It should come as no surprise to anyone that knows me that I am able to recall a time when sports games began annual updates to their individual franchise. The jeers and apprehension that came with these annual updates were initially justified as programming moved from using fantasy teams to using current rosters. Unfortunately, it took a few years before the actual enjoyment of these titles would justify buying an entirely new game just to hear new Madden lines or to see new on-ice fight sequences. Of course, just as the NHL and NFL annual offerings became accepted, other sports franchises took on the same business model, it wasnt long before we would see soccer, tennis and even sport hunting titles trying to create enough substance to get gamers to buy into a new and improved edition.
I suppose that since Nascar has tried annual offerings and since sports fishing seems to have taken a momentary break there just may be room to justify an annual F1 circuit title. Codemasters is giving gamers a 4th annual open wheeled racing experience with the release of F1 2012. Rather than just doing a mediocre update as is typical game developer style, Codemasters has dug deeper into the entire F1 genre to deliver a technically challenging title, while making the entire franchise more accessible to gamers.
Codemasters is in no way new to the industry and their list of titles reads as a cross section of gaming history. Helping to seal their position as the go-to team for open wheeled racing we are introduced (very subtly) to Codemasters Racing. The consistent growth of the franchise under Codemasters watch certainly would seem to hint at a future full of possibilities.
I, personally, have not jumped into the F1 gaming waters since my review of F1 2010 and if youve read that review the reasons are quite clear. As stated before I was not a fan of the fine balance between game and realism. I really should have given the 2011 edition a shot as it would seem that the franchise has grown in leaps and bounds by creating an even more realistic racing sim while finding a way to keep casual gamers like myself deeply enthralled in the overall experience.
This years iteration once again features a detailed career mode, and yes, once again you start off as the new rookie vying for the top spot among the various F1 teams. The practice sessions still having you trying to memorize the little details to help you jump ahead, the qualifying rounds will still have you watching the clock (and cursing minor mis-steps) and of course, the career races can still be an endless source of frustration (that is unless you can exceed through the practice and qualifying rounds).
But as I stated before, Codemasters Racing is about the total package, not just the final details, but also the overall experience. This time round we are introduced to the F1 title by way of a Young Drivers Test. Presenting itself as a tutorial of sorts, the non-initiated (and just poor skilled drivers like myself) are taken through the details involved with open wheeled racing. Utilizing this familiar style, really drives home some of the more challenging aspects of the game by showing just what it takes to come out on top.
For the purist, the Career mode will have you choosing how many laps to utilize, but with 50 laps, practice sessions and qualifying for each race will take hours; so the prospect of taking on the 20 races it takes to even consider a top spot is incredibly daunting. The developers have chosen to dumb things down by with the inclusion of the Season Challenge. Season Challenge lays out 10 races, each with a unique qualification lap which ghosts your competitors to show how they approached the track, followed by a mere 5 lap race to the finish. If you beat out your challengers you can pick up a place on their team, quickly moving you to the top of the heap. This mode (for me), gave a better sense of accomplishment without delving too deeply into the overall dynamics.
Another challenge is the new Champions mode; this will have you placed in very specific situations from the weather, to your vehicle and your challengers. In each of the races you will need to adapt to the situations at hand, through the course of one race, to be able to show any sort of dominance. While this mode drops you into the action quickly, it also relies on your working knowledge of the F1 driving basics.
F1 2012 features a pretty comprehensive online mode. Complete with co-op career mode, online races and even the familiar split screen mode (which had me flashing back to my Pole Position days). There are a number of online options but many of your competitors online will be more than just casual gamers and some even had me questioning whether or not I was playing a real person and not some ex war games computer with time on its binary. Your best bet is to find a friend to play online and have them tangle up your competitors while you sprint to the finish.
Visually the game is a big step from the offering 2 years ago. The vehicle details fit seamlessly with the environments and the sense of speed is extraordinary. The screen is literally filled with beautiful surroundings; the buildings, the tracks, the walls, even the way the light and water interact put you fully in the moment. Likely the only real complaint is that things pass by so quickly you dont get much time to enjoy everything happening around you.
The sound development also takes top spot this outing. All racing games try hard to create a digitized realism to immerse you in the game, but F1 2012 mixes many of the subtle noises such as the way the vehicles sounds change as you move around the track as well as how your vehicle sounds as it interacts with the track itself. This isnt always a good thing for an arcade gamer however, as I would often try to recreate the whooshing sounds with complete disregard for the race at hand.
In all this title certainly helps to justify the inclusion of Racing to the Codemasters development title. The game has everything pretty down pat and delivers a great F1 experience. The only failing I can identify is the lack of a more casual play through. Id like to see an opportunity to lessen my opponents skill set and not just improve my weight distribution or monitoring my tires for wear. The development of the flashback ability is welcome, but rewinding time to find a better line through a corner isnt going to help a guy like myself.
F1 2012 certainly justifies an annual edition with so many improvements to the gaming mechanics but I think its time to showcase more vehicle damage and open the game so as to market to individuals that arent able to name through the current roster. This game would be scored very well by F1 fans unfortunately Im not one; however, the game does deliver a satisfying racing experience.