Is this year’s game a cheap stop-gap or a fond farewell to the current console generation?
Much like the real-life Formula One World Championship, Codemasters F1 series is in a state of transition. With one eye focused on next year’s game thanks to the impending arrival of powerful next-gen consoles, it’s easy to get the impression that F1 2013 is a stop-gap. A moment of pause before numerous rule changes radically alter not only the nature of the sport Codemasters emulate, but also what players expect of racing games themselves.
Aside from the headline grabbing Classics mode which sees historical cars and tracks from the 1980s appear in-game to the delight of fans everywhere, much of F1 2013 on the surface at least seems similar to its 2012 counterpart. The regular game mode options of Career, Scenario (formerly Champions mode), Time Trial and Season Challenge have largely stayed the same. However as soon as you actually begin racing you’ll discover numerous clever additions and tweaks which fundamentally alter the core driving experience in F1 2013.
The handling model in particular is a big step up from last year’s game. Cars still feel twitchy and nimble like their real-life counterparts, but big steps have been made in communicating tyre degradation. Prime tyres feel reliable yet slow, whereas Options feel fast yet fragile. During runs it’s possible to feel performance slide away as you aggressively hop kerbs or produce wheelspin out of corners and this is affectively communicated by subtle rumble feedback. Those moments of tyres suddenly giving out and causing a spin are nowhere near as common as they were in last year’s game, instead when tyres give out they lose all traction radically denting car acceleration. If you’re more of a casual F1 fan this element may seem a bit ‘gamey’ or unrealistic, but it’s all in aid of teaching the player about the long game.
The current spec of Pirelli tyres aren’t about knocking in fast lap after fast lap, they burn out too quickly if you adopt that stance. Instead it’s more about thinking of the speed of a stint as a whole, with pace over a set of five or ten laps more important than one or two fast laps. The secret is Formula One has really always been about this kind of nuanced driving approach, but F1 2013 represents the first time Codemasters has properly and accurately communicated that to the player and it feels just as revelatory as it should.
Another big improvement is the ability to save progress mid-race. These mid-session saves make 100% race distance events finally attainable for even casual folk, with progress able to saved on any given lap. Races only have one save slot, but players can overwrite previous saves as many times as they like. This means that you can affectively save after every successful stint and if you aren’t happy with your performance you can go back to the previous spot as many times as you like. This may sound dangerously close to cheating, or a more egregious extension of Codemasters’ time rewind mechanic, but it doesn’t feel that way.
Career races can now only be run in 25%, 50% and 100% distances, but thanks to mid-race saves that proposition isn’t anywhere near as intimidating as it used to be. Finally time-strapped gamers have an opportunity to take part in races that play out exactly like real life F1 races, with positions continually changing back and forth as tyre performance wanes and peaks before and after pit-stops.
During the longer distance races it’s also easier to spot the other really important tweaks Codemasters have made to this year’s game, be it making AI back-marker behaviour much more predictable when they pull out of the way or the crucial improvement of giving players much greater control when entering and exiting the pits. Now the AI only takes control when you pass into the pit speed limit area, and gives you direct control as soon as you exit it, trusting you to get back up to full speed and stick to the pit line when exiting the pits. Pit crew behaviour is also much sharper; no longer holding drivers for seconds at a time when a clear gap presents itself.
All these may sound like small tweaks, but they are the kind of improvements fans have been crying out for and the core game experience is much more enjoyable as a result. Frankly we’d take these tweaks over back of the box, marketing-friendly additions any day, and there’s no doubt that F1 2013 is a much better game for them.
Tags: F1 2013
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