It’s all a matter of perspective. To some, F1 2013 will be an impenetrable simulation of one of the most precise, exacting, punishing forms of motorsport. To others, it just won’t be simulation enough.
I confess that I’m a Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport fan. In recent years almost all of my racing has been done in the souped-up saloons and fiddled-with family runabouts of these games. I’ve dabbled with Need for Speeds, DiRTs and Grids, but the accessible realism in the big two track racers has been my sweet spot on the virtual petrol-head sliding scale.
And then there’s the proper simulations. These PC-based worlds filled with leagues and teams and rules and competition. Whilst I have great respect for those who partake in that world, I know I don’t have the requisite ability to succeed without a serious practice-time commitment. I just enjoy taking a car that I might be able to afford one day, upgrading bits of it and throwing it around corners sideways. F1 2013 is certainly not that.
So, we’ve established a nice low bar of expectation in relation to my ability with this game. Good. Now I’ve got to tell you that I crashed. A lot. It was incredibly frustrating but, with a little time and some cathartic writing, I think I’m going to be okay.
My first instinct was to rush into the new classic mode. There’s a handful of classic cars from the 1980s along with their historical drivers or legendary team-members to put in them. Cars like Mansell’s old blue-and-yellow Williams or the 1986 black Lotus 98T, though sadly without Ayrton Senna (you get “team legends” Mario Andretti and Emerson Fittipaldi for this one). It’s was like a beautifully rendered Sunday afternoon from my childhood as I got to race at Brands Hatch. But nostalgia is a delicate filament and the illusion was soon lost to the intense difficulty of actually keeping the car on the track.
Into the first corner, I nudged into a car in front of me who was more proactive about braking. Into the second corner, one of the drivers behind me pushed into my back right wheel and I spun out into a gravel trap, rejoining the race in last place and 14 seconds from the front. Three laps of fighting with twitchy handling and hyper-sensitive steering later, and I’d gained on my eminently more talented track-mates but hadn’t yet overtaken any of them. Not so like the living-room-carpet races I used to re-enact on those Sunday afternoons then.
I thought that maybe I should try the modern side of the game. So I hopped into a Red Bull car that looks a bit like a spaceship and chose to pilot it around a Chinese track. Modern cars, with all their systems and cutting edge engineering are bound to be easier to manage, right? Well, no, not really.
They certainly feel more solid and slightly less twitchy but they still require absolute precision in order to be anything approaching competitive. At least, that’s what I assume. I admit that I never approached competitive at all. This was hellish, there must be some assist or something I can turn on to make driving this car a little less like grappling to hold onto a wet eel while falling down a staircase. Oh, all the assists are on. Oh dear.
I turned them all off, for a laugh. It wasn’t funny.
With no assists on, you have to be subtle and delicate with your acceleration. The green line that tells you where to drive disappears and you’re left with sole responsibility for getting on the brakes at the right time as you approach a corner. Honestly, the game expects you to know the four inch area in which you need to begin to apply braking on every corner of every track. With no steering assist, the car keeps only a passing acquaintance with the idea that it might be able to alter its trajectory and successfully navigate around a corner. Switching to manual gearing almost sent me spiralling into a nervous breakdown. Those other drivers don’t help matters, either.
The information that came with the preview code warned me that the AI hadn’t been quite tuned up yet and as such would likely be a little aggressive. When I was younger, I worked as security in a fairly rough nightclub in Northern Ireland for several years. I’m familiar with aggression. But those AI drivers are just bullies. They took every opportunity to crash into me, even though it was patently obvious that I really didn’t need their help to fall off the tarmac and into the grass. Gerhard Berger was the ringleader, he kept pace with me (slowly) for an entire lap, just so he could nudge into me on every corner. Every corner!
There is a set of scenarios in the Classics Mode and another in a menu section on the main menu titled “Proving Grounds”, which also features time trials and time attack. These present you with a specific goal to reach or situation to overcome, and I’m sure that once you’re able to stay on the track for a whole lap, these will present a nice little challenge that will further aid your development. They’re a kind of bite-sized bit of fun, rather than the larger commitment of a Grand Prix or the life-consuming commitment of the career mode (which wasn’t available to test).
F1 2013 seems like an accurate representation of the sport and it certainly looks impressive enough, with cars precisley modelled and painted as you would expect. The Classics side of things is a nice nostalgic rummage around the childhood of anyone who grew up watching the F1 heroes of the 1980s and it does lend some variation to the game that needed something to help it stand apart from last year’s game.
Ultimately, though, it’s impossible to know how well received F1 2013 will be with series fans because, for a newcomer, it’s just so difficult to get started. The stoic lack of accessibility, in spite of the plethora of driving assists (turned up to max, you can hold the accelerator and just be in charge of the steering – still not as easy as it sounds), means that simple frustration is the largest barrier to entry here and for anyone migrating over from any of the more casual racers this might be a little too punishing. For anyone approaching from the sim side of things, well, I doubt I’d be capable of staying on the road in those either.
We’ll have a proper racing fan do the review, I promise.
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