Back in 2010, Codemasters sought to bring F1 racing back to its former glory by reintroducing the franchise with the award-winning F1 2010. A year later, the success continued with the equally, if not more so, impressive follow-up, F1 2011 Achievements. The big question is: Has the developer/publisher fallen into the pitfalls of creating a stale annual sports simulation iteration, or is the franchise continuing to be developed at the same alarming rate as a modern-day F1 car in F1 2012 Achievements?
Under starter's order
From the minute that the first screens load in F1 2012 Achievements, it is abundantly clear that the in-game menus and navigation have been the subject of a major overhaul. The fairly dull and plain menus set against the paddock-inspired background from the previous two games are a thing of the past. In contrast, a bright and free-flowing menu system has been introduced. As a veteran of the franchise, this feels like a welcome and refreshing change. Furthermore, the menus are separated into concise, easy-to-understand sections which gives the opportunity to find the preferred game mode quickly, from the selection of different options available, and allows the racing to begin in earnest, hence creating a less daunting experience for newcomers. After all, it makes sense that a racing title should allow gamers to get on with the rubber-burning action as easily as possible.
Career-ing around the globe
The action begins with a brand-new feature, the Young Driver Test. This mode guides players through a series of tests, across two test days, to explain the basics of F1 racing. The Young Driver Test is effectively a glorified tutorial to bring newcomers to the series up to speed. Despite being a creative way of introducing the gameplay mechanics, many of the tutorials are so simplistic they almost border on being condescending. For example, the initial tutorial highlights how to accelerate and brake! Furthermore, experienced players are likely to be frustrated by the fact that there is no option to skip past the Young Driver Test straight into the Season Challenge or Career modes.
Codemasters should be applauded for endeavouring to encourage new players to try out the award-winning franchise by providing a gentle introduction, rather than bombarding the gaming experience with explanations of the controls at the beginning of each race. Since the Young Driver Test is a separate entity, players will only have to return to the tutorials if they feel the need, but ultimately the Young Driver Test would probably have been more at home as an introduction when the franchise made its initial comeback with F1 2010.
After completing the Young Driver Test, players can get started on the main game mode in F1 2012. The single-player Career mode returns to replicate the real-life Formula One World Championship season. It certainly does what it sets out to do, with each of the twenty racing circuits on the F1 calendar recreated with official licenses and incredible attention to detail resulting in a visually stunning representation of the racing environments. The official licensing also extends to all of the teams and drivers ensuring that all of those aspects of the 2011/12 Formula One World Championship battle have been depicted as accurately as possible. It is testament to the development skills on show in previous iterations created by Codemasters, that a practically true-to-life racing experience is nothing less than we would expect in F1 2012.
After adding several new features to F1 2011 following feedback based on F1 2010, it would have been easy for Codemasters to rest on its laurels and throw in the same Career mode again this year. However, that is not the case. There is more flexibility available in terms of customisation options in the Career mode. For example, AI difficulty and driving assists can be fully adjusted individually, rather than being limited to preset options attached to specific difficulty settings, such as Amateur or Expert.
Similarly, the KERS system, which was first introduced in F1 2011, has seen some further developments this year. The changes mean that it may fail during races, resulting in the risk of the extra boost drivers can gain from that system being lost. On the flip side, each race engineer and his team have the ability to repair and reinstate the KERS system whilst the race continues. Whilst this may sound like something that could hamper or destroy race strategies, and as a result, cause some frustration, it is common place in real-life F1 racing. Therefore, those types of changes can only improve the realism of the gameplay experience.
The Research and Development aspects in Career mode have also had a slight overhaul. Car upgrades are still gained by completing objectives set by your race engineer in the Practice session at particular races over the season. However, the R&D improvements allow players to define the preferred approach to car development from three possible options, but only when you become your team's first-choice driver. As an alternative to changing the R&D approach, there is also the opportunity to end all R&D work mid-season. These changes have introduced further flexibility to the Career mode experience, compared to the rigid, pre-defined car upgrade process in the two previous iterations.
In addition, the same fluidity is evident with respect to the choice of teams which are available. Despite this being somewhat limited when your career commences, rival teams seem more willing to make contract offers during each season and, hence this helps speed up your career progression. Instead of being forced to wait until the end of a particular season to join another team, good results will open up driver spots at the top teams. Gaining a seat at the bigger teams quickly is more crucial in F1 2012 than ever before. This is really important, because the bigger teams have cars with noticeably higher top speeds and better technical specifications. Moving to the usual title-challengers, such as Red Bull and McLaren, as soon as possible is pretty much going to be a requirement for those players who are looking to succeed with higher difficulty settings activated as there is a fairly steep learning curve beyond Intermediate difficulty.
Given the new features and its increased technical complexities, the main Career mode clearly appears to be geared toward accommodating more experienced players who enjoyed the previous titles in the franchise.
Prior to the release of F1 2012, a sizeable portion the franchise's fanbase bemoaned the announcement that the Grand Prix mode, which has featured in the previous two titles, had failed to make the cut this time around. However, the Quick Race mode looks to fill the gap left by its predecessor, and does so admirably. The replacement game mode is completely independent of the game's Career section and it offers a great hassle-free single race on any of twenty circuits featured in the game, with fully-customisable race settings. Maybe you want to practise under race conditions on a specific circuit to gain knowledge to help you win a crucial race in Career mode. Alternatively, you might just want to rattle through a few, carefree laps of your favourite track just for the hell of it. Regardless, the Quick Race mode should be your first pit stop in those kinds of circumstances.
Codemasters has added another brand-new game mode, titled Season Challenge, to this year's title which is a stark contrast to the extensive Career mode. The Season Challenge, like the Young Driver Test, looks to be another way of tempting newcomers into giving a F1 racing simulation title their attention. The new mode pits players into a ten race season, with one-shot qualifying (basically a 1-lap fight for the best lap time, which is also available in Career mode) and shorter race distances (just 5 laps, rather than the 25% of full distance minimum in Career mode). Shorter races, combined with all the features associated with a full-blown Career, means that Season Challenge improves the pick-up-and-play credentials of F1 2012, compared to F1 2010 and F1 2011. Players can still enjoy F1 in all its glory, without being roped into the lengthy and time-absorbing nature of a Career season, whilst remaining safe in the knowledge that they not being short-changed by a lack of features. The only real sticking point with Season Challenge is the fact that there is no option to choose which ten circuits you want to compete at during the half-season title battle. The chance to pick and choose would have obviously offered a more diverse experience and potentially would have increased the replay-ability of this aspect of the game. Overall, Season Challenge strikes the perfect balance between a Quick Race and the Career mode.
Players with a point to prove should slipstream into the Proving Grounds to see how their skills bear up in a selection of different challenge scenarios. This section consists of three separate game modes - Champions Mode, Time Attack and Time Trial.
Despite being the last game mode in that particular section of the main menus, it is worth spending some time in Time Trial before tackling Champions Mode and Time Attack. In many ways, Time Trial is very similar to Quick Race. You'll have the opportunity to familiarise yourself with any of the circuits in different conditions. The difference being that Time Trial lacks the other racers, so you are free to concentrate on mastering each track for the tasks which lie ahead of you in both Champions Mode and Time Attack. At first glance, it may appear that Time Trial has simply been included to add further depth to the title. However, the practise you do in that mode may just give you the edge when it matters.
As arguably the flagship new feature in F1 2012, Champions Mode offers up the types of challenges not yet seen in the franchise, until now, and it does not disappoint. Champions Mode offers an innovative alternative to the straight-laced racing action in Career Mode, by switching up the intensity a few notches to see whether you can compete against the best F1 has to offer. By the best, it means the best. The first six scenarios have you competing against a different former Formula One World Drivers' Championship winner. Each challenge has its own objectives that need to be met to succeed, with differing weather conditions only serving to heighten the pressure. If you think you can cope with those tasks, then how does a seventh challenge sound? Can you beat all six former champions around the new circuit in Austin, Texas? Go on, show them who's really the best!
Although the challenges can prove difficult, the Champions Mode does benefit from having a selection of difficulty levels available (Easy, Medium and Hard), with corresponding Bronze, Silver or Gold medals awarded respectively, upon completion. Therefore, it should be more than capable of catering for drivers of all abilities.
Time Attack is quite similar to Champions Mode, in that the same medals are awarded and each track has different weather conditions to add to the challenge. However, there is one difference in how the medals are gained. Instead of competing against highly-skilled drivers, it's simply you against the clock. Surprisingly, the pressure and tension still exists as you battle to overcome the elements to beat pre-set lap time goals.
The Proving Grounds section of F1 2012 heralds the welcome addition of the Champions Mode and the return of the other two modes, all of which add a touch of variety that is a far cry from the usual Career mode racing action.
Like its predecessors, F1 2012 supplements the various single-player components with a decent ensemble of multi-player game modes. Firstly, players who prefer to play out their friendly rivalries locally will welcome the fact that both Split-screen and System Link options retain their slots on the grid. Much of the same can be said for the race types which are available across Xbox LIVE, with the perennial race types all returning to offer enough variety to the online racing possibilities. If the standard rules and options in those races fail to drive you wild, then you'll probably enjoy playing alongside friends in Custom Races, where the settings can be changed to match the host's preferences (obviously within certain parameters).
Furthermore, the online Co-op Season mode makes an appearance again in F1 2012, after being unveiled to plenty of acclaim in last year's edition. In contrast to its single-player counterpart, Co-op Season has witnessed virtually no alterations whatsoever.
Surprisingly, given the amount of work that has went into developing the features of F1 2012's single-player elements, the multi-player aspects seem to have gleaned very little in the way of tender loving care this year. Such a lack of desire to develop those areas of the game is somewhat disappointing but, to be perfectly honest, there are no real issues that need to be ironed out anyway.
On the whole, the achievements list for F1 2012 shares many parallels with the game's multi-player options, in that most of the achievements follow in line with what has gone before. There are the usual, straight-forward career progression achievements for both the Career and Season Challenge modes. In addition, several achievements can be obtained by not only playing, but also mastering, the new features which have been introduced this year, namely the Young Driver Test and Champions Mode.
Despite the achievements not making giant leaps forward since the series' return, the most noticeable difference this time around is that the vast majority of gamerscore will be more easily obtained compared to the two previous iterations. None more so than the online achievements, where the near-endless XP grinding required in F1 2010 has been reduced to just having to complete (not even win) a certain number of races to be rewarded with some points this year.
As if we hadn't noticed already, F1 2012 serves as a reminder of just how capable Codemasters has become at creating absolute gems in the racing simulation genre. The accuracy and attention to detail that has been applied in bucketloads sees F1 2012 oozing with quality everywhere you look.
Personally, the lack of development in the multi-player components can be forgiven, simply because they remain capable of providing a credible and interesting alternative to the various single-player additions.
Finally, do you remember the 'big' question this review was opened with? In my eyes, F1 2012 appears as far from a stale, outdated racing simulation as you could find yourself, without travelling to Mars!
Get the biggest Xbox news delivered straight to your inbox every week.