It’s around this time of the season in modern F1 when the same three occurrences take place. The silly season reaches fever pitch, Sebastian Vettel begins to dominate the final flyaway rounds en route to yet another title and Codemasters release the latest instalment of their official F1 game franchise.
But despite previous games proving to be critical and commercial successes, the Birmingham based developers haven’t yet managed to fully satisfy their most valued of customers – the hardcore fans.
After a relatively uninspiring update in 2012 – which added little of real substance to the franchise and even removed some key features from the earlier games – Codemasters are hoping that the most ambitious addition to the series to date will help them recapture the imaginations of fans across the globe.
Almost from the moment it was announced that Codemasters had secured the exclusive F1 rights back in 2008, fans have been calling on the developers to give them classic cars, tracks and drivers. This year, they finally have their wish – and it has been worth the wait.
What could have easily been a shallow gimmick is in fact a full extension to the main game. Players can drive famous F1 machinery spanning almost 40 years in Time Trial, Time Attack, in a custom Grands Prix and championships as well as a handful of scenario challenges, with virtually all of the same race settings as the 2013 cars.
Famous cars from the 1980s – such as the Lotus 100T and the FW12 – are included as standard, while the 1990s content available in the Classic Edition or via a paid download add all the Williams and Ferraris from the 1992, 1996 and 1999 seasons.
While only classic Jerez and Brands Hatch are available in the standard edition of the game – with Imola and Estoril added in the Classic edition and via download – they look superb and their high speed, flowing nature provides a much more exhilarating experience compared to many of the modern tracks. In a welcome move, all classic cars can be raced on any of the 2013 circuits, while the modern cars can also travel back in time to race on the classic circuits.
On-track, the classics are simply thrilling to drive and even more fun to race. Don’t expect Grand Prix Legends-level physics accuracy here – the handling is challenging yet forgiving, but nonetheless highly satisfying when you get it right.
Hold a high-speed slide through the turns in a 1980s car as you feel the tyres about to let go before burying the throttle on the exit and managing the turbo-induced wheelspin as you come onto a straight and it’s hard to not have a smile on your face.
When racing against nine legendary names at a time such as Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell, Mario Andretti and Mika Hakkinen, F1 Classics mode almost feels like a fulfilment of that ultimate F1 racing fantasy.
But as much as there is on offer, you can’t help but pine for even more cars and even more circuits. As Codemasters are almost certain to acquire the rights for more legendary machines for future instalments, this is a very enjoyable introduction to a mode that will hopefully become a hallmark of the series in years to come.
The 2013 season
Codemasters certainly chose the right year to add their Classic content as a mere ‘roster update’ for 2012 was never going to hold much attraction in a season with one fewer race and one fewer team to play with. Not that either HRT or Valencia’s street circuit represented the sport at its best.
As exciting as the F1 Classics mode is, Codemasters knew they could not neglect the 2013 side of the product and have made minor but welcome improvements to the single player gameplay.
Handling is more enjoyable than 2012 as the cars feel less heavy and sluggish than last year. The brakes feel more responsive too, with braking distances shortened and lock-ups occurring organically and believably.
Cars are now far more susceptible to wheelspin at low revs meaning drivers have to be more intelligent about their throttle use at race starts. Simply flooring the accelerator will lose you places even with traction control enabled.
The scaling of the tyre wear model to suit shorter race distances, which was removed from the last game, has been reinstated. So has the ability to race a custom championship with any official driver in Grand Prix mode.
At long last, players also now have the ability to save a race weekend at any point during practice, qualifying or the race itself and resume exactly where they left off – perfect for 100%-distance career enthusiasts.
The artificial intelligence of your rival drivers has been enhanced over 2012 too, with rivals now less inclined to give up positions when side-by-side with the player. AI cars still seem to shy away from diving down the inside of the player sometimes when they have a run, but they seem more aware of the player in practice and qualifying and are just as inclined to fight – and even have incidents with – other AI drivers in the race. While the AI in F1 2013 is not revolutionary, it is still far more fun to race computer-controlled opponents in this game than in certain other major racing series.
As with last year’s edition, the game begins at the Young Drivers’ Test at Abu Dhabi. While this scenario remains little changed from last year, thankfully the game allows any player with F1 2012 save data on their system to skip the tedium of the first day and skip straight to the day two challenges. Completing these will unlock Williams, then Force India, then Sauber as teams to begin with in career mode. Those who ace them all with have the opportunity to begin their F1 career alongside Kimi Raikkonen at Lotus.
The career mode itself is virtually identical to last year, using the same menu system and handling race weekends in much the same way. With the number of difficulty levels increased from four to five, players should find AI speed balancing issues less of a problem. Legend difficulty does feel more challenging this year, especially with slower cars, but teams continue to give players completely unrealistic qualifying and race targets at higher difficulties and it’s frustrating that this issue appears to have been unchanged from 2012.
A new addition to the Proving Grounds mode for this year is the Scenario Mode. Rather than putting players into real situations from actual races like F1 games of old, F1 2013 offers up an interesting mix of hypothetical scenarios based around what an elite F1 driver may expect to face during their career.
The first series of scenarios focus on situations drivers often experience during their rookie season, such as recovering places after pitting with a broken front wing, while later scenario series see challenges based around the drama that occurs while in the midst of a tight championship battle.
It’s a novel and interesting take on a mode that’s been done many times before and with 20 total challenges in 2013 mode and five total challenges in F1 Classics – each with three different AI difficulty levels – this mode will provide players with more than just a simple distraction from the main single player campaigns.
Graphically, the series is looking better than ever. A new lighting system does a great job of bringing out the beauty and the vibrancy of the world’s best race circuits without appearing overly stylised.
In cockpit view, wing mirrors now give a much better indication of how close your rivals are. Car textures on the PS3 version appear smoother with less jagged edges than in previous games.
The sound has also been improved, with higher-pitched and throatier external engine notes making cars sound sweeter than ever. Audible bumps, scrapes and backfire pops under gear changes.
Online, the game offers no major changes of note from previous versions. The only addition of note is the ability to race Classics with all the freedom offered to 2013 cars, which will no doubt provide some fresh excitement to online racing. Serious online racing enthusiasts will rejoice in the fact that the penalty system can now be set to penalise corner cutting only, or even turned off completely.
Still room for improvement
As popular as this series is, it’s true that Codemasters have faced extensive criticism from fans and players for a number of issues that have been present in the first three instalments. Thankfully, it seems as though the developers have put more effort into quality control this year than in previous games.
The much-maligned penalty system has received attention and is a lot less strict than 2012 when it comes to collisions. Drivers should still expect penalties for major shunts, but minor knocks and inconsequential contact will result in either a warning or no action at all at the ‘realistic’ setting. Players will still find occasions when they are hit with a seemingly harsh penalty, but overall the game rewards you for driving sensibly and doesn’t seem to punish you for accidents in which you have no chance to avoid contact.
As spectacular as the damage system can be during major collisions, it remains rather too forgiving, with no option to increase damage sensitivity to provide a more realistic risk of retirement when hitting a wall. The Safety Car and red flag system remains and appears to function smoothly and properly, although it’s rare that a Safety Car situation occurs during an AI race, so expect to experience deployments mainly at tight street circuits.
There were no obvious game-breaking bugs to be found while testing the game for review and no ‘invisible walls’ to be found or crashed into. Unfortunately, it still seems that running 1-1 level wings, 1-1 ride heights and 11-11 spring stiffness is a viable set-up option for every track yet again, and it’s a shame that these extreme settings don’t result in making cars almost undriveable as they really should do.
But with all the improvements made under the hood, the one thing F1 2013 needs but noticeably lacks is a fresh coat of paint. As fun as the racing is, too much of the game feels identical to the previous three in the series. The same pre-race cinematic from the original F1 2010 remains, as does the woefully limited replay system and car set-up parameters. Post-race celebration animations are identical to F1 2011, as are much of the engineer’s radio messages. Even the main menu music has been recycled from last year’s game.
While these are all relatively minor gripes, they will, for veterans of the series, detract from that sense that you’re playing an entirely new game, even though there is considerable fresh content on hand this year. With F1 undergoing a technical revolution next season and the next generation of consoles appearing in a matter of months, 2014 would be the perfect opportunity for Codemasters to give their series a much needed fresh new look.
F1 2013 – like previous games in the series – is not and does not pretend to be a simulation. Those who are seeking Papyrus or SimBin-level attention to detail and immersion will, once again, be disappointed. But that is not and has never been the aim of this series and what Codemasters have attempted to do is to make a fun and rewarding F1 game that can be enjoyed by casual and hardcore fans alike.
With this year’s game, Codemasters have not only given us an enjoyable F1 experience, they have also reaffirmed their commitment to make F1 games that are truly worthy of carrying the famous logo. If F1 2012 felt at times like a half-hearted update, F1 2013 feels like a good step back in the direction where this franchise should be going.
Despite some shortcomings, there is plenty of new content for fans to get excited about for this year, as well as some decent, welcome improvements to the core experience of the game. In F1 2013, Codemasters haven’t quite hit the dizzy heights that they are no doubt aiming for, but they have provided an experience that is superior in every regard to its predecessor and is the best instalment of this franchise to date.
F1 Fanatic rating
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Published: October 4th 2013
F1 2013 Classic Edition price: £44.99/£44.99/£39.99 (PS3/Xbox 360/PC)
F1 2013 price: £39.99/£39.99/£20.00 (PS3/Xbox 360/PC)
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