The two F1 games from Codemasters so far have been great simulations, but perhaps neglected their duty to be great videogames. Not everyone has the time to sit through full race weekends, after all, so F1 2012 offers more approachable, game-like options for play.
There's a new Champions Mode which pits you against each of the six F1 champions currently racing in the 2012 season in quickfire scenarios, with one final showdown against them all around the new Austin circuit. This means you can get some sense of finishing the game without having to dedicate the next year of your life to career mode. The challenges are interesting too, in particular trying to keep Lewis Hamilton behind you at Sao Paulo as it starts to rain - and you're on slicks.
It's that sort of clearer success/failure criteria that makes it work so well. Similarly, there's a brilliant Season Challenge mode, which asks you to pick a rival. Beat him twice in three races and you win his contract, signing immediately at your new team. You even get a score at the end of the season, like it's suddenly the 1990s again. To be honest, it could have been even more arcadey - it's totally enthralling and we want to see more.
One thing we always want to see more of is damage, but sadly little has changed here. Failures work well but prangs with other cars are never quite as devastating as you hope they'll be. We hope it'll change on next-gen machines, but suspect licensing restrictions have a lot to do with it.
Navigation has improved, meaning you won't have to poke around the motorhome screen any more looking for the Quick Race option. It's all laid out in clear, clean menus. They lack personality, but certainly get the job done much better, with explanations everywhere you go. F1 fans will probably find the constant explanation a bit grating, but it is nice to know how to pull out of the garage now without the F1 equivalent of putting on your windscreen wipers when you stall.
If you're scared all this 'accessibility' and 'explanation' nonsense has toned down the simulation's authenticity, then don't be. If anything, it's even more hardcore. Brake balance can now be changed on the fly and tyre strategy can now be feasibly adapted mid-race. You'll even receive emails from your mechanics, examining the tyres that came off your car and giving you pointers to improve tyre wear.
The racing itself is intelligent, breathless and dramatic, with a much fairer penalty system. Attempting naughty moves like Vettel's overtake around Button off the track at the outside of a hairpin is impossible. Not only will illegal overtakes demand you give the place back within 5 seconds, the car's engine cuts out if you try to steal ground on the outside of corners. It's a much-needed feature so we can forgive the slight liberty taken with realism.
But the hardcore racing nuts will appreciate the new handling mode most of all. It's noticeably twitchier with a pad, but that's because with a racing wheel it's an exercise in perfection. It's all about taming the razor-sharp responsiveness, feeling the raw grip and keeping understeer at arm's length, instead of just battering the corners into submission like last year's game needed you to do.
It takes some getting used to, but once you understand you're in total control of the relationship between the tyres and the track, you realise what a huge improvement it is. And it finally makes the last piece fall into place. Now, the game not only looks like F1, finally it moves like real F1. There's not much greater praise you can give an F1 game than that.
New modes and challenges will open up F1 2012 to a wider audience, but the strong underlying mechanics will still satisfy hardcore drivers.
- Great graphics, even on the PS3 this time
- Superb new car handling model
- New quick play modes work well
- Still slightly underwhelming damage
- Presentation is surprisingly dull
- Twitchier handling may put some off