Codemasters' third Formula One game sees the series finally find its feet. A broader range of game modes gives you much more to do, while great care has been taken to ease newcomers into the game. Though F1 2012 doesn't capture the magic that surrounds the sport, the on-circuit action is the best and most exciting of the series. You'll be holding your breath as you sweep around the majestic corners of world-renowned circuits, cursing as opponents swerve past you, and punching the air as you reach the chequered flag for months to come.
Right from the off, F1 2012 does a great job of getting newcomers straight into the action. You begin your career in F1 at the young drivers test in Abu Dhabi. This short tutorial introduces you to the fundamentals of the sport and the underlying mechanics of each race. Tasks include brief challenges around accelerating and cornering, and short videos explaining when to use the car's KERS boost button and drag reduction system, which are crucial to any F1 race. You need to complete the tutorial to play Career mode, but it's smart enough and short enough not to irritate seasoned racers, while also acting as a crucial stepping stone for newcomers--something that was sorely lacking from previous games in the series.
Once you complete the test and the game opens up, there are a range of modes for you to play through that are much more varied than in previous Formula One games. The first of those is Season Challenge, which lets you enjoy the excitement of an F1 season without the longer time investment of Career mode. You compete against various rivals over 10 Grand Prix weekends; if you place above your rival in the best of three races, you're immediately offered a contract by his team. Race weekends in Season Challenge are short affairs consisting of five-lap races, preceded by another addition to the series: one-shot qualification. Here you have a single opportunity to set a lap time, accompanied by the ghost cars of your closest rivals.
The 2012 Formula One season is the first to feature six previous world champions, and F1 2012 has celebrated this with a new mode. Champions mode pits you against Kimi Raikkonen, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, and Michael Schumacher in unique race scenarios, culminating in a seven-car race at the soon-to-be-unveiled Circuit of the Americas. These scenarios include fending off an aggressive Hamilton in the Brazilian rain, and attempting to catch up to and overtake a struggling Raikkonen with a fresh set of tyres. Though short, each scenario is well presented and challenging. However, if you prefer working against the clock, you can dive into the returning Time Trial mode or race ghost cars.
The broader range of game modes is a welcome addition, but they've come at a cost: Grand Prix mode has been stripped out. This disappointing cut means you can no longer step into the shoes of your favourite F1 racer, so full seasons can only be played with your custom character in Career mode. That leaves Quick Race as the only place where you can still play as one of this season's 24 drivers.
Speaking of Career mode, it returns in largely the same form as in previous years. You begin as part of a low-level team and move up the F1 ladder by meeting different sets of objectives. As you improve your standing during the season, competing teams offer you contracts that give you access to better cars, and loftier goals. Race weekends consist of a single practise session, three stages of qualification, and a race. However, if you're not in the mood for a full weekend, you can choose to omit practise or reduce qualification to a single stage or one-shot, which is a nice addition.
Purists may be irked by the lack of second and third practise sessions this time around, but their omission helps keep long weekends engaging. Optional research and development tests occur at a number of practise sessions during the season. These are longer and more challenging than in last year's game, but successful completion is rewarded with improvements to your car's setup. With Champions mode fulfilling your short-race needs, gone are the three-lap races of F1 2011; the minimum allowed in Career mode this year is 25 percent of the full distance.
Other, subtle changes to Career mode make it more focused than it was last year. Gone are the parc ferme interviews and first-person navigation, instead replaced by glossy menus that show important information up front. Unfortunately, the interface still lacks the personality of its Dirt siblings, and the familiar in-game emails and paper clippings do little to add to the authenticity. As a result, the career feels less like a globetrotting pageant of speed and more like a series of loosely connected race weekends. But while F1 2012's presentation fails to replicate the spectacle that surrounds the sport, thankfully the same cannot be said of the on-track action.