It’s lights out and away we go for Codemasters, as their latest Formula 1 game comes screaming towards the last corner destined for victory. But does it take the chequered flag or does it spin out and hit the wall?

Well, although F1 2012 doesn’t quite manage to capture the magic and craziness of the real sport, the racing is some of the best and most competitive I’ve ever seen in a video game. With 24 cars on track, all fighting for the same piece of tarmac, this time around, Codemasters have really captured what makes Formula 1 the best motorsport in the world by making sure that you’re always racing somebody.

F1 2012 builds on everything that has made the last 2 iterations of the series so great and made almost everything better. As soon as you load the game up you’ll notice a difference straight away as the first person view/paddock area has been replaced by brand new crisp and shiny menus, which do a good job of navigating you around and telling you what you need to know.

Right from the moment you start the game, F1 2012 does a great job of introducing newcomers to the sport and getting them up to speed (pardon the pun) with the finer details of driving a Formula 1 car by way of the young driver test. This is where your virtual career as a Formula 1 driver starts. This short tutorial gives you an introduction to the fundamentals of the sport and the mechanics of driving an F1 car and getting a fast competitive lap time. Each lesson will teach you something different and the lessons are short but varied and you’ll learn about braking distances, hitting the apex of corners and consistency, all of which are very important to being a successful racer. The young driver test is something which you have to complete before you can start your career, but that’s not a bad thing as everyone can learn something from the test, so even the most veteran racers won’t find it too irritating.

Once you’ve completed the test, the game opens up and begins. One of the first things that strikes you about this year’s game is the much more varied game modes. You have the option of Season Challenge, Champions Mode, career mode and of course, online multiplayer. Season Challenge is a much shorter but equally enjoyable mode, offering you the chance to enjoy the excitement of an F1 season without the investment of a lot of time as each race is done over 5 laps with one lap qualifying.

Champions Mode is Codemasters way of celebrating the fact that in the 2012 Formula 1 season, it has 6 previous World Champions racing. Champions Mode pits you against Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Kimi Raikkonen, Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and 7 time World Champion Michael Schumacher in a series of scenarios; ending with a race against all 6 of them at the brand new Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. These scenarios are enjoyable and, although they feel a little short, offer a reasonable challenge to even the most competent of drivers. The scenarios include catching and overtaking Kimi Raikkonen at Belgium, Fending off a very quick Lewis Hamilton in the rain at Interlagos, Brazil whilst remaining on slick tyres and catching and passing Sebastian Vettel whilst setting the fastest lap of the race.

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Racing can be very close in F1 2012

As with all things in life, additions usually come accompanied with a loss, and F1 2012 is no different as Codemasters have taken away Grand Prix mode, which means that there is now no way to play as your favourite F1 driver outside of quick race, which is a bit of a disappointment as it’s a mode which was enjoyed by many. But of course, Career mode is where the bulk of people are likely going to spend their time playing this game. It remains pretty much unchanged from last year’s game as you start with a low team and work your way up the F1 ladder and start driving for a better team such as Ferrari, McLaren or Red Bull and ultimately take the F1 World Drivers Championship. You have the option of doing full race weekends consisting of 1 practice session, qualifying and the race itself. You’ll also have the option of completing R and D objectives at some of the races, and these have been massively improved as it’s no longer just a case of setting an easily achievable lap time. Instead, you now have objectives which are much more in line with the new car part you’ll unlock. For example, one of the objectives for me was to use my DRS for 45% of the lap, and successfully completing it led to a much more efficient DRS system.

As much as the career mode is brilliant (and it is!) it isn’t without it’s problems. The decision to take out the 2nd and 3rd practice sessions is a decision which still baffles me slightly and is bound to annoy fellow F1 purists. And there is now no option to do quick 5 lap races in career mode, instead the shortest you can do now is 25%. Having said that, it does mean that the race weekends are a much more engaging experience and the hour that you have for practice is still more than enough time in which to perfect your car setup and attempt to be the quickest car out there.

As with any racing game, the true test is how the racing feels on track and with F1 2012, I can tell you is as you would expect from Codemasters – fantastic. The AI does a good job of racing cleanly and not randomly crashing into you as they seem content to sit behind you and try and pressure you into a mistake so they can take advantage. All of the races are challenging but realistic and nearly always close, forcing you to think about your strategy. And frankly, getting a perfect lap in is thrilling and an incredible experience especially around a really technical circuit like Monaco or Singapore. And much like real life, the differences between a low down team like HRT and top team like Ferrari are huge and you really do feel the difference between the cars once you start driving for a slightly better team with a better car.

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Racing in the rain is thrilling….and a little scary.

Graphically the game certainly looks the part as all of the cars look amazing, especially as the sun glints off of them during the race, allowing you to really see the scarlet red of a Ferrari or the silver of a Mercedes. It’s obviously something which Codemasters have taken great care in and it really shows. It’s not just the look of the cars which are amazing though, as it seems Codemasters have improved the graphics on the little things (which all helps of course) like the tyres as you can really see when your tyres are starting to wear or when they’ve got too hot and blisters start appearing, which destroys your grip levels and you really feel it in the car too when you’re racing around. Of course, not all races are going to be dry and sunny, and when it rains not only do the races get more difficult and intense but also the rain looks fantastic and is some of the best I’ve seen in a video game. Frankly, when it’s raining and you’re following a rival around the track trying to find a gap to get past, not only is it a little scary as you just can’t see through the mist and spray coming off of his car, it’s also a great feeling when you do manage to find a way through! And it’s something which I have never experienced in other racing games.

It’s not all good, however, as some of the textures and scenery have a horrible habit of popping into screen instead of simply coming into view. In fact, this is never more apparent then when you are driving in cockpit view and you suddenly see a car literally pop into view in the mirror as they pull up next to you in a corner, which is very annoying, especially around circuits like Monaco, as the first you know about a car being next to you is when you turn in on them, damage your car as a result, and get given a penalty for causing a collision!

The audio in Codemasters Formula 1 games has always been good and this year’s game is definitely no exception. It’s often said of F1 drivers that they don’t so much see other cars as hear them, and this is especially true in the rain. So good audio is paramount in any Formula 1 game and F1 2012 delivers brilliantly on this front!! Especially when playing with a set of gaming headphones, as you’ll really be able to hear when a car is coming up behind you and even where it is in relation to you.

You’ll also have your race engineer speaking to you during the course of the race. He’ll tell you relevant information such as your tyre wear, who you have coming up behind you, the weather, and where your teammate is.

F1 2012 does some good things and does a great job of replicating the circus that is Formula 1. With great on track racing and much improved presentation, this is a game which belongs in any racing fans collection.

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Review Score : [starreview tpl=16] Title : F1 2012
Format : Xbox 360
Developer : Codemasters
Publisher : Codemasters
Release Date : Out now

[starreviewmulti id=1 tpl=20]