Monday, December 31, 2012

F1 2012: More Champions, More Modes, More Fun for Everyone [Video Game Review]

Formula 1 has trouble leaving well enough alone. It constantly adjusts the rules, keeping engineers, drivers, and team principals on their toes—but the payoff is that it keeps fans glued to the television. The introduction of rules, circumventing of those rules, and engineering around the subsequent regulations is what keeps F1 so fresh year after year. While those changes make viewing the series a must for race fans, those sorts of changes aren't going to be enough to keep virtual racers coming back for the latest iteration of Codemasters' F1 franchise. (You mean you didn't camp out for F1 2012 solely to drive the Mercedes AMG W03 with its double DRS?) So Codemasters took it upon itself to infuse a few new ideas of their own into its latest edition of its F1 video game, which was released a few weeks ago. (This review covers the PS3 version; the game is also available for Xbox, PC, and Mac.)

More Options Than an F1 Steering Wheel

Upon popping in the game, you're thrust into one of F1 2012's newest modes—the Young Drivers Test. It's at this annual season-ending test at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi where you're taught vehicle dynamics, acceleration, braking, cornering, and overtaking, as well as how to maximize the use of systems such as KERS and DRS. For the fanboys, what's perhaps most interesting is the names of the drivers you're training alongside—American Alexander Rossi, among many other real-life up-and-coming drivers, makes an appearance testing for Lotus. Aside from teaching newcomers to the franchise the basics, the level of success achieved in the test determines which teams will offer you a seat in Career mode. Do poorly or skip the test altogether and you'll wind up with HRT or Marussia; do well and seats will open at Caterham, Toro Rosso, and Williams.

Career mode is largely unchanged from F1 2011 and F1 2010, while Season Challenge offers the same challenge of progression in the F1 paddock as does Career, but in a much more compacted time frame. One detail we welcomed in Season Challenge was the new Rival feature. Choose your rival, beat him, and you get his seat. This is much preferred to previous iterations' method, where your responses in media interviews determined your rival and your ability to beat him in the championship standings determined which teams offered you a contract the following season.

Another new feature for 2012 is the Proving Grounds section, which features Champions mode, Time Attack, and Time Trial. Time Trial allows you to race against a ghost car representing your personal best time, and delivers opportunities to return to the garage to optimize setups. Time Attack dangles bronze, silver, and gold carrots out in front of you, coaxing you to improve your performance through each sector. Champions mode drops you late into the race, and pits you against on of the six world champions from the 2012 grid (Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Räikkönen, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, and Sebastian Vettel). Depending on the scenario, you need to either hold one of them off for the checkered flag, or overtake before the allotted number of laps runs out.

Also new to 2012 is the Co-Op Championship, which allows you and an online friend to compete in a season-long challenge as teammates. How you handle team orders is your business. The rest of the online modes are largely familiar from the previous two titles. One thing we found slightly disheartening was the random assignment of cars in this mode. You want to drive a Ferrari? That's unfortunate, because you're getting a Force India. The good news is that the pros and cons of each car's performance are leveled and there is parity among all cars, from the Red Bulls to the HRTs. As we found last year, there are a number of online players who have a bit of Pastor Maldonado in them—or to put it another way, subscribe to the "rubbing is racing" school of thought. But if you're quick enough to pull away, such childish theatrics are no longer a concern.

Gameplay and Graphics

For the most part, the behavior of the cars and AI is just about the same as the previous editions. When using the handheld controller (we played on the PS3), the cars feel as twitchy and nervous as ever, and the watchful eye of the computer keeps track of every collision caused and every time a wheel is placed off the track. The computer's sense of justice knows no shades of gray, which grows frustrating after a period of time. Penalties are issued for putting four wheels off the course, even if an advantage isn't gained or if you give back any places you picked up by your actions. Real-life stewards may be inconsistent in their punishments, but we'd prefer that to the iron fist with which the computer rules the F1 franchise.

Like the gameplay, F1 2012's graphics aren't much different from last year's. One thing we did notice is a tendency for the game to lag slightly on race starts, even when playing offline. The lag wasn't disruptive enough to cause collisions, but enough to force you to take notice. One disappointment from past years that carries over is the lack of detail for intricate items like sponsor decals, helmet designs, and driver equipment when viewed up close. During the natural course of the game, these graphics all look positively stunning, but during replays or animated sequences, most details appear extremely pixelated.

The Takeaway

With F1 2012's new game modes, it's apparent that Codemasters has made an effort to appeal to a wider audience and move somewhat away from the hard-core F1 fan. But as an astute follower of the series and as someone who drives cars for a living, this author found mastering car control something of a serious challenge, which makes us wonder just how many casual fans F1 2012 really can attract. And considering how the broad appeal of titles like Gran Turismo 5 and Forza 4, as well as the more arcade-like Dirt 3 and Forza Horizon, we're not quite sure any iteration of F1 will ever be an option for the casual gamer. But for those who understand the sport and appreciate the intricacies that come along with it, F1 2012 largely delivers what they crave.

from Car and Driver Blog

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