October 25, 2012, Author: Phil Ubee
I have to be honest and say I am not a huge fan of driving games. However, not many sports fans don’t have at least a passing interest in the Formula 1 and you all know I’m a big sports nut. So an F1 video-game automatically becomes a kind of “between a rock and a hard place” affair. Does F1 2012 reach out to my sporting desires, or is it just another racing sim in shiny F1 clothing? Read on to find out.
First corner pile-up
F1 2012 puts you in the helmet of a Formula 1 race driver and leads you from being a rookie driver through to a World Champion. This starts with the Driver Test, which tests your aptitude on a range of skills from basic acceleration and braking to keeping the racing line through a combination of corners, and the use of driver assists such as KERS and DRS. How you fare here will determine which teams will be prepared to take you on at the start of your career, and then you’ll need to prove yourself on the track in a weaker car before the big boys come calling.
You can set your participation level for the race weekend to allow you to take part in Free Practice, and how much of the qualifying session and the race itself can be set at 25%, 50% or 100% of full distance. Along the way the team will set you various targets such as qualification and race position. In Practice, throughout the season you might get asked to run research and development testing, which will need you to complete a certain amount of laps in a specific time to unlock upgrades for your car.
There is also the Team Mate Challenge that requires you to out-perform your team mate in a number of areas over the year such as qualifying, race position and number of fastest laps. The better you do in all these aspects, the more likely you’ll get a contract offer from a bigger and better team, thus improving your chances of winning the World Title and becoming BBC Sports Personality of The Year. (I made that last bit up; Gary Lineker does not appear in F1 2012 in any way, shape or form).
There are a selection of other game modes to compete in, starting with those located in the Proving Grounds area: Time Trials, Time attack and Champion Mode. The former is an opportunity to practice against a ghost car of one of your friends or the wider community’s best laps. Time Attack is very similar, but the game has pre-set ghost cars at Bronze, Silver and Gold standard for you to compete against. The time limits are pretty tough, especially if you use the braking assist and manual gears, and in both these modes your lap will be scratched if you cut a corner or leave the track.
Champion mode is a good little quick play option that pits you in a scenario against each of the seven currently competing former F1 World Champions and requires you to beat them. You can set the difficulty for the scenario to Easy, Medium or Hard, and also have the option of using the assists to help you along the way. These are all fairly short and the challenge level varies as you move through World Champions from Kimi Raikkonen to Sebastian Vettel.
We also have a mini World Championship option called Season Challenge which is played out over ten races of five laps. Pit Stops are removed and you have open choice of the team you wish to start at. As well as competing to gain championship points for yourself and your constructor, you also have to pick a rival who you compete head to head against in a best of three challenge. If you win the challenge you will automatically be offered his seat at his current team. If you opt to take this seat the driver then loses his drive altogether, adding an additional strategic element that allows you to take out your closest challenger for a minimum of two races.
The final option is the Quick Race, which is exactly that. Set up your own custom race with a minimum of three laps on any of the twenty F1 circuits. You can set participation level here, so if you want to do the practice session you can; likewise Qualifying has its own option of Full, Short (a single fifteen minute session), or One Shot (a single hot lap).
Across all these game modes there are additional options to tweak your car settings. This pales in comparison to the likes of Forza and Gran Turismo, and you will be limited by the upgrades you’ve unlocked in the full Career Mode in terms of technical changes to the likes of gear ratios and downforce levels. You can, however, alter your race strategy such as when you take your pit stop, as well as which tyres you start on and swap to.
The final user-controlled setting is how many Flashbacks you get. These allow you to rewind time and erase that bad corner that cost you the lead on the final lap. There is a limit of four, but you can always restart the entire race or session if you run out and are not happy with your efforts. Using the Flashback is a simple case of hitting the back button after your mishap which starts the replay. You then press X to take time back to that moment on the replay and the game then cuts you back in.
The front end presentation is tidy and neat, though a little understated, with easily navigable menus. Personally, I was a little surprised that despite being licensed, the game fails to utilise the official FiA graphics.
Elsewhere, when sat in your garage prior to any of the track events, the computer monitor sits atop the car and your race engineers mill around beside you. It has to be said they don’t do a great deal and it’s the same guys whatever team you’re driving for, but it gives an added realism to the off-track sections. This is more than can be said for the little post qualifying/race cut-scenes, as drivers are never shown without their helmets (fortunately the correct helmet art is present), and the Podium presentations are not shown in any of the game modes.
The cars and circuits are beautifully recreated with every minute detail accounted for, from the colour of the curbs to the on-car advertisements. Though let’s be honest; there isn’t a great deal going on at the average F1 racing circuit to challenge the art guys. What they have done well is to create a real sense of speed through the visuals, which has not always been the case with my experience of driving games.
In addition to this, the rain effects are probably the best I have seen in any video-game. Driving in the wet is one of the toughest challenges I think I have ever faced in reviewing a game, as the water sprays up from the cars in front, limiting visibility (even when using a more distant camera angle); the brakes become less effective; and the tyres struggle to find grip on the road. Even on the easiest setting with all driving assists on, keeping the car pointing in the right direction becomes a challenge, as it should do.
Pit stop animations add an extra layer of variation, and when damage is switched on various car parts will bend and break with heavy impact. Overall the visuals do a good job of putting you in the seat of a Formula 1 car and immersing you in the whole race weekend. Unfortunately this also includes a five-minute counter practically in the centre of the screen during Practice and Qualifying, making utilising these periods additionally challenging as you have to look through the graphic. This is matched in-race by a counter after the winner crosses the line for you to get to the end. Really bloody helpful!
As with the graphical style, the audio is somewhat basic and understated. There is a touch of background music in the main menu and also during the pre and post-race cut-scenes. However, there is no official soundtrack behind the game, be that the BBC’s iconic F1 track or anything we are now becoming accustomed to from Sky, or indeed anything that we see under the official FiA banner over the race weekend. You will get the odd Noel Gallagher track if you wait in the menu at the end of the Season Challenge for example, but little else.
The cars themselves sound very realistic, to the point that one Sunday my wife came down and asked me if the Grand Prix had started early. During the race there is no commentary; instead you have your race engineer on the radio giving you an update on your car, strategy and the position of your key rivals at various intervals during the race. The only TV-style commentary is a brief voice over, both before and after races to set the scene and give the results. Personally I like this set up, as it adds to the impression of you being inside the cockpit. Other sound effects come from the spectators who you will hear, primarily at the end of the race, sounding their hooters to support your victory and cheering as you get out of your car.
Multiplayer is covered via Split-Screen, System Link or over Xbox Live, and includes three main modes. The Quick Race option allows you to choose a Sprint (three lap), Endurance (twenty-five percent) or Grand Prix (seven lap) option. The latter two include a minimum of one pit stop and dynamic weather conditions, while the Sprint option is dry races with no stops. Both Sprint and Endurance give Random grids, while the Grand Prix option includes the options of Race Weekend Participation including Practice and Qualifying.
Custom Mode allows you to create your own setup with a large number of adjustable parameters such as the race distance, pit stop settings, weather and track; as well as whether to restrict the assists allowed by competitors; how strict the race officials are with flags and penalties; and if you have damage on or off.
Once in these modes the game can continue across multiple races, effectively allowing you to compete in a full twenty race calendar with up to fifteen other opponents. What a shame they couldn’t allow the full twenty-four.
The final multiplayer mode is the Co-Op Championship that sees you and a buddy compete as team mates over a full season. Again, most settings are adjustable so you can customise your race length and weekend involvement, for example.
The game plays equally as well online as off, with no lag experienced on any game mode during my review time. I will say that when using my initial setup of all driving assists on my car seemed to lose a great deal in top speed and acceleration compared to other drivers in what should have been slower cars.
F1 2012 is a high-quality interpretation of the sport (all be it missing some obvious official touches), with a large number of game modes that allow a mix of quick to play challenges right through to a full-length, fully integrated F1 season. In addition, the driving assists and difficulty settings add a nice variety of challenge that gives both driving game veterans and newcomers alike an equal opportunity to find their level.
On the downside there is not enough depth to hold the interest of veteran driving fans, or enough variety for casual gamers to get into the driving genre, which makes it one for fans of the sport only.