If there is one thing Codemasters has done a great job of in its years of developing the F1 series, it's translating the challenge of the real-world sport into videogame form. This is, after all, a series of events where you control a space rockets on wheels, and the difficulty – and potential danger – of that continues to be a core philosophy of F1 2013.
Maintaining the integrity of the sport while making the game more accessible to new players is a task Codemasters has faced head-on. The developers have listened to the community, who have stated they are unable to commit multiple hours to a full race weekend. Rather than shorten the length of a race, players can now save mid-Grand Prix. There’s also the introduction of “hot lap” videos for each track, giving players the chance to see tracks expertly driven and learn how to hit every apex, along with a more in-depth Young Driver Test (which takes place over two days in Abu Dhabi, introducing new players to the rigours of racing with tutorials and videos, then challenges to hone their skills).
But what Codemasters hope will truly portray the challenge of driving a Formula One car, and what fans have been waiting for since F1 2010, is the introduction of Classics Mode.
The likes of Nigel Mansell, Eddie Irvine and Alain Prost - and their iconic cars - can now be raced around the likes of Brands Hatch and Circuit De Jerez. That said, one glaring omission is that of Ayrton Senna. Although Codemasters has stated that more announcements are to come, it is a little disconcerting that possibly the greatest driver in the history of the sport, who also shared the most intense rivalry with Alain Prost, made no appearance at the official unveiling.
F1 2013 will come in two editions: standard and classic. The former will feature all the updates from the 2013 season: Hamilton’s switch to Mercedes, Perez’s move to Mclaren and all the updated rules and tyre changes. Some of the content from the latter is included in the basic F1 2013 release, but the actual Classic Edition includes two extra content packs from the 1990s, plus additional tracks. For anyone who picks up the standard version, all classic content will be available as DLC following the game’s September release. The way it was described during the unveiling came across as a bundled-in season pass.
Jumping into time trial mode across Circuit de Jerez in the '80s Williams FW12, there was an immediate, frightening lack of control compared to the 2013 cars. Every turn was terrifying, especially if you’re brave enough to drive without any assists. When taking a corner in a modern Ferrari, you have a sense of what gear you need to be in, and where the correct point to begin accelerating is. In the classic cars, it's more a game of chance. The challenge is as much about taming your own car as it is competing with other drivers.
The '90s cars are even more treacherous. The sudden injection of raw horsepower and little else into the Williams FW14B and 18 almost feels like dragging a bobsled around the track, with ridiculously wide turning circles and the slightest of adjustments at full speed leading to a sudden spin-out.
Going back to the modern cars almost feels like a relief. The comfort of driving Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull around Silverstone feels like child’s play by comparison. There are, of course, tracks like the corner-heavy Susuka, of which a single lap time wasn’t recorded thanks to a tendency to run off-the track, use a rewind, and thus invalidate the lap time. None of this is new, but this high learning curve is part of Formula One. This isn’t for the casual racing game enthusiast, but for the most passionate of Formula One fans.
It should also be noted how much better F1 2013 looks over its predecessors. A lick of paint and a much more vibrant colour palette has given new life to the cars on track; the smooth frame rate combining with the visuals to make a game that looks far better than its predecessors. Classics Mode has been given a sepia-esque look, which, although an attempt to enhance the retro look, actually dulls the tracks and cars, and is a lazy addition we could do without.
The Formula One series is one of the most difficult racing experiences available, but it’s also one of the most rewarding. No matter your position on the track, there’s always a goal to strive for. The excellent depth of challenge for hardcore racing fans means that even in the giant shadow of next-gen, the introduction of Classics Mode and the continued quality of race day means F1 2013 can still find its audience.