been relaxed and is too easy to abuse.
From the beginning, this series has been all about ‘living the life’. That means nicely structured competition and career racing, and sweet icing like a good radio voice dude and funky strategic choices. Now brake balance can be adjusted in-car, and pre-race a choice of three fuel loads can be made, so more fuel, for example, means more time on the powerful Rich fuel setting, but on the flipside it’s heavier. Good stuff.
For bash and thrash fun Champions Mode throws up canned challenges, like beat Kimi in 4 laps, etc. Season Challenge is a new compressed season of just ten of the most famous circuits, that’s nice too. And of course, the meat is the full Career mode, which is 5 years-worth of full seasons, pitting you against your teammate for car upgrades, and the rest of the field for the chance to get an offer from a better team.
Yet, they muck it up again. In 2010, 2012 – and every damn F1 game ever made by anyone, ever – you could race a full season in your favourite car. Inexplicably that’s been taken out of 2012. Tough luck if you’re a Ferrari, Red Bull or McLaren fan, because you’ll have to start in a crappy HRT or Marussia and do potentially dozens of races for the chance – and it’s not guaranteed – to eventually be offered a drive in your preferred car.
Once again the F1 series comes tantalisingly close to being great. The burden of a tight annual schedule, and an ever-increasing widening of the franchise and its supported platforms limit what can be done, but is it too much to ask for the basics?