At a glance...

Previewer Platform Publisher Developer Players Release Date
Matt Bailey Xbox 360 Codemasters Codemasters Birmingham Up to 2 (Split-screen), 12 (Online) 4th October 2013

F1 2013 preview

We're now on the fourth iteration of Codemasters' F1 series, and it's at this point that things might have been getting a little stale. Improvements to graphics and handling, and updates to cars, drivers and tracks aren't enough to justify the purchase of a new £40 game each year. EA have learnt this with FIFA, and recent years have seen new headline features like Ultimate Team help the series to justify annual purchases to its fanbase. In F1 2013 the headline feature is Classics Mode which,as we revealed last month, is a chance for the series to reflect on the glories of the past and bring them to a modern audience.

After working out a whole load of licensing deals, Codemasters have been able to put together a selection of cars, drivers and tracks from across two eras; the 80s and the 90s. It's the 1980s that I got to explore in the Gamescom build, as I took around vehicles like the 1986 Team Lotus and the 1988 Ferrari around the Circuit De Jerez and Brands Hatch. Jumping behind these classic, and now rather old fashioned vehicles, was immensely satisfying. The 1980 Williams in particular felt like it was designed for Brands Hatch - which actually hosted the British Grand Prix that year - and the difference between it and the modern vehicles is instantly noticeably. Of course, visually they are strikingly different, and if you use the cockpit view you'll appreciate how much more open they were. The difference in handling is a credit to the engine that Codemasters have built, and the differences are also apparently as you span the era.

The cars were a little different back in the 1980s

The cars were a little different back in the 1980s

The mixture of cars from across the 1980s makes for an interesting race where this selection of vehicles go head-to-head with either their original driver or a legendary driver for the team at the wheel. Mansell takes his place in the 1988 Williams, while Berger is in that 1988 Ferrari. This is in the Classic Mode's Grand Prix option, which allows you to set up races as you would with the 2013 content. In fact, you can mix and match a bit, taking the classic vehicles to all of this season's 19 tracks, while also bringing the likes of Hamilton, Vettel and Alonso to Jerez. It's the first time the series has seen the current drivers take to tracks other than the ones in the current season - another licensing nightmare, I'm sure - and it was especially enjoyable to bring all 22 cars of today to Brands Hatch. You get all the usual racing options, such as a range of race distances and various weather choices - only the safety car is missing here. When on track the modern rules are applied, and although there's no refueling - partly because of the amount of effort it would take to model various refueling rigs - when you do head to the pits there are appropriately dressed mechanics ready to service your car, but they will be a bit slower than the modern team.

In addition to Grand Prix mode, you can also compete in Time Attacks and Time Trials in Classic Mode, and you can even compete over split-screen or online. Classic Mode also shares a new feature with the 2013 content; scenarios. Last year the Champions Mode introduced a scenario for each of the six World Champions on the grid, where you would have to do things like recover from being a few places down, but with fresh tyres, and close down your teammate before the race ended. With one few champion on the grid this year, instead of cutting the scenarios down to five, Codemasters decided to significantly extend them, offering 20 in the modern content, and further scenarios for the 80s and 90s content too. The modern ones are split into difficulty groups and you're able to try all the scenarios in a group right away. You start with scenarios aimed at rookie drivers, and will include racing at the back of the grid, while later scenarios will see you challenging at the front. It was probably my favourite addition to F1 2012 so I was very pleased to discover its significant expansion.

All the modern drivers are there too, of course, like these championship contenders

All the modern drivers are there too, of course, like these championship contenders

When it comes to the 2013 part of the game, of course you get all the drivers and tracks from the current season, including Hamilton's switch to Mercedes, all the rookies, and the annual swap between the two German circuits (it's the Nurburgring's turn this year). There are adjustments to the AI which made them more likely to challenge you at corners and go for gaps - something I noticed in particular when racing in Classic Mode. The penalties have been adjusted so that they are less harsh - an example I saw included being given a short time to give back the place after an illegal overtake. The weather is also more dynamic, with a random selection of a range of relevant weather scenarios which should make the conditions less predictable but still believable.

However, while these new options - and a whole host of other changes - might appeal to certain parts of the fanbase, it will be the Classic Mode which will be the big draw for F1 2013. While it would be nice to see even more cars and drivers - there's a notable absence of McLarens and Senna both for licensing reasons - it's a fantastic addition to the series that feels like it offers something genuinely new. It also means that you finally get to see what it's like to drive a vehicle that's much closer to a mechanised beast than an electronic one.

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