For gamers who would describe themselves as committed petrol-heads, you wouldn't really describe recent years as a golden age - proper, meaty, credible racing games designed to appeal to rigorous motorsports fans have been relatively thin on the ground. However, one franchise has stood out like a beacon: the one based on the very pinnacle of motorsport, Formula One.
Formula One games - surprisingly, given the sport's popularity - have had a pretty chequered overall history, with the official licence pinging around the industry (mainly between Sony and EA) during the late '90s and most of the 2000s. But F1 fanatics breathed a sigh of relief when Codemasters picked it up in 2010: at last, a British company was turning what is still a British-dominated sport into a game.
The ensuing period of stability is really paying dividends: for Brits, at least, F1 2013 is by some distance the most appealing F1 game in living memory, since not only does it boast the inimitable intonation of the legend that is Murray Walker, but also a mouth-watering selection of classic F1 cars, drivers and tracks from the '80s and '90s. (By comparison, the last F1 game that allowed players to control retro cars was F1 Championship Edition 06, which was a PS3 exclusive, and you could only drive them against the clock).
Once you boot up F1 2013, and complete the initial Young Drivers' Test (which we'll cover later), you can jump straight into some retro action. There's a new item on the main menu, simply entitled F1 Classics. Pick that, and you can jump into a Grand Prix, practice via Time Trial or Time Attack challenges, or showcase your skills in a number of Scenarios (based on portions of real races, as seen in F1 2012). The standard version of the game comes with two tracks, in their 1980s configurations: Brands Hatch (surely, with the possible exception of Laguna Seca, the finest track not on the current F1 circuit) and Jerez which, too, has long since fallen off the F1 calendar.
Slideshow: F1 2013
Leap in for some action and you instantly get a heady whiff of a more testosterone-fuelled era of Formula One. The cars are monsters, including turbocharged beasts that pumped out close to 1,000bhp, some of which had ground-effect body-skirts (outlawed early in the 1980s), and it's noticeable how much less grip they have than their modern counterparts, plus you really have to watch that turbo-lag.
Among the cars are some stone-cold classics, like the JPS-liveried 1986 Lotus 98T and 100T, the 1988 Ferrari F1-87/88C and the 1980 championship-winning Williams FW07B. Among the drivers you can take on (or pretend to be), you will find Nigel Mansell, Alan Jones, Alain Prost, Michael Schumacher, Emerson Fittipaldi and Damon Hill. And you can race in split-screen mode, or via system Link, which should prove popular.
The nostalgia factor is augmented by the addition of a sepia filter (which may divide opinion, but you can turn it off), and for those who want the full retro experience, there will be a Classic Edition of the game, adding six cars and various drivers from the 1990s, plus Imola and Estoril in their time-relevant configurations (that 1990s pack will also be available as DLC).
Glorious and evocative though F1 Classics may be, you could argue that it's really a sideshow for the real meat of the game: the 2013 season. And with the present-day side of the game, tweaking rather than reinvention is very much the order of the day.
Structure-wise, F1 2013 is more or less identical to last year's effort, which is fine, since its structure makes eminently good sense. Once again, everything starts with the Young Drivers' Test at Yas Marina. Although even that has a nod to this year's regulations and general prevailing mood, as one of the tasks you have to perform is to drive on old, worn tyres.
Once you've been offered a drive (depending on how well you did in the Young Drivers' Test), you can again dive into a full Career, sample a single Grand Prix, pursue a Season Challenge - a mode introduced last year, in which you have ten races in which to get a win, and must nominate a rival driver, whose car you take over if you beat him. As before, it makes sense to find your feet driving in Career mode before taking on the harder Season Challenge.
A couple of alterations are instantly notable: the pit view from which you begin each session of a Grand Prix has been cleaned up and simplified, with less emphasis on car setup (not necessarily a good thing if you find that even the Marussias are powering past you on the straight), and more on tyre strategy before you head out to the grid. And there's a hub screen, which gives you all your career information - it's clean and easily navigable, and makes much more sense than the team trailer into which you had to retreat in previous Codemasters F1 games. Thankfully, there's no time-wasting agents and the like.
In terms of graphics, F1 2013 is unimpeachable for this generation of hardware - as you would expect at this stage of proceedings, it feels as though it extracts the absolute maximum from the current systems, and frame-rate is as smooth as silk. It's easily the finest-looking F1 game ever. The commentary and soundtrack are faultless, too.
But once you start racing, it becomes evident that a few things have been tweaked under the bonnet. The AI drivers have become wily adversaries, tending more towards their real-life counterparts than something which is designed to flatter your limited skills. And the difference in feel between the two types of tyres, plus between new and worn ones, is marked. Also, if you select anything other than full traction control, you have to be very careful about how you put the power down coming out of corners - which also offers a more accurate representation of what the cars really would be like to drive. Smoothness, more than ever before, is rewarded.
As far as F1 2013's multiplayer is concerned, it's very much "as you were" with one crucial, and very welcome, difference: Codemasters has scrapped the VIP Pass this year, so you won't have to pay to play F1 2013 online.
Like last year, up to 16 petrol heads can take each other on, with the rest of the grid filled by AI bots. The F1 Classics cars and tracks have been added, and two (presumably well co-ordinated) people can pursue a co-op career - which makes the most sense if they opt to be team-mates.
F1 2013 is version of the series we've been waiting years for - retro cars and drivers have been top of every fan's wish-list since time immemorial, but the minefield which is licensing in the hyper-corporate world of Formula One (both past and present) has always mitigated against that. So you could argue that Codemasters' biggest triumph has been on the political side of things. Mind you, the way in which, in particular, the bestial 1980s turbos have been implemented is impressive, offering a thrilling glimpse into hairy-chested days of yore. Which is particularly relevant with, for example, the film Rush in cinemas, and the rivalry between Hunt and Lauda enjoying a massive resurgence.
An essential purchase? Certainly if you're either a Formula One devotee, or just someone looking for a motorsport game with both meat and rigour. Now, let's see what Codemasters can do with the next-gen consoles.
A water-tight recreation of the sport with a profound reverence of its past
- The return of '80s and '90s cars, drivers and tracks
- Free multiplayer
- Uprated, realistic AI
- It would be nice if an F1 game could come out in the first half of the season
- Not that different from F1 2012