by Jonathan Nash

Am I the best F1 driver in the world? In a word, no… Am I even an F1 driver? Again, no… However, I’ve learnt that there’re certain things you do that make you feel alive, and F1 2012 is one of those things.

In my world, I’m a champion! A Season Challenge Champion! I really, really tried with F1 2012, and I succeeded. What I found was that the more you played it, the better you got. But not just in a “practice and you’ll improve” kind of way. The game seems to improve your finger and eye coordination, and you improve by a noticeable amount every session, every time you play. You learn to accelerate far sooner than feels right, and brake when you think all hope has gone. And you also “feel” the effect of down force on the car through the corners; the car responds with a different feel at speed, gripping and turning where you think there’s no way it will.

Game Details

Some general information around the game; it has good vehicle dynamics, and entertaining car damage effects. If you bang into someone at speed, carbon fibre shards fly everywhere, although it’s not always apparent where they’ve come from, because they don’t seem to be from your car or your victim’s car. The game also has some great mode choices; quick race, career (in which there is a season challenge, which is a hot lap qualifying and 5 lap race format, and the full season which is the real McCoy), as well as a Young Driver Test which introduces you to your F1 car and gives you the opportunity to explore its limits and dynamics , or Champions mode, where you can test your skill against a host of World Champions.

Champions Mode challenges include, for example, chasing down and passing Kimi Raikkonen in the last 5 laps of a race at Spa in Belgium, or stopping Lewis Hamilton from catching and passing you with 3 laps to go at Interlagos in Brazil, while he’s on Intermediate tyres and you’re on slicks and the rain is coming down. These challenges really take a few attempts to get right, and as you improve your driving skills with practice, the challenges seem to become easier, although in reality it’s you that’s getting better. You really have to drive smoothly and very quickly to be able to complete the challenges though, but they’re awesome fun and hugely addictive, very much an “Ok, just ONE more time and then I’m going to bed, for real this time!” scenario.

The tracks are very realistically represented, to the extent that there are even bumps and crests in all the right places. If you’re a regular F1 viewer, you’ll recognise the corners, straights and general track views instantly. This is often a bug-bear I have with these sorts of games; either the tracks are unrealistic, or the dynamics of the car are completely wrong and frustrating. However, most modern racing engines simulate the driving dynamics properly, and F1 2012 is no exception. Even your tyres pick up grit and dirt from the run off areas, and they slowly clean themselves as you scrub them through the corners.

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One thing I really enjoyed was the constant communication from your race engineer; although it can be a little difficult to hear everything he says. At the beginning of the game, he introduces himself to you, and gives you some brief information about what he’ll be telling you throughout the races. You’re made to feel suitably guilty when your qualifying result leaves you trailing at the back of the grid, but he’s a very happy man when you put it on the front row. You’re also given information during the race, such as who’s behind you, what the gap is, if you’re coming up to traffic, and other useful information about what’s going on around you.

Critiques

One thing I found a bit strange is when leaving the garage, you are auto-piloted out into the pit lane with some kind of weird slingshot; you go from zero to pit lane speed limit in half a second –  and the steering is still turned and you’re going straight. Another strange one is that the replay doesn’t go back far enough.

You can still be busy sorting out your tank-slapper slide or avoiding the car in front of you, and when you go back to the replay to see your hero antics, there’s often just enough time in it to watch the very end of the excitement if you’re lucky. It’s also not very apparent where or how to setup the car on a more technical level than just basic “grip / speed” settings – a slider bar gives generic settings while in the garage or before a race, but I didn’t find any individual damper rate or wing adjustment settings.  Granted, I didn’t look very hard, because the slider bar generally gave a satisfactory setting, increasing your gear ratios appropriately.

The mirrors are also little more than ornaments, only showing cars when they’re right up behind you, but I guess this is pretty true of the real cars as well…

So what’s it like to play?

Most of the time I spent between Easy and Medium, doing quick races to enjoy the race experience while getting used to how the other cars interact with you and how your car goes and handles. You can choose any one of the current championship tracks to race on, in Quick Race format or Time Trial. I found the Driving Line aid quite useful, especially on tracks that I didn’t know well. It was un-intrusive, especially in “Corner Only” mode. While I’d certainly recommend starting off with the driver aids on, your brain will quickly get used to reacting to the car and other competitors at warp speed. And so I found myself running happily around the tracks, but at no risk of power sliding my way into the barriers or locking up in a cloud of smoke as I attempted to avoid Kobayashi doing another kamikaze dive bomb pass into the hairpin at Spa. These aids are especially useful when battling the weather, as the grip drops off quite substantially when the track is wet with rain.

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Looking for more of a challenge, and to see what the dynamics of the car were like with most driving aids turned off, I went to Bahrain for a Time Trial. And promptly spent the next 25 laps learning what the car was really like. With the driver aids off, real world vehicle dynamics play into your lap times quite heavily; rolling off the brakes as you turn into the corner still gives you some braking but stops you locking up the inside tyre too much and losing your steering. Low speed corners are also particularly susceptible to spinning up your rear wheels as you power out; you very quickly learn to shift early up a gear and back off the throttle to get maximum grip through the rear tyres. While there’s no discernible body roll, as you’d expect, the car does go light over bumps and you’ve got to be pretty wary of your grip levels; I wasn’t in the beginning, and got more than a few damaged nosecones as a result.

The AI engine for the competitor cars is good too. They will slipstream you and out-brake you on the inside or outside of the track. You have DRS and KERS available to use as well, which is great fun to use when lining up the car ahead for a pass, as its effects are very similar to what you see in F1 races on TV. I caught myself out a number of times under braking after using the boosts though, as your speed increases quite dramatically, meaning your braking points change depending on the lap. But this is all part of the fun, and you learn pretty quickly to judge when to brake.

Scoring:

Design and Presentation: 8/10

Cars looked very realistic, adding to the sense of drama and gameplay when out on track.

Value: 9/10

This is a driving simulator, so you’re going to be limited to what you can do. However, F1 2012 is amongst the best simulators I’ve ever played; the choices and types of game modes and challenges mean you get far more out of it that a typical simulator. But, you won’t get as much fun out of a game like this if you’re not a motor sport fan. 

Gameplay: 8/10

As a driving simulation, this game is great. The cockpit view is as you would expect to see if you were a real F1 driver, and this makes for great realism. The performance is accessible and you really do improve with practice. I’d give this an 8/10.

Overall: 8/10

This game rocks! If you like driving simulators and you’re an F1 fan, this one is one to try.

Last Updated: September 18, 2012

F1 2012
Summary
8.0

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