Driving for the attentive…
It is without doubt a tough year for the mass of yearly sports franchises who’ve all had to decide whether to stick or twist with their game engines upon the dawn of a new generation. Codemasters’ F1 series has won its fair share of admirers since its conception a few years back, but does this iteration take pole position, or leave us wishing we’d stayed in the pits?
Game: F1 2013
Developer: Codemasters Birmingham
Codemasters’ F1 2013 is essentially the result of 3 years worth of tweaking and honing their flagship racer that bases itself on the hugely popular sport of the same name. There’s plenty that might feel over familiar, albeit slightly more polished and refined, plus a number of attempts to iron out bugs and irritations that plagued its predecessors early on in their life cycles. For the most part those attempts are successful and go someway to help deliver perhaps the most accessible and appealing version of the game yet.
Returning from last year is the Young Drivers Test. You’ll be initiated straight into the mode which serves as a tutorial for beginners disguised as a two-day team session at the Yas Marina circuit. Rated by bronze, silver and gold you’re asked to complete a series of challenges geared around teaching you basic techniques from cornering and braking, to more advanced ones like tyre conservation and DRS/Kers usage.
The mode is a good initiation into a game that’s far less forgiving than your average racer. Whilst it is a marked improvement on last years introduction with more in depth and race-relevant guidance, it still would have been nice to see some more competitive oriented tests – you’ll learn how to walk but beginners still might feel like Bambi on ice once the lights start flashing and there’s an entire grid of cars thrown into the mix. Experienced drivers will have no such problems, however. The driving itself will feel rewarding and familiar enough to breeze through the tutorials onto the main crux of the game, which is all about the Formula One season, but with one new addition to the menu roster – F1 Classics mode.
Classics mode gives you the chance to enter a Grand Prix, time trial or scenario with classic tracks, cars and their drivers from the 1980’s – an interesting inclusion that will appease fans greatly but at the same time will quickly be cast aside by the player. Yes, it’s fantastic getting to grips with Mansell’s mustache or tearing it up with Schumacher’s 88 Ferrari but despite the unique and thrilling ride the older vehicles offer, the mode holds itself back by being so thin and lacking in replay value; the Grand Prix feels more like a hall of fame race masked over with a yellow tinted filter than an actual trip down memory lane, plus the drivers themselves feel hollow replications of those great names without really showing any of their individual panache that made them so memorable in the first place.
The career mode hasn’t seen too much of an overhaul since last year and shares a lot of the same cutscenes and menu layouts. Depending on how well your Young Drivers Test went, you’ll be offered a place in a team to take on the 19 race Formula One season – all fully licensed to boot. Sitting in your car, you’ll pan around menus offering car tweaking, race information, research and development that really didn’t need too much alteration; needless to say it works really nicely and keeps you in tune with everything that’s happening on race day.
One big plus is the newly acquired ability to save game mid-session. Even if you’re running races of just a few laps, practice and qualifying sessions thrown in means they all rack up, making the new feature a godsend to gamers unwilling to devote so much in one sitting. For those people there’s also Season mode that condenses everything into a 10 race season which is considerably shorter and offers its own challenges in the form of the addictive ‘choose a rival’ system from F1 2012 – pick a racer to challenge, beat them over the course of the season to join their team with the aim of repeating the feat until you’re at your favourite.
Other modes are tucked away in the Proving Grounds menu including Scenario mode which is another bite sized way to tackle the challenge of F1, along with Time Attack and Time Trial sub menus that work in the same vein as the Classics mode counterparts do. There’s also the solid 16 player multiplayer mode that like many of the modes, is very much a replication of last years effort, co-op career included – a great way to play with friends providing your relationship can take the strain of any potentially poor racing from each other. Multiplayer is fully featured as ever, bulked up with custom races, sprint, endurance and other twists that will make playing with other enthusiasts a joy.
Visually, F1 2013 excels more than it ever has. Use of sunlight and reflection coupled with some superb modeling makes traversing the racing arenas a pleasure to witness (if you manage to spare some concentration to soak it all in). The soundscape, too; the engines roar in and out of it quite expertly and with speakers blaring generously, you’ll instantly feel immersed in the action.
Where it all falters slightly is the general presentation of the sport. From a drivers perspective, it’s there in spades as it gets you deep into the correct mindset, focused on the driving with only the engine and a few tips over the radio from your team leader to be heard. Formula One, however, is a sport surrounded by massive media hype, dedicated TV channels and pre-race build up and dissection, but the entire experience feels flat, generic and unexciting – even with the great Murray Walker chipping in with introductions to the Classic portion of the game. There’s also the gripe of the 90’s classic content only available to special editions of the game or as purchasable DLC, leaving the new mode partially empty to the those unwilling to fork out extra monies.
There’s no doubt Codemasters has definitely hit a good formula with their racing sim and that, along with no massive rule changes to real F1 season means that there’s a lot here that’s merely been rehashed and re-boxed. Classics mode is a superb addition but still needs developing into something bigger and there’s certainly more to come in the form of presentation seeing as F1 2013 holds plenty of substance from the sport, but is still missing a little of its magic and appeal from a spectator perspective. Overall, the lack of freshness to this years iteration can be pardoned by genuine fans thanks to another solidly developed racer, but next year is where expectations will be a lot higher and much less forgiving.