Formula 1 (F1) 2013
Developer: Codemasters Birmingham
Publisher: Codemasters
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: 1-2, 2-16 online.
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Despite having their fair share of bugs and flaws us lot at Gamecell have found ourselves playing F1 2010, F1 2011 and F1 2012 right up until the release of their respective sequels, and although admittedly we’re inveterate petrol heads we don’t find we do that with any other regularly updated game franchises and you can include FIFA, Tiger Woods, Forza, Need For Speed, Pro Evo, Call of Duty and all in that.

F1 2012 starts well with a fantastic intro, a rousing speech by Sky Sports F1 presenter David Croft, backed by a superb piece of music titled Athena which could have been composed specifically for F1 by Daniel Law Heath and Jane Antonia Cornish. The presentation menus are as slick as ever, with a clean F1-centric look and some apt selection screen and event music. The voices of Anthony Davidson on hot lap videos also give it the authentic Sky F1 feel. When the end titles roll they’re accompanied by The Chain by Fleetwood Mac, the classic BBC Grand Prix theme music.

A new feature for 2013 is F1 Classics, introduced by legendary broadcaster Murray Walker, which allows players to race iconic 1980s cars from Williams, Lotus and Ferrari against drivers including Mario Andretti, Nigel Mansell, Emerson Fittipaldi and Gerhard Berger, with more cars from the 1990s to come as DLC (Niki Lauda’s 1976 Ferrari 312 T2 is unlocked by signing up to Codemasters Racenet), on classic circuits Brands Hatch, Imola, Estoril and Jerez. This is a dream come true for F1 enthusiasts and racers of a certain age, and the game, and in particular the excellent handling, shows the difference between modern F1 cars with their insane levels of aerodynamic grip and the classic cars that relied more on mechanical grip (their tyres.) To add to the ‘80s and ‘90s look the visuals are overlaid with a filter, but you can turn this off if you want more vivid colours.

Slides seem more controllable, the steering is immediate and responsive…

After entering various details and choosing a helmet design the first thing you’ll have to do when starting a career is the Young Driver Test. This has been extended slightly (if the game finds an F1 2012 save on your HDD then you can skip the first day) and has you performing various tests and techniques and learning all about KERS and DRS in a 2-day programme at Abu Dhabi’s spectacular Yas Marina circuit. Getting a good rating in the tests means you can start your career with a higher ranked team, thus encouraging you polish your skills from the start.

Another new feature, and one that’s going to literally be a game changer for a lot of gamers, is the ability to save mid-session. This means you can save anytime you want, mid-race, mid qualifying, even mid lap! You might say this is long overdue, but it does mean that gamers who wanted to do longer races and have the full race weekend experience can now do so without having to dedicate 2 or 3 hours to every race. It also means that if you screw a race up you can return to the mid-session save and have another go without having to do the entire race over.

Last year we mentioned how F1 2012 was noticeably smoother than its predecessors and that the only racing game on Xbox 360 that could match it for frame rate was Forza 4. F1 2013 improves on this further and irons out any remaining jitters in the replay mode. This is all the more remarkable when you consider that F1 2013 draws 22 cars in a race (sometimes 23 when the Mercedes Safety Car is out) and the other big name racing games draw between 8 and 16 at most. With this smoothness comes an even friendlier, and arguably more realistic, handling model. Slides seem more controllable, the steering is immediate and responsive but gradual if you use a delicate touch, and this makes a huge difference when trying to consistently carve out fast lap times.

The handling allows for even looser slides, drifting and “rotating” the rear of the car with the throttle just like the real drivers do.

There's a lot more subtlety in the handling and when fiddling with your car’s setup you’ll be able to detect the difference between mechanical (tyres) and aerodynamic (the amount of downforce you put on) grip. Likewise, the effects of DRS, KERS and changing the engine mixture (and subsequent fuel consumption) are more noticeable, and the difference in the engine characteristics and handling between the classic cars and the current crop, and even the best and worst of this year’s cars is noticeable, fascinating even, and compels any enthusiast to compare lap times between the various machines.

The handling allows for even looser slides, drifting and “rotating” the rear of the car with the throttle just like the real drivers do. The feeling of going just over the limit and collecting up a four-wheel drift and powering out of a corner is extremely exhilarating, and this seems even more pronounced with the less grippy classic cars. Tyre wear has been faithfully reproduced and if you’re brave enough to have it turned ‘on’ then you’re going to find what the drivers call “the cliff” – when the tyres reach their wear limit and no longer provide anywhere near the level of adhesion they did a few corners earlier. This can literally ruin a race if you’ve tried to stretch a stint to a lap longer than planned and ignore your engineer’s radio messages. If the weather changes sadly you still get no prompt from your engineer until it’s too late, as all he seems to do is report on what the weather’s going to do in 15, 10 and 5 minutes time and what tyre selection the other teams have just made. Either way, like me you’ll probably find yourself fumbling with the quick tyre selection menu (set to the D-pad, which is also assigned with fuel mixture and brake bias) as you enter the pit lane, praying you choose the right tyres for the conditions. This is where the Mid Session Save comes in very handy in case you make a ricket. Up to 4 flashback replays (the ability to replay an incident and rewind time) are available depending on the difficulty setting you select, and mean you can avoid a crash, a collision or a penalty by having another go.

On its medium settings F1 2013 seems a bit easier than last year’s game to me, but that might just be the amount I played F1 2012 and familiarity with the tracks. This might still be a bit too demanding for the casual gamer A.K.A. the Dads, boyfriends, brothers and sons (and maybe even a few wives, daughters and girlfriends) who have to play the game on the family TV and all the distractions that brings with it. However, turning all the assists on (braking help, ABS [Anti-Lock Brakes], traction control) and the damage, fuel consumption, flags and the tyre wear off will make things easier and tame the game making it the most accessible F1 game yet. But where there’s no danger there’s no fun and I suspect even rank n00bs will soon be looking to turn the traction control down to ‘Medium’ and the ABS off.

When selecting a camera view you can choose between full screen, TV pod (central and offset), cockpit and close and distant chase cameras. For me the level of control has not only been improved by tweaks to the handling model, but also by subtle but noticeable changes to the TV pod and cockpit cameras so they give you a better feeling of attachment to the car. The sensation of speed when playing from the chase cams also seems to have been improved.

Gamers who want to play a more realistic and seat-of-the-pants game get screwed yet again by getting the full effect of the incredibly realistic rain and water spray, which doesn’t appear (and thus hinder the driver’s view) on either of the chase cams. This seems particularly stupid when you see the rooster tails that F1 cars throw up in the wet, right where a chase cam would be... Any which way, the girlies who use chase cams get yet another advantage – which is daft. The excellent rain and wet track effects are also flawed as they’d never actually hold a GP in weather that bad with standing water all over the circuit, and you’ll also notice that a “dry line” never forms, the entire track just dries out.

As well as just plodding through season after season and working your way up to a Red Bull, Ferrari or Mercedes drive there’s also plenty more to do in F1 2013. Playing as the real drivers in individual Grand Prix (long and short weekends, or just the race); the Proving Grounds which include beating requirements in the addictive Scenario Mode; and lapping fast enough to be awarded bronze, silver and gold medals in Time Attack mode will take you a while to achieve and teach you how to lap several tracks perfectly in the process. Time Trial mode allows you to take any car to any track and use your own setups. Both Grand Prix, Scenario Mode, Time Attack and Time Trial modes are available in F1 Classics Mode and have leaderboards, both global and friends, for the more competitive amongst us.

A new mode to the Career section is Season Challenge, a truncated 10-race season consisting of 5 lap races in which you try to beat other “rival” drivers as chosen by you. Depending on which difficulty setting you choose your choice of starting teams may be limited, for example; Hard difficulty means you only have the choice of Marussia and Caterham. This mode is designed to be a lighter, arcadier and more dynamic version of the career mode with one-shot qualifying and a quick setup menu to keep things simple and umm... immediate. Beat your chosen rival in a best-of-three mini-competition and you'll get a contract offer from his team, effectively nicking his seat; you can change teams up to five times within a season. It’s obviously not a good idea to challenge Sebastian Vettel if you’re playing on Hard and driving a Caterham, but you soon get the feel of who you and your current car are capable of beating depending on your chosen difficulty setting.

We were impressed with F1 2012’s online racing and despite a few glitches have been playing it until quite recently. Last year’s game seemed to dish out too many time penalties, seemingly being arbitrarily awarded for some very minor contacts, while kamikaze pilots who T-boned other drivers seemed to get away scot-free. This year the racing is as thrilling as ever but the same problems with penalty awards frequently mar races. The racing however, when kept clean (the problem with drivers who ram you up the arse at the first corner is ever-present), is just about the most exciting, visceral thing I've done with my trousers on, and the net code handles up to 16 online players admirably. The collision detection is about as good as it gets and it’s possible to race wheel-to-wheel and have a light brush with an opponent without ending up in the wall, which happens in far too many other racing games (and GRID 2, I’m looking at YOU when I say that).

There is also an extremely slick split–screen mode; this allows you both to select which team and real-life driver you want to be

Starting a ‘quick race’ lobby gives you a choice of either a Sprint (three-lap) race with no qualifying; or a Grand Prix (seven laps) with dynamic weather (so a pit stop may be necessary) with tyre wear enabled and a 15–minute qualifying session (the problem with this mode is the same plonkers as previously mentioned who ram you up the arse at the first corner when you’ve spent 15 minutes driving that arse off to get pole); and for those with better concentration and fewer distractions the Endurance race, set at 25% of full race distance with dynamic weather that includes at least one pit stop with the tyre wear and track evolution simulation enabled, and a randomly decided starting grid. All quick race modes give the drivers random cars, track selection (with a vote to skip) and equal performance, and players can select any assists they want. You can either join or set up your own ‘Custom Race’ and specify everything, from the race location and number of laps, Short Weekend-one-shot qualifying, short qualifying or race only, car availability, 2013, 1980s or 1990s cars, DLC tracks on/off, weather, damage, flags and rules, restrict or allow any particular driving assists and make a race public or invitation only. They have removed the ability to restrict camera views though, and I have no idea why. Separate online ranking has also been removed and why that’s gone is a mystery too.

The popular co-op championship mode is present and correct, as are the related achievements. You can choose Short Weekend (one-shot qualifying or Short Weekend) or Long Race Weekend, number of laps (three, five, 25-100%), Safety Car on/off, customise the difficulty (AI, assists, flags etc) and obviously which team you both want to race for. There is also an extremely slick split–screen mode; this allows you both to select which team and real-life driver you want to be, the race location and distance (3 laps to 100% race distance) select the difficulty level, select either one-on-one or against an entire field of AI cars on any track, any distance with any weather, with separate control and assist setups. I'd have been impressed enough with this if it chugged along at 20 frames a second, but somehow they've made it just as silky as the solo game and the cars remain incredibly controllable and smooth to drive. Impressively, you can even watch a full race, full-screen replay at the completion of the race, swapping between cars at will.

Back to the solo game, the replay mode shows the pretty graphics off as well as ever and will allow you to watch an entire full-length Grand Prix back. But unfortunately the replays suffer from the same anomaly as last year, whereby if you have a race finish wet then watch a replay, the track will be wet even if it was actually dry at the start of the race! It’s very disappointing that this hasn’t been picked up and fixed. We found another replay glitch too but it may have been patched as we haven’t seen it reoccur.

If you've read this far, then when it comes to F1 I do waffle on a bit don't I? Well to sum up; the new F1 Classics certainly add more than a little to the game and hot lapping in a Lotus driven by Ayrton Senna or a Williams driven by Nigel Mansell around some of the greatest circuits in the world is definitely if not as good as, then almost as good as sex for us gamers of a certain vintage. To put it simply and succinctly F1 2013 is an improvement on the slickest and most playable representation of F1 I’d seen (F1 2012), and I’ve been playing Formula One games since Geoff Crammond’s 1992 benchmark Formula One Grand Prix game on Amiga and PC. But the fact is that I can't give it 11 out of 10 and it does still have a couple of glitches and niggles. However, if you’re not sure about buying an F1 game because you think it might be a bit too specialist or “niche” for you, then I urge you to try F1 2013; with its genuinely varied racing, highly customisable difficulty and era-spanning gameplay, car, driver and circuit line-up it might just change your mind about F1.

Best Bits

- Improved, “friendlier” and arguably more realistic handling.
- Classic cars and tracks from the 70s, 80s and 90s.
- Looks great throughout.
- Plenty of racing to do.
- Quality online racing.
- Split-screen and system link too.
Worst Bits

- A few glitches remain and those “unfair” penalties.
- Online drivers who can’t brake for the first corner.

by: Masonic Dragicoot

Copyright © Gamecell 2013