F1 2013 begins the same way regardless of your skill level, or familiarity with the sport: with the young driver test at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. It’s a two day event that goes over the basic mechanics of Formula One racing, and tests your skills in handling, cornering, braking, and wet and dry weather conditions. It’s a must play for new drivers, and it’s the best way to familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of Formula One cars and the way they perform, racing terms, and the game’s mechanics.
It’s a good thing, too, as F1 2013 is an extremely complicated game. Like most sims, the game requires patience, skill, knowledge, and more than a little luck to succeed. The cars handle differently depending on the way you tune them, the tyres you use, and the weather conditions on the track. Run off the side, and marbles will get caught in your tires, reducing your cars ability to take turns until they fall off. Take a turn too fast, and you’ll spin off the track. Brake too late and you might crash into the car in front of you. This isn’t anything new, and veterans of the series will no doubt have no trouble with the game’s nuances.
Thankfully, Codemasters has also included a number of driving assists for the rest of us mere mortals, which can be tweaked in real time. Lower difficulties allow you to use a limited number of Flashbacks, which let you rewind time and retry that turn that you took a little too fast. In addition, you can now save mid-session in nearly any race, which provides an extra layer of protection should you desire it, and means that you won’t have to tackle the game’s longer races in one sitting. Even with the assists, however, new drivers should be prepared to put in a fairly substantial amount of time and more than a few loses before everything clicks.
Once you’re comfortable in the driver’s seat, there are a number of modes to tackle. Career mode allows you to create your own racer and join a team as a rookie. From there, you’ll race through a season composed of full, three day race weekends. Do well, and you’ll earn upgrades for your car, and maybe even contract offers from some of the better teams. If you perform well at the young driver test, better teams will off you contracts right off the bat. They’ll provide you with better cars, more possibilities for upgrades, and better teammates to race with, but they’ll expect more from you.
Likewise, the teams that are lower on the totem pole don’t have as much to offer, but they’ll expect less. It’s a fine balancing act that mirrors the races themselves, and provides players of all skill levels with a way to get into the season and start racing. Thankfully, Career mode can be restarted at any time, so you’re not stuck if you make a bad decision of feel like you had the skills to drive for a more prestigious team.
If you’re looking for a similar experience without the time commitment, Season Challenge offers a ten race season with five laps per race, and one-shot qualifying races. In this mode, you’ll choose another driver as a rival and try to outrace him over the course of the season in order to take his spot on his team. It’s a nice middle ground for players who want the multi-race experience of Career mode, without having to go through the grind.
There’s also Scenario mode, which is a new addition to this year’s title. In this mode, you’ll take command of your custom driver and try to beat twenty unique racing challenges, each of which represents a time in your F1 career, from the first race of your rookie season to the last race of your final year. Challenges might be as simple as defeating your teammate, or as complex as recovering from a bad pit stop or fighting against a 10 second penalty. These challenges are well-designed and a lot of fun, and since each one requires a minimal time commitment, there’s a lot of incentive to return later on and compete on the harder difficulties.
Another new addition is F1 Classics mode, which allows you to take control of famous drivers from the 80s and race around classic tracks in their old rides. Unfortunately, the standard edition of the game only allows access to two tracks, Jerez and Brands Hatch, five cars, and ten drivers, though it should be noted that additional cars, tracks, and drivers from the 80s and 90s are available in the Classic’s Edition of the game, or as DLC for standard edition owners.
The classic cars are much harder to handle than their modern day counterparts, and provide a nice change of pace, as well as a formidable and rewarding challenge. Unfortunately, there are only a few classic cars and drivers available, even with the Classic Edition’s addition, which means that races will only consist of ten cars at any given time.
Codemasters offsets this limitation by providing Grand Prix, Scenario, Time Attack, and Time Trial options for Classics mode. In addition, any races undertaken in Classics mode feature a retro user interface, an old-school take on the game’s graphics, and an optional color filter. In addition, each race features legendary F1 commentator Murray Walker. These touches go a long way to sell the authenticity of Classics mode, but the limited amount of cars, drivers, and tracks, combined with the fact that Scenario mode only includes a few races, makes Classics mode more of a fun, greatest hits-esque diversion than a substantial, stand alone mode.
The game also offers more traditional modes, such as Time Trial, and Time Attack, which challenge you with setting the best possible time on a track under the conditions of your choice, and beating the ghost of another racer, respectively. The standard Grand Prix mode returns as well, which allows you to compete as any one of the season’s drivers in anything from single races to full race weekends. The game also features split-screen, online, and LAN-based multiplayer, and there’s even a Co-op Championship mode so you can race through the entire season with a friend.
All of this, however, wouldn’t matter if F1 2013 wasn’t up to snuff in the more important aspect of all: the racing. Fear not; it is. The game lets you customize nearly everything about your racing experience. You can choose the type of tyres you’ll use on a specific track, schedule your pit stops, and even tune the various aspects of your car, which adds a great deal of depth to the game. The cars themselves handle extremely well once you get the hang of things, and the tracks are well-designed, while rival racers are smart enough to know when to hang back and maintain position, and when to take advantage of a mistake you’ve made. The game will punish you for making mistakes, but players who take their time, race well, and watch the status of their tyres and fuel will find F1 2013 to be a rewarding experience.
That said, the game is very arbitrary about doling out penalties, and those penalties only ever seem to apply to you. I’ve blatantly run into other racers many times, sometimes completely destroying their vehicles, and never been penalized, but I can’t count the times I’ve been run off the road by another driver only to be penalized for “causing a crash.” Many of these moments can be mitigated by Flashbacks or mid-session saves, but it’s still frustrating to be punished after you’ve been run off the road by another racer and lost five or six positions as a result. It a minor qualm in a game that is largely excellent, but it can get frustrating in longer races.
The game’s mechanical excellence is complimented by its incredible visual design. The cars and tracks are rendered beautifully, if somewhat clinically, and it’s a joy to watch a tight pack turn in formation under the glow of a setting sun, or watch the water spin up from under your tires as you accelerate down a straightaway.
The sound design is excellent as well. The cars feel fast, thanks in no small part to how powerful they sound. Crashes are loud and brutal, spin-outs are shrieking reminder of your failure on a particular turn, and the spray of water as it leaps beneath your tires is frightening, even when you’ve taken a turn perfectly. On top of the sounds of the track, you’ll also be fed information about your performance, the state of your car, and your rivals by your pit crew. They might inform you that you have a better time on the section ahead then the car in front of you does, or that the car behind you is running full reds, and is trying hard to close the gap between you. The attention to detail here is impressive and incredibly helpful, and it goes a long way to selling the game’s authenticity.
For all of its excellence, however, F1 2013 is a difficult game to judge. It does what it does extremely well, but it suffers from many of the same problems that plague many other yearly franchises. The new additions to the game are more iterative than innovative, and the new modes, Scenario mode aside, do not offer enough content to be considered meaningful additions to the game. Ironically, F1 2013 is a grand representation on the state of Formula One itself, and the current state of video games.
Hopefully, the changes coming to Formula One in the near future and the release of the next gen consoles will allow the next game in the series to be more than just another yearly update. Until then, however, F1 2013 offers a compelling reason for veterans and new players alike to keep racing, even if the track they’re on is one they’ve seen before.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3.