It’s nothing personal against Codemasters, but I never really expected to get a whole lot out of a game like F1 2013. Clearly for a niche audience, I imagined the yearly videogame counterpart to Formula One racing would deliver an authentic, certified geek-out for diehards of the sport, and at best a fun diversion for everyone else. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to say “boy, was I wrong!” while flashing a cheesy smile and swinging my fist, F1 2013 definitely grabbed me more firmly than I thought it would, and once adjusted I found no reason to resist.
Though far from a flight simulator for Formula One (which is what I was at least somewhat subconsciously expecting), F1 2013 is definitely more sim than arcade racer, and it’s apparent within the first few minutes of playing. The first thing you’ll tackle in the game is known as the Young Driver’s Test, a two-day F1 boot camp of sorts that’ll show you the ropes and whip you into shape in one swift, slightly jarring motion. As an F1 newcomer, I felt the Young Driver’s Test was challenging, but useful. I don’t really see how I would have learned the ins and outs so efficiently otherwise, and despite a general notion held by some that games are becoming a bit too easy and gamers a bit too lily-livered, I was thankful for the two day crash-course nonetheless.
Contrary to my simulator-like expectations, I was actually surprised how comparable many of the mechanics of F1 2013 are when put against other racers I’ve played. The game dresses them up nice with official sounding F1 terminology — kinetic energy recovery system and drag reduction system, respectively — but the fact is that KERS and DRS management ultimately boil down to boost and, well, a different type of boost. If KERS is like slamming the Y button for a surge of pure voltaic lightspeed in F-ZERO GX, then DRS is like spamming the “hop” button down a straightaway in Mario Kart under the illusion that it will help you overtake the leader somehow. Except in this case, you have official confirmation from the game that it will.
Outside of governing your two main “boost” functions, there’s an impressive amount of strategy and depth to a handful of F1 2013’s other components. Ever had to worry about tires in a racing game beyond the pimped-out spinning rims beside them? Here the maintenance of your vehicle’s tires can often mean everything, even the difference between a win and a loss. Nevermind the difference between finishing the race at all or smashing into a wall or competing vehicle, which it of course also does. It doesn’t take more than a couple runs with bad tires in the Young Driver’s Test to get it through your head that worn-out skins are something you’ll want to avoid at all costs. On the other hand, if you’re the type who likes to deviate from a game’s suggested path or purposely cause havoc and destruction, skidding around on paperthin road-grips can be an amusing and even hilarious endeavor. Hilarious, but ultimately ineffective.
There are plenty of people who aren’t new to the F1 series (in fact, I don’t doubt that some gamers have been following each yearly update since the series inception), and those folks won’t be picking apart the gameplay itself, but rather 2013’s differing gameplay modes. Career Mode has always been the series’ mainstay, and the fact that much of your time spent playing will take place within it isn’t about to change.
From what I hear, this year’s Career is extremely similar to that of the 2012 edition, but since 2013 is my inaugural foray into the F1 world, all I can really say is that the Career Mode is well-paced, comprehensive, and efficiently executed. After signing up with one of many teams that scoped you out during the Young Driver’s Test, you’ll essentially progress through a season, hone your skills, prevail in event after event, and repeat. Well, not repeat the season, but the initial process – you can sign with better teams as you move along, and the “completion” of the whole thing is actually lengthier than you might expect. That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable with patience, though. Varying weather conditions, race lengths, and number of opponents (along with the crucial management of your tires and “boosts” under differing circumstance) result in something that hardly ever gets old, and ramps up its difficulty at a pace that is simultaneously steady, challenging, and fair.
Outside of Career, the other main attraction of F1 2013 is without a doubt its Classic Mode. I imagine this is probably like the F1 equivalent of playing as Julius Erving, or reliving Jordan’s championships, so I can definitely at least fathom the likely overwhelming appeal of this mode for certain players. There are a handful of mostly 80s cars available, most notably an ‘88 Ferrari that is an absolute pleasure to ogle, and they all control differently from the souped up computer-cars you’re used to in Career Mode. Though it’s definitely cool wrestling these old beasts down the track and getting a sense of how far handling has come since the days when a jacket made from the same material as your pants was actually acceptable attire, the novelty wears thin far sooner than some of the game’s other modes. That will probably differ from person to person, though.
There are other modes, such as the jump-in-and-play Grand Prix and the objective-based Scenario Mode, and they all offer a fun diversion from the Career’s main draw. Your mileage will vary (especially if you’re a vet of the series and have grown tired of anything and everything rehashed), but for me this was all uncharted territory, and each mode offers something worthwhile at the very least.
I should comment on the visuals too – I wasn’t sure what to expect, and this certainly isn’t the next Gran Turismo, but F1 2013 is a very pretty game. Though human character models don’t look all that great when they’re shown walking around out-of-car, the vehicles themselves look excellent – they glide down tracks realistically, sunlight reflects off them in natural flare-like beams as they pass by the camera, and rain glistens and spatters on their seal-coat painted surface. The new rewind mode (which is abundantly available on the game’s easier difficulty setting) lets you have a number of do-overs per race ala 2012’s SSX, and it also provides an excellent opportunity to admire what you just drove in all of its slo-mo glory.
F1 2013 is a surprisingly accessible entry in what is likely a very niche series, and for that it deserves ample credit. Unlike an ambitious indie or the latest game-of-the-year triple-A, it’s difficult to say whether F1 2013 is objectively a great game outside of being well designed. And it is very, very well designed. Beyond that, though, it’s going to depend entirely on your interest (or willingness to development an interest) in Formula One as whole. For me, I don’t see it becoming a yearly purchase, but bi-yearly? As a complete neophyte turned casual fan, that’s definitely something I can see myself committing to.
This review is based on the PS3 version of the game, which was provided to us.
F1 2013 might seem like a Formula One fan's dream, but writing it off as that alone would be an unfair assumption. Contained within is a surprisingly accessible, yet deep racer that is fun and challenging, regardless of your prior engagement level with the F1 world.