If youíve been following my chain of reviews here at GCM you already know you wonít find a bigger racing fan, or at least one that is writing game reviews. While I enjoy all forms of racing Iíve fallen in love with Formula 1; how could you not? Driving one of these cars is the closest thing you can get to actually flying a fighter jet. Last year I participated in the F1 driving school in Monte Carlo and this year I had the privilege of racing on one of my favorite legendary tracks, Silverstone, home to the British Grand Prix.
Last yearís F1 2011 was the closest thing you could get to reality on a console, and for those naysayers who donít think these games have any value, I give all credit to that game for my ability to turn in a 1:42.94 and a 1:41.06 lap time while driving a real F1 car on the real Silverstone track Ė something I had practiced on my Xbox 360 for a solid month before heading across the pond. According to my instructor, these times are right up there with actual lap times during the real grand prix. Maybe it's time to stop reviewing and start racing.
This yearís F1 2012 goes beyond the general basics of driving the car and memorizing the tracks and entry/exit points for each turn. This year Codemasters has added the Young Drivers Test; a complete driving school with interactive tutorials, driving lessons, and even training videos. I dare say I may have learned a thing or two. Youíll spend the first hour of the game learning about tire wear, the proper technique for finding the apex of a turn, and valuable systems like KERS and DRS. All of this is invaluable information and will certainly make you a better driver when it comes time to actually race. I'd encourage even the seasoned veterans of last year's game to take a refresher course and spend the hour in this racing clinic.
Fans of real-life racing will enjoy the inclusion of many of your favorite and more prominent professional drivers, both in the game and even appearing in your driving school or offering commentary. It really helps to create a real world or racing to immerse the player in not to mention all the non-racing aspects of racing like signing deals with agents and sponsors or working with your teammates. Iíd rank this experience right up there with anything EA is trying to do with their sports career modes.
If you thought F1 2010 or F1 2011 were too difficult then steer clear of F1 2012. This is perhaps one of the most daunting driving games ever to grace a console. It puts Gran Turismo to shame, and much like the previous installments, it demands that you play the game with a wheel. You might limp your way through the training with a gamepad but when itís time to race itís wheel or no deal. For Xbox 360 racers, I recommend the Mad Catz Wireless Force Feedback Racing Wheel.
The cars handle much more realistically than last year; something I didnít think was even possible, with improved controls and a better physics model that handles suspension and air-flow much better. This means that all those tweaks you can make in the garage or even during the race will actually affect the way your car handles and performs on the track.
If you find yourself unable to race in an online 16-player match then expect to face off against some brutally difficult AI drivers in solo play. The computer seems to always be watching and waiting for you to slip up and then it will make its move. Iíve yet to find human opponents that could match the driving skill of the computer on the normal skill setting. If you can race well on Normal or Hard settings then you will be unbeatable online.
Being a simulation, and a realistic simulation at that, gamers will have to come to terms with the fact that not every racer wins every race. Career racing is about the big picture, the entire season, which is why you take your lumps and earn as many points as possible by finishing as fast as possible. Sure, you can try to game the system and keep replaying till you win your particular event, but honestly, unless you resort to some underhanded driving tactics, you probably wonít have the car or the skills required to even take the lead, let alone keep it until the checkered flag until much later in your career where you can join better teams and gain access to faster cars.
All of your favorite venues are back and intimate knowledge of all these tracks and each of their turns is crucial for success. Once you master the speed and timing and ideal racing lines (which can optionally be displayed) itís just a matter of tweaking your car and practicing until perfect. You can play in quick races or dive into the full season experience complete with race weekends that feature practice sessions, qualifying, and the main event. The career mode is totally immersive with lots of behind the scenes business stuff going on between races. You can also test your skills against racing legends in the Champions Mode by completing various racing challenges.
Youíll need more than driving skills to win a race, let alone the season. You and your racing machine must become one, as you learn which tires to use and how to adjust your fuel mix for certain conditions. Pit strategies also come into play, now more than ever with the addition of the safety car that will come out on track after a bad accident. And finally, youíll need to master driving aids like DRS and KERS. DRS allows you to adjust the angle of your rear wing while KERS is a small engine boost you can trigger once per lap; preferably at high speed when your car is generating a lot of downforce.
When youíre ready to dazzle the world with your racing skills you can head online for 16-player races and you can even fill in the field with up to 8 AI racers to complete the grid. Local racers will enjoy the splitscreen mode and for those looking to tackle the buddy experience, check out the innovative co-op mode that allows two racers to race for the same team, essentially allowing you to work together against the rest of the pack, forming any necessary mid-race strategies to ensure at least one of you wins.
F1 2012 looks great when captured in stills or viewed in replays, but when you are tearing around the track at 200mph most of the scenery is a blur. The tracks are modeled to perfection including the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, home of this yearís US Grand Prix. There is so much detail like pebbles and grass sticking to your rubber when you venture off the pavement, and as before the game really shines (or reflects) during wet racing when the track is a mirror of water that kicks up a magnificent spray behind each of the cars. Naturally, this introduces all sorts of new driving challenges, both in visibility and handling. Car damage is modeled pretty well with bent and broken parts that try to visually live up to the serious impact they have on performance.
The audio package is fantastic, and F1 2012 does an impressive job of recreating the racing experience, both inside the cockpit and from a fan perspective whether that fan is in the bleachers or home watching the race on TV. A good home theater sound system and sub-woofer helps seal the deal, and will likely attract infield tailgaters if you arenít careful. There is a decent soundtrack and the ability to use your own music, but true racers will be in this for the screaming RPMís and squealing rubber.
Casual racers need not apply. Even when you try to dumb down the game with options and settings F1 2012 will prove too daunting for all but the most serious F1 racing fans. Bring a good sound system, a comfortable chair, and a reliable racing wheel to the table and prepare for the best F1 racing game since the last one. F1 2012 improves and enhances on just about every element of last yearís game, and when approached as a sim and played with likeminded serious drivers, you wonít find a more engaging or competitive racing experience on your Xbox 360 or PS3.