The mosquito whine of an F1 vehicle, to you, is like the ever-lasting climax of a symphony’s final movement. The sheer power of these cars, and the nano-management of their speed that is required to round corners without spinning out and ruining your tires in the gravel trackside, is your idea of satisfying challenge. Incessant warnings about “corner-cutting”, and brutal penalties for supposedly causing collisions are safety nets that you feel must be in place to maintain the fairness of this gentlemen’s race. The nerditude of picking out the right tyres, based on the chance of rain, and other background engineering details are as interesting to you as the race itself.
You are an FIA Formula One World Championship enthusiast, and F1 2012 has been designed, with love, for you.
First off, players must complete a Young Driver’s Test. F1 fans will immediately be very snuggly, as this is the genuine mechanism through which new F1 drivers are selected to join international racing teams. The Test includes a series of uninteresting trials that require drivers to hit the apex of several sequential corners, watch a few videos, and learn how to switch on speed enhancing KERS and DRS systems. The practical tests are easy. Apices can all be tapped first time, because there’s no penalty for driving at the speed of a perplexed badger. After this a new player should feel more comfortable – they have been lectured about the game’s core systems after all. In reality it would be easy to feel put off, both by the complexity of the systems in place, and by the game’s hand-wavy, box-ticking attitude towards teaching them.
F1 2012 makes up for this in part, and should be praised for the sheer number of assists that are in place to scaffold new players. In easier modes the game will brake automatically, reining in the extreme speed of this type of racing car. Coloured coded trails guide drivers along the optimal route to complete a circuit, and change tone to subtlety hint at the perfect time to brake, even if the game happens to be controlling the braking. Best of all, the game features races in its main modes that are consistently short. As has become very typical in Codemasters' games, players can rewind after a crash or lessor error, and immediately shoot themselves back into the race. Restarts are encouraged at the beginning or part way through within the same context of cars and track conditions if any single corner doesn’t go so well. It’s a deft fusion of arcade-y trial-and-error and hardcore simulation. This is a game where players will constantly restart and retry to hone their skills to an absolute razor's edge.
More casually interested players must be warned however, because these are highly engineered machines and driving them is still very hard no matter how much ABS padding a vehicle might have. The wheel or control stick must be treated with restraint, especially when rounding a corner, or players will be plagued with under steer. The assists certainly help, but when they disappear a steep learning curve immediately emerges in their place. It's possible to play with all the assists on throughout, but that almost defeats the purpose of F1: there are hundreds of other, less demanding, racing titles worth considering instead.
Codemasters' 2012 iteration is stuffed with as many features as the multi-million dollar cars themselves, and is grounded in realism at every turn. Twelve teams, and double that number of drivers are pulled exclusively out of this year’s season. Hamilton and Vettel seem to turn up in every race, and usually emerge triumphant. 20 international circuits could scuff your tyres on any one day.
The attention to detail here is extraordinary, and not just in the famous names that are floating disembodied above each appropriately branded car. There many aspects of the F1 2012 before and during each race, that have tangible affects on gameplay. Drivers might start out with carefully chosen textured tyres gripping drenched tarmac. Unfortunately, the day is gorgeous, and the track dries out after a lap. Now those tyres are starting to feel like a curse. Engineers, after a dodgy race, might send an email offering advice on your personal driving technique. These small touches - and there are many - must make F1 fans absolutely joyous whenever they occur, while simultaneously upping the strategic angles of the core racing experience.
On top of standard career modes, Codemasters has added in an extra mode that pokes affectionate fun at the racers who have offered up their licensed visage. In Season Challenge mode it’s possible to challenge any of the top racers in this years completion. By beating them, players are then signed onto their team in their place. The professional's clothes are stolen too, like some kind of bizarre racing obsessed doppelganger.
F1 2012 is a must-play for Formula 1 enthusiasts who also count themselves among the ranks of racing game fans. The feature set is simply too rich, the attention to detail too great to turn it down. More casual racing fans will have a harder time justifying a purchase. It’s a steep learning curve, and quite an investment of time to function at high levels. Either way, it is certainly an achievement.