CarsGuide Podcast: Tools in the Shed ep. 162
Episode 162 - Why the V6 Land Cruiser 300 could be better than you think
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F1 fans have had it pretty good for the last few years, with racing powerhouse Codemasters taking over the franchise. Sony's efforts had been lacklustre and only available on the PlayStation.
Codies, as they're affectionately known, has done a solid if unspectacular job with what is, to be fair, a difficult arena in which to innovate, with restrictive and expensive licensing tying the developer's hands.
F1 2013, however, finally breaks out of the box. While the games have been good technically, there hasn't been much to entice buyers into annual iterations. This year, buyers have the choice of the usual yearly update but a few well-chosen treasures as well.
There's challenge and scenario modes, with the Challenge mode being the most interesting - the object is to steal another driver's seat by beating him in a lesser car.
For a bit of extra cash, however, comes the really good stuff - F1 Classics. This, as the name suggests, adds Classic F1 cars, tracks and drivers. The pre-release build we got had a pair of classic Williams (FW07B and FW12), a pair of Lotuses (98T and 100T) and a Ferrari F187-88C.
Drivers such as Alan Jones, Alain Prost, Emerson Fittipaldi and Damon Hill feature, with their helmets and sometimes faces making appearances. The full game release of Classic will add the Ferrari F92A, F310 and F399, the Willimes FW14B, FW18 and FW21.
Classic tracks include the full Brands Hatch, Jerez, Imola and the much-missed Estoril circuit in Portugal. The Classics are a lot of fun - they rev much lower, handle completely differently (and far less competently) and even sound brilliant. Classics adds some desperately-needed depth to the game and gives you plenty more to do.
Back to the present and the Career mode has been overhauled and split up. When you first enter the game (get yourself a cup of tea/cold one, it takes forever to install on PS3), you can choose to go to the Young Driver test at Abu Dhabi and complete a series of challenges.
The more challenges you complete, the better the team you can join in your first career season. About twenty minutes worth of challenges will get you into a mid-field Force India or Sauber.
You can also go into the Proving Grounds and play the twenty different scenarios, which graduate from Rookie, through to Team Mate Battle, Championship Title and Final Year tests. Proving Grounds also includes Time Attack and Time Trial for modern and Classic cars.
Technically, the game isn't significantly better than F1 2012. There's still pronounced frame slowdown on some tracks (I'm looking at you, Monaco) and while every iteration has delivered a better look, there's still the impression that cars aren't necessarily on the track surface.
Some sacrifices have been made to achieve the overall look, meaning shadows are a little cross-hatch-ey and some of the close-up detail is a bit ordinary.
This is a minor quibble, though. The weather effects are spectacular, especially the rain. A wet race is terrific to look at, with raindrops hitting your view and massive rooster tails pouring from the rear of each car.
The lighting is great, too, helping provide a sense of place - the sunlight in Melbourne is different to Abu Dhabi is different to Silverstone. Little details like this really help with the overall feeling that you're on a world tour.
The tracks are inch-perfect, of course, all built with the help of GPS and sat-nav as well as co-operation from the various teams and the FIA. Naturally, a game like this has to be all about the driving. And this is where it runs into a little bit of trouble. With a controller, on the PS3 at least, this is not an easy game to master.
This is partly to do with the analogue sticks on the controller not being particularly helpful for games like this, nor are the triggers which are used for acceleration and braking. It's a bumpy experience and not a lot of fun. I can't recommend it.
What I can recommend is plugging in a decent wheel and pedal combination. This brings the game alive and easily lopped four seconds a lap from my times while actually making the game fun. You can catch slides, modulate the throttle and braking in a far more natural way.
It means you can get a much better idea - although it's clearly still a mere inkling - of what it's like to command one of these machines.
The tyres go off, the aero changes make a genuine difference and the options for changing engine and braking add to the overall strategic nature of the game. KERS and DRS are there, too, as is the Safety Car.
A crucial element to F1 - the noise of the cars - is first-class, with environments deciding what you hear.
Sadly still present is the lunkheaded penalty system which still dishes out penalties with all the consistency of the real world stewards, so at least it's true to form there.
The one thing Codemasters needed to do was make this game worth buying. Next year will be a no-brainer with all the new rules coming into force, so the team had to come up with something interesting. And they've nailed it.
What's good about F1 2013 is that it's not just worth buying simply because you can play as an Eighties or Nineties hero. Both modern and Classic driving modes are well-implemented and look great, too. It also makes sense that a sport so rich in history gets a game that understands that history and celebrates it.