F1 2012: The Kotaku Review

This past week, I haven't felt as helpless or as vexed behind the wheel since I was 15 years old and trying to divine the magical balance between clutch and gas pedal that actually sent my mother's BMW 325e forward along our farm's gravel road. Each time the vehicle shuddered and stalled out, I was left to contemplate my own futility, understanding there is no way a driving machine like this would be made, marketed and sold if it truly was inoperable. I had to be the problem.

F1 2012 raised the same feelings in me. It is the most demanding racer I've ever played, and yet I'll surprise myself and also call it one of the most accessible motorsports simulations available.

Make no mistake, to get a fulfilling experience from F1 2012 you must honestly judge your familiarity with simulation racing, and with Formula 1, before embarking upon this game, the third F1-branded offering from Codemasters, the leader in motorsport video games. F1 2012 contains a deeply customisable set of controls, preferences and game modes that can get you on the track under circumstances that minimize your failings and challenge your strengths without patronizing you, even in its most arcadelike settings.

But the replay value of F1 2012 is low if you can't or won't grow with the game. If you lack the commitment to spend serious time becoming a better driver, this will be a weekend fling and a trade-in with regret.

F1 2012

F1 2012 offers a stout challenge feathered by accessible difficulty settings and playing modes, indulging race fans without pandering.

Developer: Codemasters/Codemasters Birmingham Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360 Released: September 20 (Australia)

Type of game: Motorsports simulation.

What I played: Split roughly 20 career races over the game's Season Challenge and Career modes on Xbox 360 and PS3, racing all 20 courses offered. Dabbled in the Time Trial, Time Attack and Champions Mode without getting very far.

My Two Favourite Things

  • Projects authenticity throughout and conveys a satisfying thrill in successes large and small.
  • Varied game modes and customisable control sets and assists mean no fan is left out.

My Two Least-Favourite Things

  • Like wine, it can be both a good friend, and a terrible master. Higher difficulties require strong persistence and self confidence.
  • Main career mode remains spartan, and the one-year "Season Challenge" lacks purpose once you make your preferred driving team.

Made-to-Order-Back-of-Box-Quotes

  • "F1 2012 takes patience, nerve, skill and luck — all the qualities of elite racing, putt in a video game." — Owen Good, Kotaku
  • "I'm just a simple unfrozen caveman moonshiner from NASCAR country, your F1 2012 frightens and confuses me. But it is fun." — Owen Good, Kotaku

Motorsports simulations have three prime areas of responsibility: They must offer exacting realism in their courses and in their vehicles' handling, and they must offer a way to deliver a satisfying competition without holding you to driving 90 minutes or more real-time. Atop this they must offer stunning visuals, even if your opportunity to appreciate them is measured in milliseconds. F1 2012 succeeds at all three.

In terms of the physics, I came to F1 2012 as an arcade racer. I feather my brakes before the apex, drift into it, and then hit the gas, flick-steering afterward to make any needed corrections to my trajectory. I'm slow, in other words, even though I spend most of my time clenching the gas with my right finger. This is not going to get you very far in F1 2012, where rubber-banded AI is non-existent at any setting. Even on the most permissive difficulties you will only make up time by braking and accelerating correctly and taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by the course's layout. In those moments where you brake properly and slingshot out of a turn into the proper racing line (which can be toggled on or off), especially in the 15th turn at Melbourne or a hairpin like Monza's Parabolica, F1 2012 is at its most rewarding.

The game expects this of you in every turn, every race, however. Making up time in qualifying, or against a teammate, or rival in the career modes can be a grindingly frustrating process, even with the GRS and KERS systems — which are basically speed-boost modifiers available at certain times in a race. In many qualifications I'd end up fourth, 11th or 18th, with eye-rolling predicatability. In races I often found myself all alone in fifth place, the top four cars well out in front by two seconds, racing technically sound, the rest of the field well behind, and me in the middle embodying the qualities of both — punishing those behind me with my raw speed and teeth-gritting determination through mistakes, and yet unable to close the gap and get to the podium. When this develops early in a race, you may wonder why you're continuing to drive so, again, consider your level of commitment — do you want to run 25 per cent of a full race (15 laps), half, or a full run?

In visuals, short-distance redraws were only an issue for me on reflected surfaces (the glossy hood of my car, sometimes causing me to look at my mirrors for an attempted pass that wasn't there). In the main landscape, while I lack real-world familiarity with the 20 courses offered in F1 2012 I can say that after repeatedly hurling myself at the gut-sucking Raidillon uphill at Spa-Francorchamps — God I hope I said that right — F1 2012 delivers a powerful sense of place. This is key to the big strategic expectation of a simulation racer, course familiarity. Former F1 driver Anthony Davidson provides a very entertaining analysis of a single filmed lap, identifying the turns, brake points, gears and speeds you should be hitting through an ideal run. You see this in the career mode's main hub, before you load the event, so there's always a time gap between watching that and going onto the track. But there also seems to be no way to take a simple free-run practice lap at your next event's course within the game's two career modes. You would have to do that offline, and given the loading times between modes, often you just want to get on with the race and learn what's expected of you in qualifying itself, which is a poor approach.

Qualifying in the rain at Hockenheimring in F1 2012's sensibly abbreviate Season Challenge mode.

Finally, in event variety, you can select anything from a full-distance gran prix, with long weekend qualifying, to one-lap qualifying and a distance one-quarter of the standard laps. Brace yourself, though, the longer formats are authentically demanding of your attention. As the main career mode is largely unchanged from F1 2011 the mode most F1 2012 drivers will likely use first is the new Season Challenge, which gives you 10 grands prix as opposed to 20, and spices up the season by allowing you to choose a rival driver to beat in a personal two-of-three series raced over the course of the season. However, I was struck by the fact in a career mode you may only race as yourself, not any of the licensed drivers who appear throughout the game. That seems to be a needless limitation.

Winning out in those mini-series means you get a contract from your rival's racing team, which is flattering as you progress up to one of the standard-bearing teams like Vodafone McLaren Mercedes or Scuderia Ferrari. But the mode loses all purpose once you achieve your preferred driving team, leaving you to name an inferior rival and receive contract offers from a team you don't wish to drive for, until the end of the season, which results in a series championship or starting over.

In Summary

As demanding as F1 2012 is, its expectations are not arbitrary (well, they can seem that way if you're not familiar with F1 rules. I turned on realistic course rulings and was flagged several times for illegal blocking even though I thought I did nothing wrong. Blame it on my upbringing in NASCAR country.) At every point I knew what I did wrong. The brake assist on the lowest difficulty should only be used for a brief introduction into hitting the apex of a turn, if you're not familiar with that expectation in a motorsports simulation. If you can't graduate from that to competent racing in three or so events, despite your ardor for F1 racing in the real world you may need to evaluate your appetite for this sport in a video game.

F1 2012 still is seductively deep in the challenge it offers and it what it asks of you. At best, I fantasize that turning off all assistance — pit road, traction, driving line, etc. — and winning a race against expert difficulty, would legitimately qualify me as a championship driver in real life. At worst, I feel it would take one to win by those measures.


Comments

    one small question, do you mean DRS instead of GRS?
    " even with the GRS and KERS systems"

      apart from that great article. I do love a good F1 event. and submit myself to late Sunday nights (and sleep deprived Mondays) on a regular basis. So its good to see a review of this from someone who isnt as f1 inclined.

      Yup should be DRS for sure. Drag Reduction System ;)

      Yes, definitely DRS. I know all about this question... my initials happen to be DRS.

    Might have to play one of these F1 games sometime. Love watching F1, so don't know why I haven't tried one of the games yet

    Having got the last two games in the series, I'm going in knowing exactly what to expect. So I admit I was somewhat surprised to see this review (especially from the US site, knowing how little the US as a whole cares about F1), although it did basically confirm my suspicions.

    The demo isn't really a fair representation of the game, as it doesn't let you tune the car in any meaningful way - it's stock settings all the way through, which aren't necessarily correct for the courses you can drive on. This makes it seem needlessly hard. So don't fully judge the game by the demo.

    Also, just a hunch, but I think Owen meant Eau Rouge at Spa, not Radillion.

    Now I'm just waiting on OzGameShop to deliver my PC version.

      Eau Rouge is the left hand kink at the bottom, Raidillon is the right hand corner up the hill :) (Though everyone just calls the whole segment of the track Eau Rouge)

    I think what this and many other reviews will miss is that there were some GLARING bugs in 2010 and 2011 that only showed up to the dedicated hardcore racers. I do hope they fixed those issues, but I strongly doubt it and these kinds of short plays won't necessary show up the same issues.

    Some issues were:
    - If you did a practice run in Free Practice, then came into the pits for setup changes, when you exited again the game ALWAYS gave you fresh tyres, regardless of which ones you selected. If you've only done an out lap on your previous set that's too bad. You'd burn through all your slicks and have to start the race on worn tyres.
    - Wet and Intermediate tyres were always put on "warmed" when changing tyres during a race, but slicks were always put on cold (except at the start of a race when they were warm from the get go).
    - If you were turned around by the stupid AI and end up across the track, you'd frequently get a "blocking" or "dangerous driving" black flag through no fault of your own.
    - Cut the corner to avoid erratic AI in the braking zone? Illegal over-take and instant penalty with no option to relinquish that spot.
    - Rear wings on the car in front of you were always indestructible.

    There are many more and they all took away from the enjoyment of the game. Such a shame because the FEEL of going through a full season in this game is brilliant. On the highest difficulty setting you had to concentrate all race and not make a single mistake. Brilliant. You really felt like you earned your place, then, and even podiums became rewarding.

    It's just a shame about the bugs. This game could be top-notch. Fingers-crossed, but not holding my breath.

      Totally agreed! Looking forward to many issues being addressed (I hope). I played 61 hours of 2011 doing 40% races, not ONCE did a get a safety car. What is the point in having a safety car feature if you're just going to ghost out spun cars? Many bugs in coop (constantly being told the wrong info) and the hardcoded impossible-to-recover spin if touched by AI was incredibly frustrating - usually copping a penalty whilst you're at it - why cant AI get penalties?

    Nice review from an American with an admittedly NASCAR-biased upbringing, but will we get a review from Gizmodo UK?

    On the game itself, I bought 2010 and also bought 2011 (when I originally wasn't going to) and found 2011 to be an improvement in the racing stakes, at the expense of some visuals. I really haven't had time to play any of the games I have (and barely played through 2011, I probably got to Monaco and then lacked time) so I'll hold off on 2012 till I know I have time to play it through!

    Interesting review, I certainly wouldn't call this a simulation however. 2010 was very much arcade and, to me, quite infuriating at times(when it wasn't affected by the bugs mentioned above). 2011 was significantly better, although I haven't spent too much time with it. I only played the demo quickly and it didn't really seem overly different, physics wise, from 2011.

    It certainly promises to be entertaining, but for my driving sim needs I'll be sticking to RFactor and RFactor 2 ;)

    I played the demo last night and quite enjoyed it. It does take a long time to get used to the sensitive steering though and I couldn't find any way to change that. Maybe it's not available in the demo version...or maybe I just didn't look hard enough.

    Just got the game & it still has the typical predictable developer issues (some of the silly overlooked bugs as described above).
    But this game is HARD, real hard to master, just to get a top 10 finish even on the novice setting is a challenge.
    And the rules,, man O" man are they strict!

    I think many impatient kids will trade it in within hours , maybe even minutes of first play.

    I say "GREAT" Chicken out Kiddies & run away because this is areal mans game anyway.
    People who have been hankering for a decent game with a real racing Challenge (with fairly decent AI) then this game is for you. The AI are still brain dead..... but not quite as much as before (F1 2011 & 2012)
    Take your time to learn & enjoy this game because if you want to beat it you will be playing it for a long while.
    Cheers

    I have a question to anyone who has played this game so far. In 2011, one had to brake a lot later at corners and still managed to take the turn perfectly. In 2012, it seems you have to brake a lot earlier, otherwise you will run wide. Also, when adjusting the car setup to enable the highest top speed and lowest downforce, it.doesn't oversteer as much as in 2011? I've done the first 2 races in my career mode, Australia and Malaysia, with Force India, and qualified 18th in both. However, i managed to end up 4th in both, but way way way behind Alonso who won both races. All the other cars seem so much faster than me. I am playing on Legend mode, which i prefer. Is it just a case of practice makes perfect? Would appreciate all.comments and opinions. Thanks in advance.

    @Jacques, yes you need to brake early & then off the brake altogether to take the corner & stay on the driving line, especially in the the hairpins..
    The full speed setup can be a challenge because as you say it adds a lot of under-steer & when you combine this with heavy late braking you will always run wide. Its hard to regulate your braking & be able to stay on the driving line. Once we master that we should be able to push into the top 3 positions.
    I use the Legend difficulty too but I have only managed one 4th and many 5th, 6th & 7th places.
    At this stage (4 Career races) the top 3 placed AI drivers are impossible for me to catch.

    I find that the Codemasters AI are always like this on the harder difficulty settings, they are either way too hard or just way too easy & there never seems to be a happy medium in-between.

    I am sure that this game has been made for the experienced Gaming racer with a decent wheel setup. I have tried it with the XBOX 360 controller & it does work well with the game, but all Game-pad steering seems to be too erratic for my tastes. I use a Logitech wheel & pedals & car handling is like chalk & cheese when compared with the Game-pad.

    @Bongo I see. You say the wheel with the pedals and all that will be best? I've always only used the keyboard because i don't have xbox controller or wheel with pedals and all that. I've done 2 more races since then. China and Bahrain. Got a penalty in China and ended up 16th. Must say the penalties for overtaking are much more strict in 2012. Then at Bahrain, i was disappointed to see it's the shortened version of the track, not the longer one like in 2010. I always crushed them on that one. This time arouns managed to qualify in 18th again, but ended up 3rd! Had to defend my position the whole race long. Then i tried quick race with the Mclaren on Monza and Bahrain. On Monza it took me about 10 laps or so to get used to the track and handling the car. Managed to get 2nd in qualifying, 0.051 behind Vettel, and then i won the race. In Bahrain, lot more corners though and not so easy even with a faster car like the Mclaren. I must admit this game is really a challenge. But one i am relishing.

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