Yearly sports games always face criticism for not changing enough. It’s hard to make massive tweaks when the sport itself doesn’t change. Like FIFA and Madden before it, Codemasters’ F1 series has also faced this negative commentary since they got the license in 2009. Does F1 2013 do enough to take the series forward?
F1 2013 is the latest entry in Codemasters’ line of games based on the world of Formula 1. It features all of the cars, drivers and tracks from this year’s series. It wouldn’t be the official game if it didn’t. Like last year’s game, F1 2013 starts with The Young Driver Test at the Yas Marina track in Abu Dhabi. This test is basically a series of challenges that gets you used to the basic mechanics of an F1 car, from simple acceleration and braking to the use of the KERS and DRS systems. Each test rewards a medal based on your performance, with the best times netting the player a gold medal, which is a step closer to driving for a team in Career mode. Earning medals in The Young Driver Test gives you offers for teams. Getting just a couple of bronze medals lets you drive the moving traffic cone known as the Marussia but getting mostly gold lets you be Kimi ‘leave me alone I know what I’m doing’ Raikkonen’s teammate at Lotus.
The Career mode itself is a disappointment. Codemasters has seemingly focused on other areas and let this mode become more barebones than before. The Career mode no longer has the press conferences after qualifying and the races. It wasn’t the most in-depth feature but it had potential to be something great, especially since a driver’s relationship with the media is an important part of Formula 1 in this day and age. Also now missing is the trailer used for menus, where you would check computer for emails or look at the calendar on the wall to see what races are coming up. Now it’s all one menu screen and looks much more uninspired. Career mode follows the same five year structure as it has in previous games where you race against the current driver, team and tracks from that year for five seasons with a meaningless levelling system to go with it.
If you wish, you can race as a real driver and be reigning champion Sebastian Vettel or live the dream and pretend you are Max Chilton. Progressing through the complete 2013 season is done by going into Grand Prix mode and selecting all 19 tracks and the game does the rest. The tracks themselves do look pretty good, especially with changing weather, but they do lack atmosphere since the crowds don’t interact with the race in any way.
Another mode is the Proving Grounds. Here, there are challenges that give you certain scenarios in which to play, such as having you to finish the race by beating a certain driver or finish with worn tyres for example. The races are only a few laps long and can be done quickly. There are leaderboards too so you can see how your performance ranks against your friends, as well as the ubiquitous Time Attack and Time Trial modes to try out. The latter two aren’t the same thing as you may think, though; Time Attack has fewer tracks and is focused on beating set lap times, whereas Time Trial is more relaxed and lets you drive on any track.
What matters most is driving on the tracks. F1 cars are known to be immensely fast and as a sharp as a razor blade. The cars here, well, they aren’t the sharpest knives in the draw. The problem is that they have the tendency to understeer and it can be infuriating. Understeer isn’t caused just by going too fast into a corner either. I’ve been braking well before a corner and slowing down enough to make it round the corner easily, but the car still veers off into the gravel and ruins the race. Setting the car up to combat understeer by softening the front suspension and increasing the downforce and brake bias has mixed results and is inconclusive if changing the settings actually affects the car. It doesn’t feel different, which isn’t how changing settings should work. Making big changes should make the car feel different. Luckily, the flashback feature is still here if things continue to go wrong but it has limited uses. One feature that is definitely welcome is being able to save during a race which makes full length races much more accessible and doable now but scaling races with tyre and fuel wear are possible once again if you so wish.
When not sliding off into the gravel traps, the cars in F1 2013 can be fun to drive. However, I wouldn’t call them realistic. Codemasters’ recent games have been caught in this middle ground of trying to be both an arcade racer and simulation game. F1 2013, like the others, ends up being neither. It’s too difficult, especially with the handling issues, to be an arcade game to just pick up and play and it lacks the depth and nuance to be a full-blown simulator.
The most touted feature of F1 2013 is the introduction of classic cars and tracks. This feature is, if anything else, unfinished. The problem with anything like this is that there are expectations of what a classic car or track is. With the standard game you get two tracks, Brands Hatch and Jerez, along with several classic ’80s cars from Ferrari, Williams and Lotus. Each car allows you to choose between two drivers: the original driver of the car or a ‘Team Legend.’ This is clearly done to get round the fact that not every driver of the actual car could be licensed. Speaking of which, one ‘Team Legend’ for the 1988 Lotus 100T is Mika Häkkinen, no doubt an F1 legend but he isn’t known for driving a Lotus, he won both his world championships driving for McLaren who are a team desperately missing from this classic collection. Codemasters has said that McLaren’s absence is because of licensing issues but it’s still disappointing.
The cars themselves feel great, and have more character to them than the 2013 cars and are a refreshing change. The engine sounds are solid and they feel great but sadly suffer the same understeer issues as the 2013 cars. Also, there just isn’t enough of them. Classic mode is made up of single race modes and no championship option for obvious reasons. One great thing to make up for the lack of content is being to race the old cars on the 19 current F1 tracks, and vice versa. Classic mode also features legendary commentator Murray Walker, who gives info on the Proving Ground challenges. Classic mode also changes the in-game HUD to the same style as was seen on TV back then. It’s a nice touch and it makes the fact that it isn’t done for the 2013 cars rather odd — having the official info graphics add authenticity, after all.
Another major problem with this lack of content is that the other half, the ’90s content, is locked behind the more expensive Classic Edition paywall. Considering the less-than-generous amount of content, this is a frankly abhorrent way of doing things from Codemasters. Considering how much people wanted classic cars and tracks, splitting the content up and selling half exclusively in a more expensive version of the game is bitterly disappointing.
Graphically, the game can look good but the cars can have some low resolution textures on them which stick out quite badly. Also, advertising hoardings are extremely blurry at distance and then suddenly pop into focus, which looks terrible. Overall, F1 2013 isn’t a big improvement over last year’s game in terms of aesthetics.
There are numerous multiplayer modes in F1 2013, with online, split-screen and system link types supported. The multiplayer modes are brought over from previous games. The usual single race types as well as co-op championship where you and a friend race as teammates against AI opponents are back, too. Unfortunately, the online modes couldn’t be tested as no one was online to race.
It’s hard to recommend F1 2013 unless you really, really enjoy these games. It’s got too many features that feel unfinished and hasn’t made enough significant improvements over prior entries in the series to be a worthwhile purchase. That’s often said of other yearly franchises, but it rings true here. It’s a case of one step forward and two steps back in many areas of the game.