The end of the summer reliably entails the release of a whole host of games, including the latest iteration for no end of yearly sports titles, many of which have been with us for the best part of two decades now. In 2010, Codemasters’ F1 joined the fray, and with F1 2012 we have their third bite at the apple.
Game: F1 2012
Developer: Codemasters Birmingham
With F1 2011, Codemasters produced a Formula One experience which was for my tastes the most exhiliarating racer on consoles. At its worst though, F1 2011 was still a game plagued by difficulties. Much like F1 2010, F1 2011 was plagued by an array of nasty bugs, some which were fixed, some which weren’t, and some which were caused by the patches themselves. To add to that, the AI, though much improved still failed to provide a remotely sufficient challenge on the highest difficulty, and was nastily inconsistent from one track to the next, and from one corner to the next.
For F1 2012, there is a real sense in which Codemasters feel the need to reward those who have struggled with the previous two games. Owning F1 2010 and 2011 has felt all too often like being in a rather expensive beta test. Codemasters have their own objectives, and at the forefront their is a clear attempt to improve the franchise’s accessibility to a wider audience.
The Young Drivers Test will only barely prepare a gamer for the challenge of racing safely against 23 other cars.
F1 2012 comes packed with three entirely new modes – the Young Drivers Test, Season Challenge, and Champions Mode. The first is a dressed up tutorial based off the real life events in which rookie drivers get their shot to drive the exclusive Formula One cars. In game you’re presented with a series of videos and brief challenges which aim to get you up to speed.
It’s all very much on the basic side, only really covering the basic controls. It might set someone up in good stead to deal with F1 2012 on one of the lower difficulties, but some additional help for some of F1 2012’s more complex (and frankly, more interesting) features is warranted. There is no mention of fuel management or tyre wear, nor of the different tyre compounds, nor dynamic weather. The Young Drivers Test will only barely prepare a gamer for the challenge of racing safely against 23 other cars.
The Season Challenge furthers the more casual friendly F1, as a streamlined and juiced up Career Mode. The old Career Mode which runs through up to 5 seasons with the full 20 track calendar returns without much change, whereas the Season Challenge decants a 1-season, 10-track and 5-lap experience. Like in the tradtional Career mode, you start in one of the lesser cars, but here moving up through the ranks is done by challenging and beating a rival over three races – if you win, you move up to his car.
The four AI difficulties simply don’t seem sufficient, with huge gaps in lap times between each difficulty making for a very sharp, and fairly unenjoyable difficulty curve.
Finally, Champions Mode adds another scenario driven experience, adding to the “Proving Grounds” (also including the Time Trial, and Time Attack modes). Here, a range of interesting challenges are presented, each one based around you taking on one of the six winners of the World Driver’s Championship who still race in Formula One. So, in the first you will be reeling in Kimi Raikkonen on the fresher tyres, while later challenges will see you trying to make the most of a safety car in the pelting rain, with a grand finale seeing you take on all six champs.
Both the Season Challenge and Champions Mode feature a different difficulty system than the rest of the game. Whereas other modes feature customisable settings for fuel/tyre simulation, as well as four AI difficulty levels, Season Challenge and Champions Mode reduce this to just three broad settings. For whatever reason, the hardest of the three does seem to come close to the difficulty offered by the highest difficulty from the other modes. This can make those events a bit of a walkover for better drivers – I’m nothing special, but managed 6th at Spa in a Caterham, and comfortable wins in the Lotus from my third race onwards, which more or less rendered the mode pointless.
Where the difficulty in these two modes may be too easy for many, there are graver issues with difficulty across the board. The four AI difficulties simply don’t seem sufficient, with huge gaps in lap times between each difficulty making for a very sharp, and fairly unenjoyable difficulty curve. For myself, I find myself able to destroy the AI on Professional (second highest difficulty), but almost two seconds off the pace on Legendary – and while that may not sound like a lot, it really is.
It’s strange to see that Codemasters have moved so far back towards F1 2010’s handling when F1 2011’s bettered them in most ways.
Alongside the three new modes, there are plenty of changes to the core gameplay. The driving physics changes are immediately noticeable – the edginess present in F1 2011 seems to have mostly gone in favour of physics which seem perhaps more similar F1 2010’s than 2011’s.
The cars are now feel extremely planted around high speed corners, enhancing the effects of downforce, but arguably a bit too much. Fast, tricky corners like Spa’s Au Rouge and Blanchimont now feel like walks in the park. On the slower end, F1 2011’s tendency to oversteer has been replaced by the opposite – understeer. Though the understeer tends to force you to brake a little earlier and wait until you’re slowed right down before you start to turn, this move too reduces the driving model’s difficulty right down.
This perhaps was the aim. In making it easier to get around the track, Codemasters have made it far easier to drive consistently, and the easing up is particularly noticeable when using a pad, even though driving with assists off in the wet can be as tricky as ever.
A new, and frankly artificial punishment lies in wait for those who leave the track, as you car is now artificially slowed in these situations. On some chicanes, this has the nasty effect of spinning your car. Even with this, it is still far too possible to cut parts of corners off without punishment, all too often, improving lap times is a quesiton of pushing the limits of how far you can go before being penalised, rather than pushing yourself and your car to the limit.
The weather effects are a particular marvel – already one of the franchise’s best features, and upgraded yet again with localised weather for 2012…
In the run up to F1 2011’s release, Codemasters advertised a game where the car was more likely to spin, but that these spins could be caught. I’m sad to say that in 2012, the spins are much rarer, but far, far harder to catch when they do occur. Like in F1 2010, there are quite a few kerbs which have a horrible tendency to spin you out of nowhere should you dare to touch them. Also like in F1 2010, braking when spinning has the bizarre effect of practically unspinning your car.
It’s strange to see that Codemasters have moved so far back towards F1 2010’s handling when F1 2011’s bettered them in most ways. It did perhaps go a little far in some areas, but in reinstating some of the worst issues from F1 2010, Codemasters have surely made a misstep.
F1’s AI has seen some notable improvements over the last year. First, their pace on Legendary is far more impressive and puts up a much better challenge. There will still no doubt be some who are too fast for it, but, we are talking about a very small minority. They are also now far more aggressive when it comes to overtaking, far better than 2011’s AI which couldn’t overtake if its life depended on it.
Their racing etiquette on the other hand seems no better. They still bunch up during qualifying and practice sessions horribly, as opposed to dropping back to find clean air, and still don’t seem to know how to get out of the way safely on in and outlaps, and the same problems arise when lapping blue flagged car.
If you quit and save after qualification, then return to race, your setup will have been lost and reset to default, with you unable to modify it at all.
As far as looks go, F1 2012 is right up there. There isn’t a great deal of difference from F1 2011, but there are some exceptions. The weather effects are a particular marvel – already one of the franchise’s best features, and upgraded yet again with localised weather for 2012, meaning that different parts of the track can experience different environmental changes. It’s great in gameplay, but stunning to look at.
A couple of features which were present in F1 2010 and 2011 have disappeared with 2012, much to the dismay of fans. No longer can you experience the full F1 experience with three practice sessions, as just one is available now. Perhaps more contentiously, the scaling of tyre wear to race length has also gone, which means that quarter and half race distances have seen their strategic depth eroded massively.
Even with those concerns, F1 2012 would be a very successful game worthy of a high review, if it wasn’t for the problems with bugs. I said at the beginning of the review that many F1 buys had been left feeling like beta testers for the past two years, and upsettingly, nothing seems to have changed. I have experienced a number of pretty serious bugs myself, but the forums are filled with growing lists and videos of all manner of bugs.
To give a few examples, I was playing an online race with AI utilising the new one lap qualifying system. The qualifying session was in soaking conditions so we all elected to do our tyres on the full wet tyres – when it came to the race on a bone dry track, many of the AI were still using full wet tyres.
The question is, will the patches solve all the major problems?
A number of issues have arisen around the newly implemented Parc Ferme rule, which prevents most modification of the car once qualifying begins. If you quit and save after qualification, then return to race, your setup will have been lost and reset to default, with you unable to modify it at all. On the highest difficulty, where setup alterations are crucial, this is a bit of a gamebreaker.
In an exact recreation of a bug from F1 2011, the difficulty setting on Co-Op Career Mode can get reset when saving and reloading; the Catalunya circuit features a shortcut which isn’t penalised, and the Hungary one has an invisible wall which could potentially end someone’s race. The list simply goes on and on.
So, F1 2012 is an undeniably buggy game, yet again. Though not entirely ruinous, there are bugs which do make certain modes nearly unplayable. Patches are on the way, there was a day one patch, and PC users have already received more, though console users will have to wait. The question is, will the patches solve all the major problems? There is no reason why they shouldn’t, but neither 2010 or 2011 were patched sufficiently – in fact, a patch for 2011 introduced a severe bug on the 360.
It’s difficulty to be confident given this history, but one also mustn’t forget that some gamers still cannot receive patches, and hence have bought a game which, from my point of view, fails to meet an acceptable standard.
There are two major questions posed by F1 2012. First, who is this game designed for? Looking at the main changes, and it does show a game which above all else wants to encourage a more casual audience to purchase the game, which is absolutely fine, but the focus towards that market seems a little disproportionate – F1 2012 does not bring much which is new to the table for returning fans. I hope that Codemasters are successful in attracting the wider audience, but I still see F1 as one of the drier racing experiences, at least on console.
The second question is why for the third game in a row, the game has released with such a wide variety of bugs which, frankly, didn’t require much play to discover. More than anything, fans of this franchise deserved a game which felt finished – F1 2012 isn’t. At least for me, I would happily argue that a fixed F1 2011 would be superior to what we have in F1 2012, and that simply shouldn’t be.