F1 2012 (Xbox360)

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There is a big difference between playing a game and experiencing the events in real life. Imagine a roller coaster game: You will see everything through the eyes of your character, but without the wind in your hair and the gravitational pull on your guts until you lose your lunch – some might say that’s a perk. But for some, the idea of realism is very appealing.

Racing games in particular often require a certain sense of realism to be successful, but it’s more important to be fun. Codemasters Racing has been developing F1 games for the last three years and the latest version is certainly up to scratch in the realism department. How does it hold out in the fun department?

F1 2012 Screenshot 1

Technically speaking

Formula 1 is a very technical form of racing. Rules and regulations keep all cars performing very closely and there are only split-seconds separating the fastest cars from the slowest, but a split-second is all it takes to win or lose. F1 2012 captures this technical form of racing perfectly.

The handling of the race cars are extremely realistic – I would know what the handling of an F1 car is like, of course. They are sleek and devilishly quick, and corner like they are on rails, but that’s more as a result of the crazy amounts of down-force being developed than anything else. Unfortunately down-force is created by speed and as it turns out, I am a bit of a coward and never really got the cars up to speed enough to get enough down-force to corner to the car’s full potential. This often resulted in me spinning out into a horrific crash.

F1 2012 Screenshot 2

Thankfully F1 2012 has a great training section allowing new drivers to get to grips, so to speak, with the car’s unique handling. Towards the end of the training I felt something I dislike in any game: boredom. There was no real progress for me, so I started the very detailed career mode allowing me to sign as a rookie driver with one of the lower tiered teams and build a name for myself. I challenged my team-mate to see who got the most points during the season, chatted to the R&D guys in the paddocks, and I even made it into the newspapers with some of my performances. But I was still not having fun.

The AI drivers were simply wicked. They knew the driving lines and could get that extra split-second per lap out of their cars where I struggled. They used the new DRS system to perfection, allowing them to reduce the drag of their cars around predetermined points on the track, then glided past me without effort. When I got lapped I nearly gave up racing altogether.

Your favourite drivers from the 2012 season are all in the game, apart from the one unlucky driver that got kicked out to make room for your character. Their strategies and abilities are also created accurately, which means that Lewis Hamilton will drive to within an inch of the regulations.

Have I been here before?

When I spun out I could use the now nearly compulsory flashback system, allowing me to run back a few seconds and try that corner again, maybe trying a new line or braking a bit earlier. I was limited to only a few of these per race and when they run out in the first lap you know that you’re not doing very well at all.

The cars are simply fantastically modelled. The ugly stepped nose of some cars are faithfully recreated, and everything from the sponsors to the different drivers helmets are painstakingly represented. Leaving the paddock for the first time and hearing the hornets in the rear engine, I got chills. This was Formula One!

F1 2012 Screenshot 3

I tried another race, near the bottom of the log and about to call it quits when all of a sudden something sparked. The dynamic weather system gave me a cloudy and wet race in Shanghai. Not only did the handling of the cars change dramatically, but the visibility was horrendous and I could almost feel the chills as I got drenched in the driver seat.

What surprised me most was how much better I drove in the wet compared to the other drivers. I was able to get my first podium finish and that with only using a single flashback. All of a sudden I was having fun. The next race I used just about the entire practise session to get to know the track. I started fiddling with my car’s setup, changing the amount of down-force and the tyre strategy for the race. Finally the terribly hard game turned into a fantastic racing simulation.

I later discovered I could have made the AI slower or got the game to brake for me or at least show me where to start braking. This dumbed down version made it so easy I was starting to lap the other drivers – something that felt like I was cheating. I quickly turned the assistance off and continued to duel it out with some of the greatest drivers ever to sit behind a steering wheel.

F1 2012 Screenshot 4

Emotional End

When my first season came to a close, after all 20 real life races, I must have made an impression. One of the bigger teams offered me a seat in their new car for the next season. I was tempted, but knew that with my help the struggling second-tier team I grew with had a chance of some silverware. Just as I thought that I had this game down I got a bit cocky and tried some of the Champions Mode features. This allowed me to compete in specific scenarios and try to beat those goals without incident. As it turns out I still had lots to learn.

And that is exactly the end result of playing F1 2012. It’s a great simulation that, like real F1 racing, requires dedication and hard work to get the best out of it. If that doesn’t suit your requirements then turn down the difficulty and enjoy a great looking, superb sounding racing game. This is more than a game for just F1 fans: This is a game every racing gamer must own.

F1 2012 Screenshot 5

The Good: As easy or hard as you need it; Very realistic; Effort yields rewards; Beautiful

The Bad: Can be too hard for casual gamers

The Ugly: How hard can it be to keep a car in a straight line? Honestly!