Fasten your seatbelts and stock up on AA batteries: Codemasters have released their yearly instalment (five and counting) of the official F1 tie-in. Like many iterative titles, little has changed with the core gameplay and the minor improvements offer little of substance to anyone who bought last year’s offering, or even the year before’s.
The main selling point of F1 2013 is the Classics mode, which offers a series of 80s and 90s tracks (alongside drivers and cars from the same era). A great concept controversially tarred by blatant profiteering, as two versions of the game have been released - a standard version with two classic tracks and 80s content, and a premium version with two more tracks and 90s content chucked in on top.
Time Attacks, Grand Prix, and Career Mode are all present and correct although this last mode is terminally dull - surprising, given the effort put into similar modes in the Codies’ other driving stables. Worse still is the Young Drivers’ Test, an extended tutorial section which serves mainly to put off anyone who hasn’t played a game in the franchise before. Thanks to the limited changes made with the game mechanics, it certainly won’t have anything to offer fans of the series. It’s unfortunate, then, that it is also a conduit into the main campaign since the results of your challenges in this area directly influence which teams offer you an initial contract. And since the teams in question are from the lower half of the leaderboard, you won’t be playing as one of the big boys from the off.
Graphically, F1 2013 pushes the limits of the 360’s aging hardware with stunning environmental effects; roaring down rain-slick straights has never looked so good. It seems that Codemasters have nailed the look of the vehicles, with a sharpness which feels “right”. Comparisons to lookers such as GT or Forza may not be favourable, but aside from the eerie character models in the garage, there really aren’t many complaints on a visual level. The classic cars are also brilliantly realised, not just in terms of their aesthetic but also their handling. Having three decades worth of engineering advances stripped away means that the beast you’re trying to control is less finicky and more bullish about cornering. These are cars before the paradigm shifted away from learning the road and onto learning the car’s technological improvements. Shown through an optional sepia filter, the 80s feel like a wonderful nostalgia trip, the greasy spanners and almost antiquated feel of the technology comparing favourably to the slick, polished machine of the present day. The blue-tinged 90s are equally enjoyable; who wouldn’t want the chance to jump into Mansell’s title-winning Williams? Having the whole thing introduced by the legendary Murray Walker is just a bonus.
The classic cars are a refreshing change to the main roster, which demand significant patience and concentration to handle. The series has never been one to cater to the casual racing fan, and nothing has changed with this release. The new difficulty levels are welcome, but even on the easiest setting you’ll find yourself challenged; ramp up that setting and be prepared to hurl your rumbling controller across the room after misjudging a hairpin for the thirtieth time and dropping four places. You’ve been warned. Thankfully, endurance is not as much of an issue this time around as Codemasters have added the ability to save mid-game, a feature which legions of fans with cramped hands were crying out for, especially as full-on races can take a couple of hours to complete. Fortunately the option to alter race distances is also present, allowing you to select three or five laps per race, or from twenty-five percent of a normal Grand Prix through to the full length if you fancy a marathon session.
Multiplayer offers a mix of quicker single races and lengthier co-op campaigns. Local split-screen, seven lap Grand Prix, sprint and endurance races are all included and AI drivers worthily replace any absentees from the sixteen player roster as well as bulking up the remaining six positions for a full twenty-two car line-up. Thankfully, the VIP Pass has gone - perhaps a sheepish acknowledgement that there really isn’t that much new in this year’s release to justify charging for online play. RaceNet wasn’t available at the time of review, although Codemasters promise new challenges will be released each week.
The damage model is surprisingly forgiving, even when turned up to full. This may in part be due to the overall challenge of the game, but unlike real-life vehicles which fall to pieces at the merest knock from the neighbour’s bumper, you can hurl your car around the track and bounce off walls with only minor issues. It won’t help you place highly (or at all) of course, but it’s nice to have some of the frustration alleviated when you make small errors in overtaking and clip the car you’re passing. Force feedback has also been improved, letting you know when you’re damaging your tyres - and since the dynamic weather conditions and the new tyre usage rules from this year mean that tyre wear can make or break a race, it’s a welcome improvement.
As exciting as the new (old) cars are, there simply aren’t enough of them. The lack of McLaren’s licence means that the opportunity to play as Senna is notably absent. It doesn’t hurt the game as much as it could, but given how sparse the overall additions are, a few more cars and tracks from the era would have been welcomed. In its current form, it’d perhaps have been more suitable as DLC rather than a full standalone release.
F1 2013 is without a doubt the best Formula 1 simulator to date. It hits all of the technical buttons, addresses some of the minor bugbears of the previous release and offers tweaks and small changes which are almost universally positive. However, given that there aren’t any other new tracks included in the standard game compared to F1 2012, it feels galling to be asked to fork out more cash at retail - Codemasters may argue that the licensing itself necessitates the need for making the franchise commercially viable, but on the face of it you’re paying an extra ten quid for very little more, especially considering the core game has barely evolved in the space of a year.
F1 fans may lap it up, but for non-aficionados the series remains as niche as ever. For something a little more accessible from their driving stable, GRID 2 may be a better alternative. We’ve high hopes that Codemasters up the ante significantly when they move the series over to the new generation of consoles, as a little more imagination and content will be needed to prevent the series from stagnating.