At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players
Matt Bailey PlayStation 3 Codemasters Codemasters Birmingham 1-16 (Online)
Requirements Also on... Buy from Amazon.co.uk
3003MB HDD space minimum PC, Xbox 360 Click here to buy F1 2013.

F1 2013 review

A couple of weeks ago Sebastian Vettel wrapped up the title in a year for Formula One which has felt a bit like the calm before the storm. Rules changes between this season and last were pretty limited; Lewis Hamilton's move to Mercedes was the only big move in the top teams, and Red Bull have yet again come out as the dominant force. There are no new tracks, with Valencia disappearing to reduce the season's length by one race. But 2014 brings a shake up with new V6 Turbo engines heralding radically redesigned cars and possibly a shake up in the pecking order, while on the driver front Raikkonen moves back to Ferrari, Ricciardo is promoted to the senior team, and there's a battle between Hulkenberg, Massa and others for the second Lotus seat. And to top it off, there's potentially four new races in Austria, Mexico, New Jersey and Russia. Next year will be different.

Codemasters' F1 2013 is similarly in a 'calm before the storm' moment. With the rules stability, the fundamentals of handling haven't changed much, and there aren't even any new tracks for the team to talk about, although the Nurburgring returns thanks to the bi-annual rotation with Hockenheim. Not only that, but the next generation of consoles are also just around the corner, with little left to push in the current machines. In a way that works well for the developer, as they get to make the big overhaul to their engine at the same time that the sport will be radically altered, saving them having to make such significant changes twice, but it also leaves this year's edition in a difficult place when compared to its predecessor.

Maldonado won't be driving that Williams for much longer

Maldonado won't be driving that Williams for much longer

Enter F1 Classics, the signature feature in this edition of the yearly series. Codemasters Birmingham have finally been able to fulfil their long-running ambition of bringing back classic Formula One cars and drivers, with a focus on the 1980s and 1990s. It's pitched as a scenario whereby the likes of Williams, Ferrari, and the original Team Lotus bring their old vehicles out of storage and back on to the track, with many of their original drivers - including the likes of Michael Schumacher, Damon Hill, David Coulthard, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell and Emerson Fittipaldi - getting behind the wheel. Notably absent is Aryton Senna, but Codemasters has focussed on drivers who are still alive, while McLaren are tied up in other deals so they too aren't present. But Hill's championship-winning 1996 Williams, Michael Schumacher's first Ferrari, and Mansell's 1992 Williams are present and correct. It's a mode which will have a much greater appeal to the sport's more dedicated fanbase than the more casual followers who pick up F1 2013, but it does offer the opportunity for fresh content, including classic tracks like Brands Hatch, when the 2013 season itself doesn't allow for it.

It's a pity, then, that half of the Classic mode content is hidden behind two pieces of DLC; in the regular box you get all the 1980s cars and drivers, as well as two tracks (Brands Hatch and Estoril), while for those that didn't buy the special "Classics Edition", a trip to the PlayStation Store (or Xbox Game Store or Steam) is necessary to pick up the 1990s content as well as Imola and Jerez. Of course, there are complicated licensing costs involved to necessitate this, and with all of the 2013 season there it can be argued that there's a lot in the basic package, but it still feels like fans aren't getting the whole experience unless they pay even more than the original disc asking price, and it slightly undermines the key differentiator between this year's edition and the last.

This is a car that brings back memories for me

This is a car that brings back memories for me

However, Classics mode isn't the only change in F1 2013. With a new art director on board the visuals have been given a spruce up, even if the tech doesn't allow for a complete overhaul. The loading screens feature some fantastic photography from real events, while replays better replicate the angles from the TV coverage. The PlayStation 3 version in particular feels like it has gained from a fresh pair of eyes and looks better than ever.

Scenarios mode is another big new feature, although it is an adaptation of the Champions mode from last year. There you had the six World Champions that were on the 2012 grid presenting their own challenge, which was a special set of circumstances designed around each world champion, such as trying to beat Kimi in the last few laps of Spa. They were my favourite part of F1 2012, and although there were only six, there were replayable thanks to three difficulty levels and a scoring system that allowed for online leaderboards. In this edition, instead of cutting back to five events in light of the departure of Michael Schumacher, the list has expanded to twenty, split into four themes such as being a rookie or fighting for a championship. The best scenarios are those that set you up at the end of a race, taking over for the last moments of a 70 lap race with things like a broken front wing or heavily worn tyres, and you have to make the best of your situation which is more about preserving positions than going for a win. Some of the best moments in the sport come when drivers are making the best of an unexpected event, and I'd love to see some real world scenarios appearing as DLC. The twenty here, though, provide a great variety and the feature seems to be somewhat under appreciated in the wider reception of the game despite how well it manages to shake things up.

And here he is, the four time world champion

And here he is, the four time world champion

A seemingly minor new feature, but one that will please quite a few people, is the addition of mid-session saving. This means you can stop racing at any time, and resume from the same place later, an important addition for those people who struggle to find the significant block of time required for a full F1 race; after all, Formula One is built around 70 lap races rather than 5, and so things like tyre wear and pit stop strategies are best played out in the game over 100% distance events. Such a length might have been considered too daunting or time consuming before now, but the ability to stop and return later - or even to use the save option as a backup if you mess up later in the race - will hopefully encourage more people to experience the game at its best.

Tyre wear is an interesting and important component of F1 2013. While Codemasters haven't opted to model the whole season on the more extreme start to this year's championship, which saw a large number of blowouts at Silverstone before Pirelli made significant changes, tyre wear still remains an important part of your racing. If you're doing a long enough distance - 25% or more - then you'll certainly notice the wear, and the difficulties of getting around the track with tyres which are shot. It means that good use of the tyres is important if you want them to last. While tyre wear has been important in the past, it seems more pronounced here, reflecting the importance the rubber has had in this year's racing, allowing for further strategy options.

Tight races are common when the tyres start to go off

Tight races are common when the tyres start to go off

Making a return this year is the Grand Prix mode, curiously missing from the 2012 edition. Unlike the Career options - including the return of the challenge version that sees you compete over ten 5-lap races for those without the time for the full adventure - you get to 'be' one of the 2013 racers, and you can set up a collection of races in the order you desire. Interestingly this also includes the classic tracks, so you can take 22 modern cars to Brands Hatch, while in Classics mode you can go the other way around and bring Nigel Mansell and company to Austin for the US Grand Prix; the only thing you can't do is mix and match the drivers from across the different eras, presumably for licensing reasons, although they would also wouldn't make for very competitive racing.

Multiplayer in F1 2013 is business as usual, with no significant changes here. After adjustments in past versions such as the addition of split-screen support, co-operative championships, and increased options for setting up a session, there wasn't really a need for an overhaul. Online you can have a lot of fun with competitive racing and a good online community who will keep the game active for months to come, with lag thankfully minimal but, as always, dependent on the connection of yourself and your competitors. RaceNet, Codemasters' online racing service, takes a small step up with its integration in F1 2013; as before you can view leaderboards and career progression on the RaceNet website, and there's also weekly time trials, sometimes tying in to a recent race weekend. You can now also set your own challenges for your friends to compete in, but it would be good to see challenges taken a step further than just offering additional time trials. I'd like to see RaceNet offer additional scenarios based on real world events, or allow friends to challenge each other to finish in a certain position with a specific car. Each year RaceNet grows to offer a more cohesive community, but it's still lacking in depth, and seems oddly hidden away in the game's menus.

While not revolutionary, F1 2013 is certainly the strongest entry in the series to date. It doesn't take leaps forward, but it doesn't take any steps back either. It handles better, it looks prettier, and it offers more thanks to F1 Classics and the Scenarios mode. If you've got F1 2012 then those two features need to appeal significantly to justify a purchase this year as the rest of the game is mostly the same great experience, but if you've not dipped in before, then there's a comprehensive and enjoyable adaptation of the world's premier motorsport waiting for you, and there's been no better time to try it out.

Ratings

Overall With close, competitive racing that makes you drive intelligently to save your tyres, F1 2013 is a fun and thoughtful recreation of the world's premier motorsport. It's highly polished, with an extra sheen this year with the new art direction, and comes strongly recommended. The only downside is that F1 2012 was also very good, and if you own that and don't place a strong value on the sport's history then it might be difficult to justify a purchase. However, newcomers should certainly head straight for this year's entry. 8/10

Click here to buy F1 2013 from Amazon.co.uk.

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