It may be time for the State of Washington to revoke my driver’s license. After spending a few hours with Codemasters’ F1 2013 it’s painfully clear to me that I’m both unable to drive and a danger to other road users. Early on, it was a miracle if I even stayed on the road.
As someone who’s used to playing driving games that are fairly forgiving, F1 2013’s nature came as something of a roadside bollard to the face. Even playing on Easy mode, with all of the driving assistance it was possible to select set to “babby’s first racing sim,” it still took me several attempts to even finish a lap properly, let alone challenge for podium contention.
Don’t go assuming that F1 2013 is somehow the Dark Souls of racing games, though. It’s certainly not easy, but a sizeable chunk of that difficulty was self-inflicted. I probably know the most about Formula One out of the IncGamers staff, but that’s a bit like being the member of One Direction who knows the most about quantum physics. The fruit is hanging so low it’s making a fruit-shaped dent in the grass.
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Like most decent racing titles, this one is all about approaching corners at the right speed and angle, accelerating smoothly out of them, and pushing just hard enough that you’ll get a half-second edge on an opponent; but not so hard that your wheels lock up or skid. Unlike other racers, it’s really about that. Screw up, even slightly, just once, and you may as well restart. F1 2013 does not smile on incompetence.
It’s worth mentioning that the preview notes accompanying this build state that both AI balancing and difficulty are not yet finalised, so the release version could be less (or more) brutal than the game I’ve been playing. The “Young Driver Test Challenges” were missing too, which is kind of a shame as they sound like something I desperately needed.
Eventually, the helping hand of a permanently visible racing line (which you can also switch off or restrict to corners only,) and moderate braking assistance enabled me to be vaguely competitive in the races included with this code.
I spent most of my time on the ‘proving grounds’ of both modern and classic modes, a collective term for the grouping of time trials, ‘time attack’ challenges and F1 2013‘s short scenarios. The latter sets you up in an instant race situation and gives you a set objective to achieve. This involves things like recovering to a certain position after a late pit-stop, or (as is the case in the first ‘rookie’ challenge) to simply finish ahead of your team mate in a three lap race.
The scenarios are a handy way to be able to jump in to a situation of pre-determined drama, without having to commit to a full-length Grand Prix. Not that I have anything against the people who want to complete the full, 70-some lap experience, but there’s a little too much potential for a perfect race to be suddenly ruined by the surprise appearance of a cat around your monitor or someone pestering you to get on with making dinner. Hilarious, but a bit frustrating. You can, of course, set the Grand Prix races to half, quarter or even shorter distances to get around this problem too.
In ‘time attack’ mode (which puts you up against increasingly rapid ghost car laps of whichever circuit you’ve opted to race on,) it was interesting to compare the handling of modern and classic F1 cars.
Zipping around the Spanish Jerez track in a 1988 Williams car felt significantly different to cruising around Melbourne in a modern vehicle. The former felt like it put me much closer to the track (probably because the third-person bonnet view did exactly that,) and it took more effort to wrestle the ‘88 car around corners. 2013 cars feel (as you’d expect) as if they have more grip; which can be a challenge in itself if you switch from the older to newer models and find yourself turning too sharply before you adjust.
While we’re touching on the subject of viewpoints, those fearful of a repeat of Grid 2 can rest easy because a cockpit view is present and correct in F1 2013. If you enjoy absurd speeds you can opt for the road-cam, and there are a couple of ‘over the shoulder’ type views too. Funnily enough, the ‘behind car’ third-person view is the least satisfying of all as it removes a lot of the feelings of speed and makes cornering clunky and awkward.
In first or close-up third person view, however, F1 2013 does a fine job of conveying speed. Screw up your exit from a corner and the engine will whine and growl like it’s about to come flying out of the car, but pull it off smoothly and it feels fluid and graceful. Sections of track like the Eau Rouge (yes, I had to look up what this was called) on Belgium’s Spa circuit are tremendous to race through when you nail that balance of racing line and exhilarating speed.
These feelings are enhanced by the rhythmic rumble of the track edges as you skirt the boundaries of the course, and the whistle of wind as you accelerate out of a bend. It’s a test (at least for a newbie) to race well in F1 2013, but the rewards of a smooth, rapid lap are worth aiming for. Even if you are still trying to graduate out of Easy mode and using a basic controller rather than an elaborate wheel set-up.
The five year career mode wasn’t present in this preview build, so there’s nothing I can say about that. It’s also not possible for me to make any meaningful comparisons with prior games in the series (F1 2012 etc,) as I normally would, because I have no experience with them. Looking at an iterative game in a vacuum isn’t ideal for the purposes of a preview, but that’s unfortunately the situation here.
So, whether F1 2013 is a substantial leap from F1 2012 or just a half-step is something I can’t really critique. What I can say is that as a jumping-in point on the series, F1 2013 is an initially daunting prospect that rewards focused driving. For those who prefer their racers on the simulated end of the scale, it should provide enough fuel, tire, pit stop strategy and KERS options to satisfy. If you’re here for accurate F1 team names and a smattering of classic 1980s cars/tracks, it shouldn’t disappoint in that department either.
As a novice to the series (and to sim-type racers in general) I found the learning curve somewhat steep, but fruitful. My first attempt to complete the “finish ahead of your team mate” scenario ended in a first-corner crash and expulsion from the race. My second saw me finish dead last and ten seconds behind the pack. But after five or six other mixed attempts I had a narrow loss on a photo finish, and a couple more saw me passing the chequered flag four places in front of my rival. Smart braking, knowledge of the circuit and some borderline psychotic overtaking had temporarily harnessed speed as my ally. For that moment, F1 2013 gave me an inkling of what all the Formula One fuss is about.
Maybe it isn’t quite time to hand in my license just yet.
F1 2013 is due for release on 4 October.