Sidepodcast - All for F1 and F1 for all

F1 2013 Review - Codemasters to the stewards office please - Past, present and future of the F1 game franchise

Published by Lukeh

Yearly instalments of games can be a tricky thing to deal with. For two decades EA Sports have managed to ride on the success of their various sports franchises churning out a yearly update but, using FIFA as a good example, whilst there have been improvements over time there’s always criticism of such a business model for consumers. It brings in big money for developers but is it really worthwhile buying, essentially, the same product again a year later? This was my primary concern coming into F1 2013 this year, as build up to the game didn’t really give me a huge amount of optimism for how much new content there would be.

Racing action from F1 2013
Credit: Codemasters

I’ll get straight to the point from the off – I do actually enjoy F1 2013. The handling model is easily the best that Codemasters have utilised in regards to playing with a controller and it is pretty fantastic visually. There’s still a fair bit of content to play about with and the new inclusion of the Classics mode, the biggest selling point to this year’s game, is pretty interesting especially when it comes to the sounds of the cars and the challenge they offer, as well as a new Scenario mode being a welcome inclusion.

This being said, there are many, many things I have to question that I don’t think I should need to question. I’m going to warn you in advance that this may become a bit of a rant.

Triumphant return

Over the years I’ve been a big supporter of Codemasters’ F1 games and I still am without a doubt. Regardless of how people may feel about the games there is a considerable history for the depth of excellence associated with Codemasters’ racing heritage on consoles and beyond. This is why it surprises me that F1 2013 comes with so many staggeringly poor design choices that beggar belief and make positively no sense to me as a fan.

One of the things I was really looking forward to when it comes to F1 2013 is the return of the Grand Prix mode. For the unaware, the Grand Prix mode was a feature from F1 2011 that allowed you to create a custom championship with any driver on the grid in both single player and multiplayer split screen. It allowed a friend and myself to have some pretty excellent championships and was such a good laugh with local multiplayer in an era when split screen is so widely neglected. Codies decided it would be a staggeringly excellent idea to remove the mode completely from last year’s game with no reason why, and lo and behold it’s come back... without the multiplayer aspect.

Career mode has made no progress whatsoever from last year’s game

Now here’s a game that includes split screen and encourages local multiplayer yet gives absolutely no incentive to actually make the effort because it’s just left out the biggest part of split screen racing. Sure, you can do a single race but what’s the point when you want a proper championship with a friend and yourself amongst the grid? The build up to the game’s release constantly mentioned the triumphant return of the Grand Prix mode and yet no mention it would leave out such a fundamental part of multiplayer. Of course, several questions on Twitter and the Codemasters forums have provided absolutely no response from the developers. Wonderful.

Unfortunately the Career mode has made absolutely no progress whatsoever from last year’s game and we have what seems to be the exact same thing repeated. I’ve not actually seen anything new at all in the Career mode. It’s quite insulting to offer a game at full price and have its most in depth mode be the exact same thing as the game before it; even the news clippings, events and stories in the game are the same as last year’s title. At least in other yearly franchises, like FIFA or Madden, EA Sports actually make an effort to push the spine of the game into new areas or try and change it in some way but F1 2013’s career is, quite frankly, an embarrassingly apologetic excuse for the developers focusing their attention clearly on the Classics mode. This leads me very nicely to my next point too.

The unremarkable Ferrari

There is plenty of good stuff to take away from the Classics mode that have been brought into the series for the first time and I can understand to an extent why they have focused so much on the new mode (although part of that is clearly because of their half-arsed attitude to the Career mode). When you get into a classic car for the first time at Brands Hatch or Imola and smash it around a circuit it is an absolute thrill. The old Williams cars are an absolute blast and sound incredible; I can’t really fault the way the game plays and sounds at all because it’s the best the game has ever been in its few years under Codies direction.

I simply cannot ignore some of the choices in the Classic cars that make no sense. The lack of McLaren and Senna is understandable – the license for these cars and Senna himself as part of the game are unavailable to Codemasters – but who on earth thought that the Winfield ’99 Williams FW21 was a classic car, and why is Alain Prost driving it? The same goes to the unremarkable Ferrari F92A, a car so classic and legendary it had no wins, no poles, no fastest laps and, again with the driver lineup, has Michael Schumacher driving it several years before his Ferrari debut. Meanwhile, Schumacher’s own Ferrari is actually being driven by Eddie Irvine in the game - who is also apparently a legend. Nothing game-breaking of course, just very confusing choices.

Who on earth thought that the Winfield ’99 Williams FW21 was a classic car, and why is Alain Prost driving it?

Alongside all this you have the usual nonsense that doesn’t seem to have been looked at or addressed despite being longstanding things that the game could do with. Once again the replays limit you to only looking at your own and no one else’s car throughout the grid, a restriction that Steve Hood mentioned a few years ago is due to Codemasters’ Ego engine. At this stage of the console generations I can understand the lack of desire to work on an engine that will be futile in a year but it’s still been something needing to be looked at for a few years now. There’s still no option for a quick tyre pit stop in qualifying if you want to simply come in for fresh tyres and get straight back out again, instead opting for the time consuming action of stopping the car, wheeling you back, setting the car down and the screen in front of you and vice versa to head back out again.

I know this all seems very petty but it absolutely demolishes the immersive side to a game that touts itself on being the standalone representation of Formula 1 past and present. The lack of depth to the Classics mode isn’t really all that satisfying despite how good it looks and sounds on paper and it’s just a growing list of frustrations that don’t make the game any more enjoyable than it should be really. Part of me is tempted to follow up this review with a further article discussing how I’d take the series forward as we approach the new generation of consoles from Microsoft and Sony.

Real good fun

There are things I very much enjoy about the game. At its heart it’s still a solid F1 game and the handling has absolutely been refined to allow you to attack corners and actually race, and visually it seems an improvement on last year. It’s a relief too that the licensing has had a surprisingly relaxing decision in allowing both classic and current cars on both the old and new tracks, and it’s brilliant fun racing again at the likes of Imola and Brand Hatch.

The career mode is still functional and does the job. The most enjoyable new feature I’ve got involved in quite frankly is the new Scenario mode which provides various scenarios at levels of difficulty with both the current and classic cars and are real good fun. Crofty introduces the current set of challenges and good old Murray Walker can be heard introducing the classic challenges and it’s a really well rounded feature to the game I’ve found.

To be honest I really want to sit here and type up a review that expresses how delighted I am that the perfect F1 game is finally here but we’re still a long away from that unfortunately. My biggest worry is that we’re delving back into the land of stagnation that plagued the latter Sony games so severely and ultimately saw them lose all interest in the license. Moving onto things like classic cars and tracks is an incredibly good idea and a promising step for the games, and I appreciate it’s their first year developing the license in such a way, but their experience should really be telling them by now how to go about avoiding silly mistakes that bring the game down in the ways it does.

Red Bull slo-mo from F1 2013
Credit: Codemasters

If I was to accurately summarise F1 2013, in my opinion at least, it very much feels like that for everything it does right it does something very wrong somewhere else. It’d be nice, after a few years of owning the license, that Codemasters would learn their lessons but there always seems to be something else. I may seem critical on the developers but some of their choices are astounding – a developer of their experience shouldn’t really be making stupid mistakes and offering modes that are the exact same thing as the year before it. I know that they’re not the only people guilty of this but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating. My biggest hope is that holding back from making a launch title for the PS4 and Xbox One will allow Codemasters to freshen the series up next year, but I say this as if it’s a wish I haven’t had in the past.

The lack of fresh depth to the career mode plus the confusing design choices and implementation of modes along the way certainly don’t ruin something that has finally perfected its handling and managed to make itself look great. It is a good game, it just doesn't fill me with a huge amount of confidence for what comes next. Whilst F1 2013 does the job and improves where it should, it stays in the same place elsewhere that really needs sorting out.

Much like David Coulthard, it is at the point where it’s coming out every year reminding us that this year is its year whilst the rest of us look back in doubt.

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