There’s an argument to be made that F1 has been rendered boring by the dominance of tactics over aggression. Vettel is an incredible driver sitting in cutting-edge technology, but it makes the sport feel too clinical when a victory is only determined by a smaller number in the pit stop column rather than average lap speed. While strategy plays a part in Codemasters’ not-quite-sim franchise, good old-fashioned blood and thunder wins the day, and this time around a handful of wild retro cars enthusiastically fray F1’s clean racing lines.
F1 2013 isn’t just a classic car expansion to last year’s strong F1 entry. The game's fleet of lightning-fast rides now behave better under heavy braking and corrections are easier, even though rear traction is lost sooner compared with previous years and gravel now plays a role (although grass and curbs still aren’t disruptive enough in this regard).
However, this doesn’t mean the game has been dumbed down by any stretch. As always, smooth negotiation of bends is rewarded, but pushing slightly too hard won’t result in automatic punishment the way it has in the past. Of course, the series’ wide range of well-implemented driving aids are still present, and greatly even out what would otherwise be a savage learning curve for newcomers.
The AI is better this year, with more aggressive opponents happy to go side-by-side and fight harder than before. There are also fewer dodgy penalties doled out, and the game's tire conservation feels more realistic.
Last year’s excellent lighting and weather effects have improved too – water from the sky and track is a particularly beautiful menace – and it’s awesome to see small tweaks like localised weather temporarily affecting tyre temperatures, but those hoping for damage modelling akin to that found in other Codemasters titles will be disappointed.
Despite these tucks and tweaks, the biggest changes are represented in F1 2013’s classic content.
The standard version of F1 2013 includes five cars and 10 drivers from the ‘80s, as well as the Jerez and Brands Hatch circuits, while the more worthwhile Classic Edition adds six 1990s cars, 12 drivers, and the Imola and Estoril circuits. The latter is also available as DLC.
Licensing has stymied the inclusion of a full classic rosters and seasons for now (only Williams, Lotus, and Ferrari are accounted for across the two decades), but what’s present is great fun to play around with. The retro cars all look, sound, and behave very differently from their modern counterparts and each other (no KERS or DRS, for starters), and nicely capture the relative rawness of motorsport in those eras. Better still, it all comes complete with optional visual filters, as well as an intro from the most famous voice in motorsport, Murray Walker.
The ‘90s cars in particular strike a winning balance between realism and arcade pleasure, but the obnoxious and unstable ‘80s cars also provide a great contrast to the comparatively sleek and predictable modern day rockets. Fortunately, all cars can be driven on all circuits, but the twitchiness of the classic line-up will have rookies at sea quickly, thus making classic GP, Scenario, and Time Attack modes more alluring to seasoned racers.
Mode-wise, elsewhere F1 2013 is mostly business as usual.
The Young Driver’s test splices challenges with tutorials for newcomers at Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina Circuit, and nicely encapsulates the Formula One racing scene in general. Most of the aforementioned driving assists are thoroughly explained, as are things like KERS and DRS. From there, a full career can be launched with a new driver, or the player can dip into specific weekends or a full season in Grand Prix mode. The custom season mode makes a welcome return.
There’s also Challenge mode, which involves trying to best a specific opposing driver over ten races to take his spot in that team, or the 20 Scenario Modes, which challenge the player to meet certain objectives such as coming back from a time deficit. These hooks gives a nice sharp narrative to a race or series of races, and in fact make those modes more dramatic than the average full Career Mode.
Speaking of, the major addition there is the addition of mid-race saves, a total blessing for those pining for the full F1 experience but without the hour it takes to complete each race. Unfortunately not much else has been altered, so while it’s still a solid mode full of incredible detail and featuring a tonne of customisation and tactical options, those hoping for more content here will be disappointed. Notably, it’s still only possible to have one practice session rather than three.
Online also maintains the series' admittedly-high status quo: 16 players and six AI battle it out in impressively lag-free races while Racenet accumulates stats, and co-op career and co-op scenarios are again available. It is here where the game is at its best, with the unpredictability of human opponents injecting more drama than is possible against a full AI field.
If you had to nitpick, it would be possible to moan about F1 2013’s lack of telemetry data, realistic damage, and DRS beep; the Classic Mode’s exclusion of the likes Senna and McLaren; or the forced camera change during a pit stop (which admittedly is somewhat silly).
However, these are all incidental gripes when F1 2013 is considered as a whole. This is a sharp, precise, addicting, awe-inducing racer more than worthy of the F1 brand. While it doesn’t dramatically depart from last year’s model or offer full retro seasons, it's nonetheless another fantastic entry in the series by Codemasters, and those with an interest in the prior decades of the sport are encouraged to check it out.