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F1 2012: Hands-on preview as we try out for Ferrari then get told to win in a rainstorm... on dry tyres

You may remember in our last preview that the track textures seemed a bit flat. Well, not only has that been fixed, but everything has a new sheen of quality that's a clear leap over last year's game. The scenery is beautifully unique everywhere you look, without the repeating elements that many sims suffer from.

Above: Bruno Senna. Remember when GamesRadar met him?

The biggest improvement, however, is in the weather effects. Playing Champions mode, Lewis Hamilton's Pass Master Challenge' sees you racing at Sao Paulo, in the lead with four laps to go. You're on slicks, but Lewis is on intermediates. And it's raining. For the first lap, everything's fine – grip levels are still decent and backmarkers are easy to catch and pass. But then it gets wetter.

Above: At this point, if you're on slicks, it may as well be an ice skating sim

The track graphics change so organically, you can't see it happening. You just suddenly realise that you're on a very wet track and it's like an ice rink. That seven second gap between you and Lewis is suddenly down to two seconds and you've still got a lap left. The resulting battle to keep him behind while trying to keep pointing in the right direction is riveting.

They are the champions

And that's where Champions Mode really shines. Taking advantage of the extraordinary situation where six F1 World Champions are racing together at the same time, this mode sees you playing as each champion's team-mate in individual quickfire challenges. The clearly defined rules for success and failure plus rapid try/retry options make for a great introduction to the challenges you'll face in career mode, while working as a game in its own right.

Taking on Kimi Raikkonen at Spa is a strong introduction to Champions Mode as a few laps around the Belgian track in the dry is relatively easy. But with each challenge featuring three difficulty levels, beating all six champions on Hard is going to take some doing. 

Above: All the Champions (and you) race together in the final challenge

The Champions Mode concludes with a race around the new Austin track, with only you and the six champions on the grid. It's a fitting, videogamey way to conclude the new section of the game and does feel like a special event. It will likely always be a side-game for long-term fans who just want to play career mode, but based on what we've played, it's a worthwhile addition to the game.

However, what we would say at this stage is that Champions Mode still needs balancing. We ran rings around Michael Schumacher in the 'Simply The Best' challenge, yet trying to even stay with the pack during Jenson's 'Gently Does It' race at Silverstone is near impossible – the grip levels on the wet track are just too low. And we're not just being rubbish, honest.

Above: Michael Schumacher doesn't put up much of a fight at present, but that's sure to change

The game is coming together very nicely. We have a few reservations, in particular the Young Drivers' Test. Abu Dhabi isn't the prettiest track to be stuck on doing start/stop tests (although the changing colours of that grandstand are very pretty) especially when it delays you getting to the core action, which has never looked or felt better. We'll see how it fits into the final game come review time, which isn't far away now as the game is out on September 21, as this new Developer Diary video will attest:

F1 2012 may be the 'tricky second sequel' for Codemasters, but the improvements are clear already. Pad control is better and the visuals are super-deluxe even on the now-ancient Xbox 360. And we won't be forgetting the image of that Ferrari waiting for us in the garage for a while - it's a very special moment. Here's hoping it's an equally special game.

Topics

Codemasters F1

8 comments

  • joanna-hill - September 3, 2012 12:48 p.m.

    what Joe replied I'm alarmed that a person can make $7731 in a few weeks on the computer. did you look at this site http://bit.ly/SdOShY
  • rxb - September 2, 2012 4:22 a.m.

    Good preview Towelly. Sounds a lot more like a rounded product than previous years.
  • SebastianMcChuff - August 31, 2012 3:51 a.m.

    Towley! Game is sounding good from what iv read so far and iv enjoyed the past 2 games despite its issues & bugs. But I have 1 question for you if you are able to answer dear chap, how are the AI drivers this year? I find with a game like F1 the AI is a very important factor for engrossing the player & realism. I hope its better than last 2 games, especially at start of race when it was too easy to jump half the field even on Legend setting. Cheers muchly
  • GR_JustinTowell - August 31, 2012 4:05 a.m.

    I've been playing on Hard and the AI in the race itself is excellent. Chasing Kimi around Spa and trying to pass Button is exciting - a frantic chase and game of cat-and-mouse with thrust and counter-thrust all the way around the track. However, I don't think any F1 game has overcome that 'pass loads of cars into turn one' problem and it still happens here (on Hard at least). That said, the new penalty system punishes you if you use other cars as brakes and if you pass anyone illegally it demands you give the place back. It's just the consequence-free nature of gaming that makes the problem occur - If all the AI tried passing like gamers do, there would be almighty pile-up. It's just that we have the option of restarting, so we can take the risk, I guess. Not ideal but it's a bigger problem that's not just an issue with F1 2012.
  • SebastianMcChuff - August 31, 2012 5:01 a.m.

    Ah Well as long as the AI is an improvement over last years game I will be happy. Bloody loved playing the Co-op career with a friend in last one so hope that has been tightened up & bettered as good as it was, it was a little off sometimes with dodgy AI & crashes being ruined by cars turning ghost thus never seeing safety car. Cheers for info!
  • Robx - August 31, 2012 3:05 a.m.

    All these tweaks are looking really nice so far, thanks a lot for the preview Justin, I'm now even more eager to give this one a go!

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