Racing in F1 2012 is thrilling regardless of where you are on the track. Fighting for position is better than ever, and improved AI ensures that close encounters with other drivers are rarely as problematic as in previous games. In fact, getting caught in a pack of cars is a delight, and the satisfaction of finding gaps to sneak through as cars weave around the track in front of you keeps you throughly engaged with the action.
Managing your fuel and tyres is crucial to a successful race strategy, and F1 2012 does a great job of communicating this to you during the race. Setting the fuel to a rich mix may help you gain that extra speed for an overtake, but you may not have enough gas to cross the chequered flag. Knowing when you should push to overtake and when you should defend your position is key. If you go full throttle or brake too hard into corners, your tyres' rubber wears away faster, forcing you to lose grip with the track. Though tyre wear isn't as unforgiving as what we've seen in this year's real-life season, it's still important to keep an eye on their performance. Timing your pit stops is key, and your engineer suggests pit times based on tyre wear, fuel, the condition of your front wing, and weather. However, if you think you know something he doesn't, you're free to pit whenever you please. Thankfully, pitting is now automatic once you enter the lane, though you have to be careful not to cross the pit lane exit line as you reenter the track.
A new dynamic weather system allows for different weather on different areas of the track, so it's important that you listen to your engineer to ensure you don't get caught out wearing the wrong rubbers at the wrong time. An improved suspension system helps to alleviate the often wild cornering of F1 2011 too, making throwing yourself around corners a pleasure--finding the limit of your car's ability and reacting to it once you've pushed it too far is all part of the challenge.
Improved visuals and new lighting effects augment the authenticity of the driving experience. Shadows are more defined, the amount of water on the track is easily readable, and your car's bodywork shimmers in the sunlight like never before. Plus, a new offset camera view and more variety in replay angles add to the authenticity. While the graphics have seen only a slight improvement over last year's major graphics overhaul, the audio has had a more substantial upgrade. Wind roars past on the straights, the sound of groaning engines bounces around Monaco's structures, and the howl of rivals can be heard as they push their KERS boost button and packs of hard-braking cars shriek across the landscape. The improved audio is not just for show, either; the sounds of nearby shunts and your car bottoming out allow you to react to race situations faster, and more successfully.
If taking in all the action is having a negative effect on your racing, a broad range of driving assists are at your disposal. ABS, braking assists, and a dynamic racing line help ease your vehicle around the track, while flashback replays are available for those unrecoverable mistakes. Rules and flags are more forgiving this year too. Illegal overtakes now offer a short window for you to hand the place back, and automatic slowdown on runoff areas means you're less likely to cut corners this time around. Buried in the race selection screens are detailed hot-lap tips for each circuit, courtesy of former driver and Sky Sports analyst Anthony Davidson. They're well worth watching, once you find them.
Whether or not you get the most out of F1 2012's multiplayer depends on whom you're playing with. As in previous games, quick online races with random players are chaotic affairs with racing incidents galore. However, if you're fortunate enough to have a friend to play with, it can be an incredibly fun experience. Split-screen races can be played as duels, or against a full grid of competing cars. If you fancy something more long-term, the fantastic co-op championship allows you to play with a friend, in either split-screen or online.
F1 2012 finally delivers on the promise of the first two Formula One games. Season Challenge and Champions mode allow you to play in short bursts, while Career mode has enough depth to keep you busy for some time. More importantly, the tools are now in place to allow newcomers to get to grips with what can be a rather complex sport. And though the presentation could do with some refining, F1 2012 pulls through where it matters: on the track. Races are satisfying from start to finish, and battling with rivals and the limits of your car is a constant challenge. This year's Formula One season has been one of the most exciting in recent memory, and F1 2012 captures that competitive spirit in a way the series never has before. There's no question this is the series' most realistic representation of the sport yet, one that will please fans and newcomers alike.