After an exciting first half to the 2012 season, last year’s Formula One World Championship trudged towards an inevitable third title for Sebastian Vettel, continuing his and Red Bull’s dominance of the sport. The 2013 season was, however, supposed to be more competitive; with stable technical regulations, it was said that the cars would cosy up again. The result? Vettel is, at the time of writing, likely to wrap up his fourth world championship this weekend, and the season as a whole has been largely forgettable. Set against this bleak backdrop, Codemasters is tasked with releasing a new iteration in its F1 simulation, and much like the real-life championship, things have largely stayed the same.
The biggest hurdle for F1 2013 to overcome is the fact that aside from a slight tweak to the calendar and some minor physical differences, F1 in 2013 is essentially the same as it was last year. It still features the same drivers, the same cars, and the same tracks – and after such a successful rebuild of the engine for 2012, there’s very little to overhaul. Add this to the technical regulation changes next season – and the probability that this will be the last purpose-built F1 game for current-gen – and it’s instantly apparent why when you load the title up you'll feel like you’ve seen it all before. The release is, at its heart, a roster update.
But to label it solely as that would be to do the game a disservice, as despite a small amount of room to change things, Codemasters has taken it upon itself to provide the most accurate representation of driving in a Formula One car yet.
Last year’s game rebuilt the car handing mechanics, resulting in a pleasing, if somewhat planted driving experience that was easily manageable. This year that has been tweaked, with the cars more responsive, and even with traction control turned fully on, it's now possible to spin up the rear tyres. The result is a far more realistic experience that promotes smooth driving, and that goes hand-in-hand with the other vital improvement to the experience: tyre management.
Since Pirelli’s 2011 debut, tyre management has been a key part of the championships. Up until now, however, it's not been a key part of the games, but this has thankfully been addressed this year. Tyre temperatures now rise and fall depending on your setup and driving style, ultimately affecting wear rate. While this probably sounds overly technical, it's a vital inclusion for those seeking realism, yet can be ignored if you wish. Switch the feature on, though, and it does add a huge degree of realism, with tyres wearing down throughout the race, causing huge drop-offs in time, creating a thinking man’s racer – much like F1 itself.
Once you’re on the track, all of this results in a far more enjoyable experience. Starts no longer feel scripted, with wheel spin potentially deciding who makes it to Turn One first, while subtle inclusions such as angry waves from fellow drivers if you barge into them add to the realism. The twitchier cars also make for far more authentic wheel to wheel racing, and when under pressure, make mistakes increasingly likely to occur.
The AI, a long-term problem for the series, has also been enhanced, and is now more aggressive under braking, yet importantly, less likely to drive into the back of you – although this can still happen. AI collisions and failures have also been improved this year, with collisions happening far more often than before (in that they actually do happen), resulting in the sporadic appearance of the safety car. While this is definitely an improvement on F1 2012, it does still feel a little improbable that 22 cars finish a wet race yet you lose three or four in a dry race, while the safety car sometimes has problems detecting when it needs to come out – in one race we had a car sitting on the track in pieces for 50 laps under yellow flags.
While it’s not a huge leap from last year’s driving model, the small improvements add greatly to the experience and make it feel more realistic than ever. Meanwhile, the PS3 version has had a graphical overhaul, putting it at a similar level to the other platforms, and while a few framerate stutters remain, they're nowhere near as bad as prior titles.
Outside of these tweaks, though, not a lot has changed. Unless you have a save from 2012, you’re thrown straight into the Young Driver’s Test tutorial, which, aside from some tyre management tests, is exactly the same as last year – right down to the straight line test that requires you to not drive straight. And that’s a problem that runs through all of F1 2013’s modes – animations and cutscenes are recycled wholesale from last year’s game making everything feel a little too familiar.
For the single player, the standard line-up of Grand Prix, Time Trials, and Codemasters' weekly RaceNet challenges return, along with Season Challenge – a ten race season with rapid-fire team changes – and a full career mode. Unfortunately, the latter is exactly the same as last year’s, right down to the dialogue between your team via e-mail. While the career mode is functional, it’s disappointing to see so little effort put into it, and is yet another déjà vu moment.
Multiplayer is a similar story, with local, co-op, and online modes carrying over from last year, but disappointingly, online has particular problems with car balancing, making for very uneven races in vehicles which are meant to be of equal quality.
Despite this, the inclusion of a scenario mode, replacing last year’s Champions Mode, is a welcome inclusion, offering quick burst races that mimic a career in F1 for those who haven’t got time to invest in a full race (which, incidentally, can now be saved mid-session for the first time). Time Attack is also a new inclusion, but is merely time trials under set conditions.
But push aside all of last year’s content and the déjà vu, and it’s clear where all the work has gone. The major new inclusion for F1 2013, and the big marquee feature, is Classics Mode. And despite all the previous similarities that we've mentioned, this new mode could be enough to justify your purchase.
Split between 80s and 90s content – with 90s offered as DLC or as part of the Classic Edition – Classics Mode offers a rare opportunity to get behind the wheel of ten of the greatest cars in Formula One history, and take them around four historic circuits. The packs are split into two decades, and while there’s certainly fun to be had with the 80s pack, if you’re getting F1 2013 for the classic content, you’re going to want the 90s pack, too.
With the dulcet tones of Murray Walker introducing the mode, Classics Mode works as its own miniature version of F1 2013, with Time Trials, Scenarios, Grand Prix, and more available to select. Take one of the classic cars out around Brands Hatch and you’ll instantly see why the other areas of F1 2013 feel so neglected – simply put, this is the reason to own the game.
Each of the ten cars handle differently, and represent a marked change from their more modern cousins. The 90s cars especially have far more grip, and the raw power of the 80s cars feels amazing. Each vehicle represents a simpler time in F1, when DRS and KERS were nowhere to be found, and raw speed and skill were at the heart of racing. Hearing the V10 growl of a ‘99 Ferrari remains a fantastic sound, rivalled only by taking it on a hot lap around Imola.
While the driving is absolutely thrilling, some of the choices of cars and drivers do leave something to be desired. Handcuffed by licensing, the game very obviously lacks old McLarens, and with legends such as Alain Prost and Michael Schumacher appearing, it feels very strange to not have the late, great Ayrton Senna alongside them.
The splitting of the content into two packs, the 80s pack bundled in and the 90s pack available as DLC, is also a very questionable decision, and a cynical business move on the part of Codemasters. It is clear that this content is the heart of F1 2013, so to cordon off half of it behind a paywall feels wrong. It is, however, worth considering, especially if you can get the Classic Edition.
At its heart, F1 2013 is a minor update to F1 2012, and while the inclusion of tyre management and tweaks to the handling make for a far smoother racing experience, it feels all too familiar far too quickly. However, the inclusion of the classic content is a game-changer, and an extremely fun one at that. Fans of racing in the 80s and 90s will find it difficult to resist this new addition – even if the decision to lock half of it behind a paywall will leave you shaking your head.