Codemasters looks to the past to improve the future.
By Murray Hibble on September 10, 2013 at 2:39 pm
Racing fans have never been left wanting for a triple-A experience. Most recently we’ve had GRiD 2 and very soon we’ll see a new Need for Speed, a new Forza and (allow me a decade either side of the word ‘soon’ for this last one) a new Gran Turismo. Each of these will feature a host of tracks and a cornucopia of exotic and everyday vehicles.
Then there’s Codemasters’ F1 series. It has 19 rarely-changing circuits and essentially just the one car, yet somehow a fourth iteration is about to hit the shelves. Last year’s entry in the series (read our review here) gave us the Young Drivers School and Champions Mode of which both were passably fun outside of the main campaign, but apart from some minor tweaking, very little has changed to the core experience.
This year, Codies were going to have to pull something very special out if the series were to stay relevant and thanks to Murray Walker and friends, it looks like they might have done it. The newest mode is called ‘F1 Classics’ and it will give you access to up to four old F1 circuits, up to 6 classic cars from the 80′s and 90′s as well as a sizeable line-up of some of the sports most famous drivers.
These old cars are ferocious and require far more throttle and brake management than Formula One’s modern slot-cars. Whipping around Brands Hatch in the Williams FW07B as Alain Prost, there isn’t a display to tell me what gear I’m in and only a single green light as my rev-limiter. Looking in my side mirrors I can see Nigel Mansell’s yellow-tipped Williams FW12 just as Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari smacked him into the grass. This is racing!
I’ll admit, when I started playing this preview code I wasn’t feeling it. As I’ve detailed above, outside of F1 Classics and it’s VHS-era graphical overlay, the clever new pitting animations and perhaps the new sparking effect caused by the underside of the car striking the track, the core content was the same. Then I noticed something very simple, something that instantly changed how I felt; I could intermingle Classic with Modern content. Suddenly, I’m taking my 2013 Sauber around Brands Hatch and my Lotus 100T around Monza. Series fans are incredibly familiar with the circuits so the impact of exploring them again with what amounts to new vehicles and new drivers is significant.
During the course of the preview I’ve completed several hundred laps, mostly using Classic cars on modern tracks and as much joy as that has brought me, it’s not all looking great. There’s still little that really draws you in to the character behind the wheel, which isn’t helped by having the same race engineer voice-over as the last three titles. In what I hope is just gap-filler for the preview code, he also appears in the Classic races. Really, so much more can be done here and the few new animations for entering your car in the garage or chastising other drivers during contact just isn’t effective in creating a sense of self.
Then there’s the opportunity to have done more with the big names that have signed up, as not once did my engineer reference any of the other drivers and I’d really like to hear that, say, Gerhard Berger is ahead or that it’s a young Schumacher who just dive-bombed the corner next to me. Further to this, Murray Walker’s role is too small and it only makes me want to hear from Martin Brundle and team; F1 needs commentary. And why not truly pay homage to the sport (and the cost of the licenses) by giving us some interviews with these classic drivers or some facts and figures… anything but for the Polaroid photos of old F1 happenings that now make up the loading screens.
Worst of all, and this bit almost doused my desire to buy the game — you are unable to race Classic cars in the Career mode. I’m thinking this must be a licensing issue, since Codemasters aren’t rookie developers and they know what they’ve got here so I’m hoping they’re keeping some level of a Classics season in the cupboard for either the full release or as DLC.
Codemasters’ Formula One series has gone from strength to strength each year with its handling model and general presentation. They’ve pulled out the F1 Classics mode at exactly the right time with the series threatening to suffocate under its sameness, but there is still so much that can be done. This frustration, however, is borne out of wanting an already incredibly detailed simulation of motorsport to become even more lifelike.
F1 2013 releases on PC, Xbox and PS3 in October 2013. Career mode and Multiplayer were not made available within the preview code.