Note – I was halfway through writing this review before I started a new job and the other half was cobbled together in whatever moments I could spare when I haven’t been working. As a result I may have missed one or two details here and there and I apologise if this review comes across as a bit forced/rushed.
Last year’s F1 2012 was a solid F1 game, building on several years of progress to deliver a highly tuned, polished experience which caught me off guard a bit. I’d played the previous editions but they’d never kept me occupied for more than a dozen hours or so before I got bored and drifted off to play something else, so Codemasters must’ve been doing something right with F1 2012, a title that managed to keep me going for more than 180 hours of playtime.
The most immediate thing that I noticed about F1 2013 is that the core gameplay hasn’t changed much, the game kicks off with a young driver test that puts you through a series of tests in order to help you figure out just how an F1 car works. If there’s anything to take away from this is that over-revving the engine and spinning the wheels will destroy tyres (more on that later). The career mode hasn’t changed much either but that’s fine, the simple fact is you can only make changes that reflect what has happened in the 2013 season and Codemasters have done a pretty good job in that department; The German Grand Prix takes place at the Nürburgring instead of the Hockenheimring, the European Grand Prix is off the calendar altogether and the Marussia and Caterham teams now have KERS available to them. There’s also a new midsession save function that enables you to save anytime during a race, making full length events more viable to those who don’t have the time required to sit and play through a race from beginning to end in one sitting.
If playing through the full career mode is too time consuming then there are still a fair few options available to the more casual player. The shorter Season Challenge mode from the previous game returns along with its “choose a rival” system. The new Scenario Mode replaces the Champions mode of the previous game but it acts in exactly the same way, with 20 short challenges that last no more than 10 minutes each. They’re good fun, but they can’t hold a candle to a full 100% length race.
Presentation wise the game comes very close to being brilliant, whilst the graphics haven’t received a complete overhaul they do look a little bit more polished than last year’s entry. It’s nice to see the developers put the effort into making the game look better than before; after all, it’s not like there was anything wrong with the previous game. Audio wise the game sounds as good as ever; I’d never claim to be an expert on what an F1 car should sound like but they sound good enough to me, David Croft also returns to provide the narration to proceedings which always helps lend the game a touch of extra authenticity. It’s just a shame that most of the music and engineer’s radio messages have been recycled from the previous game.
I mentioned the tyre wear earlier and it’s worth dedicating a bit more space in this review because it’s one of two things that really add flavour to this title. The previous game featured tyre wear but you had to really overuse a set of tyres before you began to feel any noticeable loss of grip/big lockups. 2013 in comparison does NOT mess around. My early races quickly turned from a battle against the other drivers to a struggle against my own car, mainly because I was applying too much power and usually doing it way too early as well, almost always because I was too focused on catching the guy in front of me whilst forgetting that I needed to ensure that my tyres still had some life left to get me through to the end of the race. Failing to race smoothly will only result in your tyres becoming useless long before you’re scheduled to pit for new ones and if that happens then you’ll almost certainly wipe out any hopes of a decent result.
Of course, it isn’t all down to how smoothly you apply the brakes and the throttle. A good setup can help make tyre wear more bearable although I will admit I had to go online to find a setup I could use as I know bugger all about how F1 cars work. You could also buy a wheel and pedals; I decided to get one after a week of playing because I just didn’t feel immersed in the game whilst playing with a controller. I’m happy to report that playing with a wheel and pedals is an awful lot better, every move I make is now so much smoother, every application of the throttle and brakes that little bit more considered, which not only makes tyre wear less of an issue but also has the knock on effect of making my lap times faster and thus making me more competitive. I know it’s not a viable option for everyone but this is a game that almost demands the use of one. I felt so much more connected with what was happening onscreen and as a result enjoyed the game on a much deeper level than ever before.
The other new feature of the game is the addition of classic 80s cars and tracks. My brother did a short race in Nigel Mansell’s 1988 Williams FW12 and within a couple of corners declared them to be “like super powered go karts!”; I’ve since tried to think of a better description for the 80s cars but I cannot think of anything. Let me put it this way: In the modern cars it is always possible to spin out on any corner but that usually only happens if you make a mistake. In the 80s cars things are a lot different; every corner becomes a new battle as the rear end of the car will always threaten to kick out and throw the car into a spin. Also available for purchase as DLC (expensive at £6.49 a pack!) is classic 90s content, including 2 additional tracks, some extra scenarios and 6 more cars, including the legendary Williams FW14B. Each car is driven by either a driver of the era or a “team legend”, meaning you end up with a scenario where you can be driving an 80s Williams with Damon Hill behind the wheel. It’s best not to take the premise of the classic mode too seriously, think of it as a classic track day with some famous faces thrown into the mix. The classic cars can be used on the 2013 tracks and in a nice twist the modern cars can also be used on the classic tracks, which helps to increase replayability. Broadcasting legend Murray Walker is also on hand to introduce the classic mode and whilst he doesn’t get to do much more than provide the intro and outro to the scenario mode races it’s always nice to hear his voice.
The main problem with the classic mode is that there just isn’t enough content, I mentioned in the previous paragraph that it comes with some extra scenarios but there’s only 6 of them in total (and that’s including the ones you get with the 90s DLC). Races are limited to only 10 cars for the 80s and 12 for the 90s and the cars are spread out across their respective eras, meaning you end up with the 1980s Williams FW07B going up against much more powerful cars from the late 80s which hardly seems fair. It’s also not possible to change your strategy pre-race like you can in the modern cars, which, quite frankly, seems bizarre. Oh, and who thought that the Williams FW21 and Ferrari 92A cars were worthy of inclusion? Both of them didn’t win a single race and that just doesn’t scream “classic” to me. Ayrton Senna and McLaren are also absent from the classic mode due to licensing issues and that’s a real shame, even if it is one of those things that just can’t be helped.
Multiplayer remains the same as last year, which for the most part was a frustrating experience for me. It still suffers from penalty inconsistencies where you keep receiving time penalties for the slightest of touches but find that your opponents can seemingly hound you off the track with no consequences whatsoever. Not helping is the simple fact that most players simply can’t be bothered to even obey simple rules, one particular race saw me lose out on a podium position because some ungracious arsehole who was a lap behind everyone else decided it would be fun to shove me off the track. I wouldn’t tell you to avoid playing it entirely but it is very easy to get annoyed at it so you may want to think twice before giving it a go.
F1 2013 is a good game, there is no doubt in my mind about that. If nothing else it shows us that Codemasters are able to navigate the minefield that licence negotiation can be. However, they still have a long way to go if they want to bring something truly special to the genre and it’s also a bit pricey for those who want to experience the 90s content. Hopefully the next generation of consoles and next year’s rule changes will enable Codemasters to bring us something truly special.
My Recommendation? If you’re a motorsport fan then get it as you’ll almost certainly enjoy it, though be aware it is best played with a wheel and pedals. Anyone else will probably find that there isn’t enough to hold their interest and should therefore wait until it comes down in price.