F1 2012 Review, PC version
Published and developed by Codemasters
Patch II version reviewed
The past two years the month of September has brought two things–my birthday, and the latest Formula One game from Codemasters. Well, a lot of Septembers have brought my birthday and I am now at the point where I sort of look the other way when they roll around…how does that saying go? Oh yeah, something like “Youth is wasted on the young”. I’ll say. Youth may be wasted on the young, but a fully licensed Formula One game seldom goes unnoticed, much less tossed aside like yesterday’s newspaper.
It has been quite a while since Geoff Crammond’s Grand Prix 4 or EA Sports’ F1 Challenge graced the store shelves and it was not without great anticipation that we learned the license had been renewed, paving the way for a new series of Formula One games, for consoles and the PC. With a first iteration announced for a 2010 release, Codemasters licensing coup was met with what seemed like a fifty-fifty mix of grand elation and grand skepticism. Elation that the PC was, finally, getting an up to date and fully licensed Formula One game…skepticism that Codemasters, not exactly known for their hardcore simulations, would take it much beyond the arcade fun racer stage. I queued in the ‘wait and see’ line, hoping for the best.
The first effort, F12010, met with decent reviews, critical acclaim, and, when all was said and done, it wasn’t half bad. I played it quite a bit, logging nearly 83 hours–a lot of time considering how many other things I had going on at the time!–and, for the most part, I thought that they did a pretty good job of giving us the experience of being a Formula One pilot. Combining elements of the non-racing side of things with a passable driving model, I found a lot to like.
However, there were definitely some growing pains with that first release. Poor performance on many PCs, sketchy DX11 compatibility, weather modeling oddities, a very annoying bug that had a tendency to wipe out your player profile and, to top it all off…a final patch that in many ways broke a lot more than it fixed. Even worse–Codemasters all but announced that they were busy with work on the F1 2011 game and further patching of F1 2010 was not going to happen. This, in turn, led to some very justified criticism, in my opinion. Was Codemasters simply milking the license, tossing out a game with substantial bugs, a couple of cursory patches, and moving on with their bags full of cash? At the time, yes, it would appear so. I think those of you who game much will immediately recognize this business model.
Promises of never buying another Codemasters game flooded the interwebs and as much as I would have liked to have joined them, as a freelance writer of ill repute, I was all but assured of purchasing the next game in the series. Surely, a license so sought after, so appreciated by the fan base, would not be treated like the next installment of a mindless shooter game. Would it? Only time would tell.
September 2011 brought the next iteration to the streets and a couple of things were clear–Codemasters had taken many of the community commentary to heart and, for whatever reason, brought some of the worst of F1 2010 along for the ride. For example, the dreaded ‘corrupted profile’ bug had made a return for many folks. When you are three years into a five year career and the game decides that it no longer wishes to recall your progress, well, that’s not good. And it furthered the doubts many of us had that Codemasters was doing this for anything other than the cash-grab a Formula One license can bring. On the other hand, there was much to like in F1 2011 and it was clear that Codemasters was making a valid effort at not only improving the game, but squashing the bugs as well.
Featuring an updated–and more realistic–driving model, superior weather modeling, better feeling force feedback and improved DX11 compatibility, F1 2011 was, again, a critically acclaimed effort. I was starting to become convinced that they were genuinely working hard to provide the best Formula One game experience since GP4 and F1 Challenge. In fact, I felt that F1 2011 surpassed both of those previous efforts quite handily, in pretty much all departments, including the driving.
Then again, as Denton points out, “Those games are ten years old!”. And, of course, he is right–it only makes sense that a modern day game, unless it is dumbed down beyond belief, should be able to offer a better experience than those that have been released a decade previous.
Still, there were warts to be found, and it was hoped that, maybe, next year Codemasters would finally get it nailed with a minimum of drama and an even barer minimum of bug carryover.
Our hopes were met, this time, in the form of a demo; a first for the series and something that I feel any serious software effort requires. For one, it would give folks a chance to check out the driving model and the AI behavior. I tried the demo, was pleasantly surprised at the driving dynamics–strange incidences of understeer aside, that is, you got the feeling that you had to slow unreasonably to make the corner–and felt that it was a more than adequate presentation of what the purchaser of the full game could expect, at least in terms of how the cars handled. No seventy five G lateral turns or six meter braking points from 350 Km/h to 40 Km/h, for example, were noted.
September 18th, 2012…the big day. Well, for us in the States, that is. Steam had been taking pre-orders for some time and, in an effort to outwit my string-and-can internet connection, I pre-purchased and then initiated the download before heading off to work, anxious for the midnight activation of my (hopefully) downloaded multi-gigabyte Formula One game.
Sure enough, my internet connection stayed true and when I got home the game was sitting on my hard drive, waiting for the go signal from Steam that it was ok to play. At about 12:00:01 AM, I began the process of playing. Well, I tried to play. Another fifteen minutes or so of file decryption was the final step and then I was allowed. Sometimes I miss the old fashioned installation disk.
First and foremost, the interface has been completely redesigned, in terms of both graphics and layout. Still console oriented and not a mouse cursor in sight, the multi-platform development is clearly evident. No matter, the keyboard works just fine for navigating the menus and if we were able to forgive Richard Burns Rally for such things, surely, we can find it in our hearts to overlook this blatant omission from the latest Formula One offering.
I setup my profile–first name, last name, nickname (Professor), nationality, so on and so forth, and then it was time to dig in and see what we had this year.
Game Modes Overview
F1 2012 is, as the saying goes, ‘Chock Full’O Content’. Champions Mode is one of my favorites, and a lot of fun. Basically, you select a champion–Kimi is first on the list–and try to complete the task at hand at the given venue under one of three difficulty modes. In the case of Kimi, you are behind him with fresher tires and five laps to go at Spa. Can you overtake him? Sure you can! Given your performance here, you could win a Bronze, Silver, or Gold medal. All of the current Formula One past Champion drivers have their own challenge, with a finale of trying to beat all of them at the new Texas venue. Champions mode is but one portion of the Proving Grounds mode and, in addition to the Champions Mode there is a Time Attack and Time Trial mode, both the sort of thing a hot lapper might appreciate. Fans of multiplayer will find a lot to dive into, from simple pickup races, LAN events, and even a full blown Co-op championship mode. Profile statistics and game setup and options are available in the My F1 section of the interface. Additional modes are the Young Driver Test, Career, and Quick Race mode and these are discussed in more detail below.
The Young Driver Test
I’m feeling better already! A Young Driver Test! Sure, it’s a mere vicarious diversion, but given my advanced age I’ll take what I can get. Now, on to find out what the hell this mode is.
In the real sport of Formula One, the Young Driver Test is the perfect opportunity for those up and coming drivers in the lower classes to showcase their talents to the teams at the Pinnacle of Motorsport at a real track, in the real cars. True to the sport, Codemasters has seen fit to include this in the latest game in the series, with the testing taking place at the lovely Abu Dhabi venue.
Feeling extra special, I chose to showcase my talents with the tradition-soaked Ferrari team. Upon entering the garage of the team of your choice, you are met by your race engineer, your guide for the testing. At this point, I got sort of freaked out because the animations of my race engineer were such that you have no trouble believing you are, in fact, in the garage of the Ferrari team…but those eyes. His eyes were eerily realistic. Perhaps, too realistic. I wasn’t too freaked out to notice he needed a shave but, given what Ferrari has been through the past year, I was able to easily overlook his slightly unkempt appearance. Besides, expecting them all to be running around in Armani suits is not a realistic expectation on my part.
So…they drop me in the car for my first test and before I leave for the track the interface asks me to turn the wheel this way and that, press the pedals, and hit a couple of buttons. I found this to be an interesting and immersive way to setup the controller, and though I had already done so, I went through the motions anyway. Besides, you couldn’t leave until it was done.
In summary, this mode seems to be designed to expose the new driver to the rigors of handling a Formula One car, from the basics of negotiating various types of corners to the intricacies of using KERS and DRS alone on the track, and the vastly more complex and difficult time when other cars are on the track. As expected, veterans of racing simulators and Codemasters previous efforts in the series may find this quite boring and unnecessary as this mode assumes that you are quite the newbie, to put it mildly. On the other hand, when we reach the point where ‘ we know it all’ we have, perhaps, reached a point where we know nothing at all…ok, enough with the philosophy, you get the point.
Your race engineer is chattering at you all the while, and a nice touch was the inclusion of video explanations for some of the concepts introduced. Dry and wet track conditions are presented and, depending on how well you do in the Young Driver Test, your initial team options in the Career mode could be affected. I liked this mode, and I thought it was a welcome addition and a fine introduction to the latest release in the series if for no other reason than it added something new to the mix that is on topic to the real sport.
The Career Mode
Career modes in racing games seem to be greeted with one of two responses–you either love them or you hate them. Personally, I like it when a game goes beyond what happens on the track and digs a bit behind the scenes: keeping track of your progress from a detailed statistical point of view, and rewarding you as you gather experience. On the other hand, a poorly executed career mode will have you begging for less in no time. I think that this is the sort of thing that Codemasters does well–career modes, not causing us to beg for less…
Starting off as a lowly driver for a backmarker team, you are given this or that goal, and as you meet those targets you advance and if you fail at those goals, well, plan on being with your backmarker team for some time. There is even the possibility of moving mid-season! I am not sure how realistic that is given that mid-season driver changes seem to be quite rare these days, but it is an interesting possibility nonetheless.
I chose the five year long career, 100% race length, in the Caterham, at a Professional level of difficulty–I’m not quite ready for the Legend mode just yet, but when I am it is easily changed. I like that the difficulty levels are not locked solid for the duration of the career, but even at Professional level I was no doubt in for a struggle.
It was in the career mode that I had my first jaw dropping moment. That is, when I discovered that Codemasters dropped two entire Practice sessions from the race weekend simulation. I needed answers! When I got them, I was not pleased–according to Steve Hood, an official spokesman for the game, the sessions were dropped because, in essence…”Nobody used them”. What the hell? Seriously? No, Steve, seriously? Apparently, they were serious because when you loaded up the race weekend, not a P1 or P2 in sight, just a ‘P’, and an hour long. Woe unto you if that hour doesn’t include any rain and the Q sessions do, for example. And too bad if you can’t get a setup sorted in an hour. Utter nonsense. I can understand cutting features that are frivolous, but removing things in the game that actually worked and, further, enhanced the realism of the entire experience? That flag isn’t flying over here.
Hey, if you don’t like practice, then skip it, I don’t care…but to take that option away with the nonsensical excuse of ‘Nobody used it’ is BS and I am calling it out. To further rub salt in the wound, it would appear that at some time during the game development the missing practice sessions were there as you have about five sets of tires for the weekend, but the first set appears to be locked out as you can’t use them.
And, just in case there isn’t enough salt in that gaping wound yet, Hood has stated that the modes will not be added at a later date. Maybe they will be back in F1 2013.
Nonsense, but for the good of the team I kept going–I have a review to write and maybe I will get over the lack of those missing practice sessions soon enough.
Thankfully, they didn’t put machine guns on the cars as an alternative to the missing practice sessions.
\rant mode off
Ok, ok, back to the game now. The career mode is chock full of all kinds of things to do and look at. Emails from your agent, race engineer, and team owner lend to the credibility that you are, in fact, part of a larger effort with the possibility of moving upward from your spot as number two driver. In addition, some of the races have special icons above their selection markers indicating various things such as ‘Home Race’, for example. In other words, expect some expectations above and beyond the usual expectations. Think of what the team expects of McLaren at the Silverstone event and you get the general idea.
I hopped into my lovely green Caterham for the hour practice, and my times were about what one would expect. That is, near the bottom of the field. Heading into qualifying, I held no illusions and was quickly remanded to the garage as the other two qualifying sessions proceeded without me. Yes, the full qualifying experience is there; thankfully those were kept intact. Finally, race day came around and there I was, near the back of the grid, with one expectation–finish 19th or better.
Further cause for grumbling surfaced as I made my way through the 100% distance event. For one, the penalty system appears, on the surface at least, to be severely broken. As one example, you may find yourself getting crashed into by an overanxious game driver (who shall remain nameless) and you wind up with the penalty which can range from a ten second penalty or a more severe disqualification from the race entirely.
Fine, I thought, I’ll do the drive through, it’s not like I am battling for first place here. Except, I couldn’t do the drive through because every time I came in to do it, I was pitted. Not once, but twice. On my third attempt at driving through I was, for some mysterious reason, allowed to drive through. Thankfully, I had all those extra tires from the missing practice sessions…
Had I been disqualified, I am sure my rage would have been difficult to contain. A glaring bug that surely should have been caught in play testing before release, but wasn’t.
With the race over, I must say that I was rather pleased with the entire affair. Penalty bugs aside, it was quite fun using the KERS and (occasionally) the DRS systems, and the race engineer prattling on about this or that further enhanced the immersion factor.
And there was never any doubt I was in a backmarker car. With underdeveloped everything, it was down on power, handling and brakes. When the tires were on the verge of giving up, the driving model reflected this quite well. Going off line put marbles on the tires–my engineer told me this–and he wasn’t kidding, the grip was reduced for a time until they were gone. And speaking of driving line, many are reporting that it isn’t showing up as the race progresses but I could have sworn that I saw one, though it was nowhere near as dark as the line of F1 2010 and F1 2011. I may have imagined it, or it may be another fix to be added to the patch list. I did manage to see a video on YouTube of the PS3 version and it would appear that version of the game has a drying line that rubbers in just fine.
The force feedback felt great, I thought it was noticeably better than that found in F1 2011 and substantially better than that found in F1 2010. In addition, this time around, there are settings built into the game that support many wheels from the menu, including my Fanatec CSR. However, there was a bit of confusion–in the game, at the bottom of the screen on any given page, there are red circles with numbers in them, indicating which button to press to advance to the next stage, for example. Unfortunately, there is no ‘Number 6’ on the Fanatec CSR, as a result, figuring out the correct button to push on the wheel involved a bit of trial and error. Annoying, but not a game breaker.
Due to the absence of enough practice sessions, I decided that it would be wise to hop into the Grand Prix mode and load up the next event on my schedule to get some track time in. As it turns out, Grand Prix mode is missing! Or, rather, it has been renamed to ‘Quick Race’ and the ability to run an entire season in this mode, perhaps as your favorite driver, is gone. Pick a venue, a race weekend length, a skill level, assists or no assists; however you choose, this is now the single race weekend mode, albeit without the ability to setup a regular or custom season. I’ll be using the mode as my practice session for the next venue on my career path.
Quick Race was the mode I used to check out the driving models and, as expected, each car seems to handle quite differently. Hop in the Caterham and be prepared for a bit of extra work as it seems to want to throw out the rear end if one is not careful through high speed curvy bits. On the other hand, I found the Mercedes under the same track conditions to be rock solid with a very noticeable improvement in handling and stability.
In A Bit More Detail…
Honestly, this is the part of any driving simulator review that I struggle with. Unlike my esteemed colleague Denton, I do not have experience with quickish open wheelers or karts in a real world capacity. My personal driving fast experience is limited to insane back road speed motorcycling and insane dirt road speed Subaru Impreza driving, hardly the stuff Formula One legends are made of. We can pore over endless reams of physical data, lookup table tire models versus dynamic tire models, polar moments, angular momentum and Lord only knows what else but at the end of the day it all seems rather meaningless if you can’t convey how these modeling parameters transfer to a computer game and then back again into reality. In other words, what would Fernando Alonso think? Beats me…but here is what I think.
Anthony Davidson, former Formula One driver, had a bit of a hand in the development of the driving model as fans of the series no doubt are already aware. However, with that being said, I found the driving dynamics of F1 2010 to be a bit on the forgiving side. Slides seemed too easy to catch, the brakes seemed of the sort to make practitioners of the black art of carbon braking systems green with envy and bumping into other cars felt more akin to ‘rubbin paint’ as they say in NASCAR. That is, a bit of contact with an AI driver–or a wall–didn’t have the effect on the cars that it seems to have on them in the real events. In other words, the slightest bit of contact didn’t send shockwaves of panic through the driver and crew that in the next high-g corner parts of the delicate suspension would self destruct.
I mentioned earlier that the driving model has evolved from version to version and let me elaborate a bit on that Mercedes versus Caterham comparison, taking both through turns five and six at Sepang in dry conditions. In the Caterham, the entry to this complex is relatively straightforward as you move to the right of the track before entering turn five and then flick the car to the left to enter the complex. As you do this, you get the sensation through the wheel that the car is doing something it would rather not do, that is, deviate from the high speed straight line you had it in scant seconds ago. So far, so good. The trouble comes when you try and flick it back to the right to catch the entry and apex of turn six–if you are not careful, the back end is going to suddenly start to feel light and you may be able to catch it with a bit of lift and a bit of brake…or you may not as the car responds to your input in a very real life way by spinning around and this feeling, of losing the back end, is conveyed quite well through the wheel.
If the back end slips out a bit and you manage to catch it this will be on your mind the next go around. To further hamper this negotiation, if you have strayed offline somewhere before the turn five entry and covered your tires with the offline rubber bits–marbles–the grip of the car will be noticeably lessened and you really have to pedal it until the marbles are gone from the tires and normal grip returns. Prime or Option tire choices will also change the characteristics of the car in this complex as the grip levels are noticeably reduced with the Option tire. One more question to ask yourself–are you pitting this lap? If so, then, again, plan on reduced grip as tire wear is modeled in believable fashion and fresh rubber is what it always is–a Superhero’s Cape. Brake bias, adjustable from the cockpit as in the real cars, is also important as too much to the front will find you locking up one tire or the other depending on which way the corner goes. While not such a factor in the complex of five and six at Sepang, it will become relevant as you hit the braking zone for turn nine. Not only will you get a visual confirmation of this as one tire stops spinning altogether, your engineer will remind you that you can move the bias toward the back to help alleviate this problem. If you are the type of driver who likes smoking the tires to melted rubber heaps during braking, you will quickly lose your ability to turn. Or stop, for that matter. In other words, tire wear is modeled to a degree of believability that has been lacking in previous versions of the game.
Now, about that Mercedes…as one might expect, taking the Mercedes steed through the same set of corners is a much different affair as the game version is noticeably more stable than the Caterham. The turn in to five is similar, but when you flick it over to make six, the feeling you get versus the Caterham is one of confidence–the Mercedes is sticking like glue! Again, screw this up with too much speed or steering input and the feeling of confidence flowing through the front tires and the wheel is soon to be replaced with a visit to the brake pedal as you attempt to catch the rear end from tossing out on you. As always, practice makes perfect, but I feel that Codemasters has done a fine job of conveying the suspension of disbelief required of all simulators in any genre, that is, you are easily convinced that you are driving a high speed Pinnacle of Motorsport vehicle. In addition, Codemasters has also reflected the reality of the sport in that the backmarkers are backmarkers for a reason–they are down on handling, or power, or brakes. The driving model and dynamics have evolved remarkably and, I feel, F1 2012 is the best of the bunch.
Another area Codemasters has done well with is the weather modeling. This time around you may, at times, notice that one part of a track is under a bit of rainfall and another is in perfectly dry conditions. The track may eventually be soaking wet as the rain takes hold, or it may clear up and leave the entire venue perfectly dry. This forms a nice feature that will no doubt make the decision to switch to dry weather tires–or to wets–more than a trivial thought. Further enhancing the experience is the vision in wet weather, or rather the lack of it. This time around, driving in the rain is cause for concern as visibility is drastically reduced, and I mean drastically! If you are behind a gaggle of cars, you’ll begin to feel as if you are driving on instinct alone as braking points and apexes become lost in the mess covering the visor. I was very impressed by this decision to hamper the drivers’ visibility in such a way as to genuinely affect the driving from the driver’s view perspective.
Now this is a bit odd…
Of course, I had to take the Ferrari to Monza, if only to drink in a bit of this tradition steeped venue in the lovely modeled Ferrari and it was here that I noticed a couple things a bit out of sorts. The first thing I noticed was how ineffective the brakes were going into the turn one chicane. I think I missed it three times before I finally started braking about 20 meters earlier than what reality–and previous versions of the game–would indicate you needed to brake. At first I thought that it might be a complex modeling of cold brakes taking longer to stop the car but after a while this didn’t make much sense as the brakes seemed to be quite ineffective no matter how warm they were. It may have been my imagination, I may have not had the brake bias set correctly, or, it may be poorly modeled brakes! Evident in the demo version as well, for whatever reason the brakes did not seem to have the effectiveness of a system that is capable in real life of producing around five negative g’s of force on the car and driver.
Also catching my attention was the tendency of the car to understeer on entry to the Lesmos, for example. Not the sort of understeer you get by approaching the corner 100 Km\h above a reasonable entry point, but the sort of understeer that causes you to shake your head a bit in confusion. To be fair, this point of understeer was addressed in the same post that Steve Hood discussed the reasons for eliminating the two practice sessions perhaps indicating it may be addressed in a future patch. This understeer behavior was not noted at all of the tracks I ran, but at Monza it was as plain as day.
I found the damage model to be a bit lacking, if I may put it mildly. Scrapes with other cars or immovable objects such as walls all too often resulted in mild damage. Given how extremely delicate these cars are in real life, I thought that this aspect of the game was one of the weaker points. It may be an attempt to keep the race alive for those wall bangers, or, it simply may be the way things are, once again. A weakness in all versions to this point, the damage is definitely undercooked.
I have to admit, I have been a fan of the Codemasters F1 series since the beginning. There is no question that they have, and are, going through a learning curve. There is also no question that the games are improving from one year to the next and, as I have previously mentioned, I find F1 2012 the best in terms of driving physics and overall immersive experience. However, before we go slathering the Awesome Sauce all over the place, some valid concerns remain. One, Codemasters has shown a tendency to carry some substantial bugs from one game to the next. Following release, barely a day went by before the calls came in of people not only losing their profiles due to file corruption, but completely losing the ability to save the game state at all! This, as far as I am concerned, is inexcusable. For such a devastating bug to appear in the game three years in a row is, in my not so esteemed opinion, flat out incompetence and raises serious questions as to the relevance of the QA department–or lack of such–at Codemasters. To their credit, at the time of this review, over 200 ‘issues’ are being addressed by the development team in the form of released and pending patches, but, golly, that’s a lot of issues to get to the paying public, demo or not.
As such, given that I had reservations on reviewing a game where my game characters destruction was imminent, I proceed from here on with caution. While it is often the policy of game reviewers to review a product ‘out of the box’, that is, sans any patches, had that been done in this case, I am not sure my numbering system goes that far below zero and I am only partially joking…
I can only hope that the remaining glitches are dealt with before the team goes into Ultra Stealth Mode as work on F1 2013 begins.
Noticeable improvements to vehicle dynamics and force feedback
Improved wheel support
Stellar graphics and lighting effects, car models extremely detailed
Cockpit graphics well done with car specific wheels
Excellent frame rates at high graphics settings
Excellent weather modeling
Career mode offers depth and realism, enhancing replayability
Young Driver Test Mode a welcome addition to those new to the series or genre
Extensive multiplayer modes including Co-op championships
No mouse support
Two year old bugs turning into three year old bugs…
Penalty system is erratic
Drive through penalties often result in multiple pit stops
Mirrors useless until car behind is within a few meters
Odd understeer phenomenon at some tracks, cars seem to drift unrealistically on turn-in forcing corner entry speeds that feel unreasonably slow to the driver.
Codemasters support commitment…to be determined