Every year Codemaster’s F1 games get better. If F1 2010 was the spark that started it all, then 2011 was definitely the vroom after the ignition. But with F1 2012 have we finally got moving? Or are we still doomed to a stall and an 8th place finish? The short answer is no. This is without doubt the finest in the series.
Likening it to the our first experiences with the iPhone 5, the first encounter feels like meeting an old friend. The difference is that he has been on a diet and come back faster, fitter and sharper than ever.
F1 2012 does so many little things to improve upon the gameplay of the last title that, at first glance, it's hard to notice. A few races in, and you start to realise just how complex and finely tuned the handling engine of the game has become. Take things all the way to the end of a season and it feels there might have just been a moment when you experienced what it was like to really drive an F1 car.
Of course even getting to this point requires you to master the fairly fiendish difficulty of F1 2012. We found ourselves gradually turning off more and more driver aids as things went on, each time the play getting more rewarding, yet harder, at the same time.
Codmasters has introduced a new driver introduction, which you have to play through before you can start your career. It gives you a good idea of what is required to drive cars in the game and stops you from being thrust into competition too head on - literally.
Once through, though, F1 2012 is the most finely tuned Formula One game we have ever played. Everything from the KERS and DRS systems to the pit stops, random tyre blow-outs and little changes in handling when you run a back wheel off the track, feels well put together.
F1 2012 is now unpredictable. Your pit stop might go wrong, your tyres might pack in, you can even, in theory, run out of fuel, depending on your strategy. It makes for much more eventful races, both for you and other computer players. The increased mechanical dangers and changes that mistakes, such as running off the track, bring to handling make it is easier to lose and gain places.
We found ourselves doing a lot more overtaking. This became especially rewarding when you successfully pull-off a difficult manoeuvre, because now the risks involved are so much greater.
The AI also seems a lot more wise to some of your more brash moves and will get out the way. On the flip side we witnessed some seriously impressive overtakes and not once did any race feel like it was particularly on rails.
Weather looks as impressive as ever and the rain makes for some very tough racing. The new tracks are also a nice touch, and it felt quite special racing Circuit of the Americas before the real drivers did it for real.
Normally we would put together a story section here to discuss what sort of tale is to be told in a game. Problem is that there isn’t really one in F1 2012, short of your playing out your own F1 season.
Instead let's have a look at the modes on offer while you're not connected to the internet. There is a grand prix mode which lets you do either single races or create a series of races in which to compete. You can choose whether to do practice, qualifying and a race or just to go straight for racing.
Then there is a career mode, which is basically you exploring the driving life of your character. Starting off at the smaller teams, you work your way to the bigger teams, like Ferrari and McLaren.
Gone is the team trailer found in F1 2011 - which we think is a shame, because we really liked it. Instead is a much simpler UI where you can access things such as email, calendar and standings. Once you do start a race, there is a bit more to choose from in terms of car customisation. Quick set-up options as well as tyre strategy and even challenges against your team mate are all selected in the garage before a race.
Then there is champions mode, which is a first for the series and rather fun. It pits the top six drivers in the world right now against each other. Think of it a bit like a boss fight at the end of a game. So you take on Kimi Raikkonen at Spa for example, where you know he is best. All other racers are on old tyres but you are on fresh ones. Problem is, you need to overtake the whole pack to beat Kimi.
Things like this definitely add a bit of fun to what can be quite a sim-heavy game. They also show what can be done with the driving mechanics when you race on the absolute edge and make for a very rewarding victory if you pull them off.
Finally there is something called "season challenge", which basically asks you to win before a season is over by dominating every single race.
Another decent overhaul has been given to the game’s multiplayer. There are now both split-screen and online elements. The former is incredibly entertaining if you are up against someone of a similar skill level and it reminded us what fun can be had playing friends in the same room rather than in a lonely online environment.
When you do hit the internet though, things are much better. While we didn’t get a huge chance to play many people online - because the game isn’t out yet - we at least got an idea. There were 16 human players and another eight AI racers in order to make up the full 24. Naturally, the issue of everyone crashing like mad is still there, but Codemasters' ghost system stops total idiots from ruining others' races, and it works well.
This is definitely the best F1 game Codemasters has put together. In fact, its probably the best F1 game we have ever played. There is a lot to get stuck in to and more than enough to satisfy even the most hardcore of F1 fans.
It might not have the triple-A polish of some of the racing franchise gargantuas, but then F1 is not as easy to market. If you want a challenging, reward, accurate and innovative racing experience, then F1 2012 is without doubt the game to go for.