F1 2012 handles like a pro (and so will you)
If there’s one thing that Codemasters does really well with racing games like F1 2012, it’s giving a complete amateur the tools to become a seasoned veteran. That’s been the case with the Colin McRae rally series Dirt, and this third entry in the developer’s F1 efforts is almost as impressive.
Coming into this game as the relative neophyte (I dabbled briefly in F1 2011 before hanging it up), I was inherently afraid of the various gameplay changes that I would have to get acclimated to. True to task, F1 2012 has a stringent set of training wheels, starting you off with the Young Drivers Test to see where you fit skill-wise.
From that point onward, though, the learning curve sets a comfortable pace that never scales too quickly to handle, and given how complex F1 racing can apparently get, the overall content is expertly explained at every turn.
Moreover, both of the game’s best modes, Season Challenge and Champions, are excellent incentives to really learn the nuances of your car, and how to balance fuel use with tire maintenance. In the former, you’re given a short 10-race season and simply tasked with overtaking a chosen rival to claim their team spot.
It’s an ingenious way to test your own pace, rather than being thrown into a whole grand prix at once fresh out of exhibition mode, worrying about a whole track of competitors. For me, it took dozens and dozens of runs before I figured out how to properly nudge the steering wheel into turns in order to keep the traction on my tires from wearing out too early. There’s plenty of solid audio cues to pick up (a small, but important perk of the sound design), but you can also learn by watching the other racers.
Don’t play Champions mode too soon, though, because the difficulty spike there is discouraging. Maybe I’m just not good enough to overtake the likes of Kimi Räikkönen on the track, but at least I never felt like the game was holding me back.
Visually, F1 2012 deserves a lot of notice for its stellar graphics, something that Codemasters really excels at with racing games. In Dirt 3, it was always a treat to notice the finer details of vehicle damage, right down to the shredded rubber flaps on your car being worn out to the rim. Although F1 2012 doesn’t quite have that level of detail, it’s nearly untouched in area that I didn’t expect—incredible weather patterns.
It’s weird thing to harp on, but F1 2012 might have the best weather system in any racing game I’ve ever seen. Splattering rain drops and vision-obscuring tire spray add a huge amount of realism to the races, and the effect is even more important when you realize that it’s affecting your tires in the middle of races. It’s incredibly inventive, as well as visually stunning.
That kind detail is explained to the player by the game’s mechanics over an over, and your engineer will constantly give you tips on when to burn fuel, when to play it safe, and how you can constantly improve your time. Even though the A.I. can get pretty cheap—they’re not easily rattled by anything short of a penalty-inducing bump—the amount of help you get from the system negates much of the frustration you’ll get after a loss.
I’m not too sure how I feel about the rewind feature, something that still seems oddly out of place outside of a Need For Speed or Burnout setting. Still, it’s handy to have when you make a critical error deep into a race or get flagged for a bad overtake.
Overall, the rest of F1 2012 is an incredibly solid package. It’s easy to get in and out of race campaigns, the online multiplayer holds up pretty well, and the simulation-heavy Career Mode is an inviting reward to have once you’ve really gotten a handle of how to properly navigate tracks and pace your car via your crew’s instructions.
Just like I never expected to like Codemasters’ Dirt series before I tried it, F1 2012 will actually be something that I’ll enjoy for weeks on end. There’s so much care put into making the game accessible that it’s always fun in instances where it could be unnecessarily punishing. If you’re a F1 junkie, don’t hesitate to play this—and try getting a non-fan to take it for a few laps, too.
SUMMARY: Codemasters does a fine job with F1 2012, proving that rally racing isn’t the only thing that they do better than anyone else. Give it a shot, F1 fan or not.
- THE GOOD: Helpful, encouraging racing system; stellar graphics; solid learning curve.
- THE BAD: Challenging the near-psychic A.I. and champion racers is a headache.
- THE UGLY: Try doing something illegal in any race and weep. This ain’t Mario Kart, kid.
F1 2012 is available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC. Primary version reviewed was on Xbox 360.