Look, you're never going to get to drive a Formula 1 car, so you should be grateful that these simulations exist. And if you (virtually) drive like I do, you should be glad that you'll never drive a F1 car -- we'd all be dead.
I suppose there are good F1 players out there, though. The best of them will tell you it's all about patience, understanding, preparation, and control -- all things I think I understand a bit more after spending some time with F1 2013.
F1 2013 (Xbox 360 [reviewed], PS3, PC)
Release Date: October 8, 2013
If anything, F1 2012 taught me that squeezing full-down on the right trigger was not the best way to have a good time in a Formula 1 game, so I was fully prepared for that as well as whatever F1 2013 had to throw my way. I'd like to think of Codemasters as teachers that are working to broaden my racing game horizons beyond just street and rally racing.
F1 2013's Young Drivers' Test is somewhat successful at teaching new (or not-great) drivers the F1 ropes. While it runs through everything you'd need to know, from basics like braking and cornering to more advanced bits like energy return systems, it's not exactly exciting stuff all the time. It does do a good job of hitting home one underlying theme: go fast and don't mess up. Learning the ropes for a racing simulation can take a lot out of you if you're not the patient type.
After learning the basics, Career Mode has you working your way up the ranks. This is the meat of the game, and it's where you'll spend most of your time. While your time on the track is rarely dull, the presentation and menu-based navigation for this and other modes are a bit of a drag as they're dry and lacking in excitement. If it wasn't for the first-person pre-race pit scenes, the dull presentation would have had me feeling completely disconnected to my racing career. This lack of personality isn't a huge concern, though, as you'll be too busy racing to get hung up on it.
Again, patience is the name of the game. Events have you watching everything from tire wear to fuel levels while trying to keep your racing lines clean. I found myself so wrapped up in trying not to screw up that I noticed I was holding my breath and sweating. That patience and concentration pays off in a big way for a win, but I think it also makes mistakes more frustrating.
I found myself more comfortable in the Grand Prix mode, where jumping into a race is easy, and endurance is less of a requirement. This mode is more about minding your opponents than it is your car. If you don't have the patience for trials, or the stamina for long races, you'll get the most out of this mode.
This kind of player might also dig Scenario mode. In what is the closest you'll get to a mission mode in a racing game, Scenarios take bits from other races and asks you to run through them. These are fun little nuggets of racing that you can take on at your own pace.
New for this outing, F1 Classics lets you hop into the cockpit of some famous cars from racing past to hit some famous tracks. Fans of F1 racing will get more out of the mode than I did, though I will say that it was fun to go a few rounds in some of the monsters this mode provides. Finally, on the online side, F1 2013 offers two-player splitscreen and 16-player online multiplayer modes.
I don't know that the Xbox 360 controller's analog sticks do F1 full justice. Codemasters' handling has your cars staying fully obedient under careful play; they go where you want them to go as long as you mind that balance between power and control. But, lose your concentration for even a split second, and you're spinning, or are off in the gravel.
The dead zone for the Xbox 360 controller saw the bulk of my blame when I ended up off the track. A racing wheel would be ideal for F1 2013. To be fair, the thrill of F1 racing is closely tied to moving incredibly fast, and it's a given that, at these speeds, you can easily loose control. It's just that I never felt fully in control with F1 2013.
There's room for error -- if you need it -- in the handling control settings. On full assist, you don't have to do anything but steer, keeping the gas pedal down fully, as everything else is handled for you. If you're having a hard time getting the feel down, these assists are a life saver. But well-versed racers may be surprised at how the assists fight them for control of the car, which is why I recommend shutting them off.
Where there isn't room for error is around other cars in a race, which is sad as this is where you'll spend most of your time. There are times that F1 2013 felt just like state-fair bumper cars when up against CPU opponents. Getting stuck with penalties for something I felt like I didn't do was frustrating. There were times where I'd end up on the side of the track from one of these situations, and more than once I felt like I should take a walk to calm down before I broke a controller.
On a more positive note, F1 2013 looks and sounds great. While we'll give the tracks a polite nod for their clean and glossy, there real attraction is the crazy level of detail in the car models. They're all shiny, sharp, and fantastic looking. F1 2013's weather effects are also very impressive. My first race in the rain was a memorable one with its splashing, sliding, and super realistic windshield raindrops. The rain looked great in the Xbox 360 version, but it was stunning on a PC with graphics settings on high.
I've never had the pleasure of taking an F1 car for a spin, but it seems that the sound design for F1 2013 has at least brought my ears really close to the actual experience. These vehicles make all manner of noises when you push them, from mumbles to screams. It's thrilling to hear the different ways these cars sing out in the heat of the race.
Somehow, even with some of the criticisms I had, I enjoyed F1 2013. For me, it was less about the technical side, like managing tire wear, or learning the kinectic energy return system, and more about just going really fast. That said, there were times that I was somehow able to hone in and sort of fall into the zone, which made it feel like I was going even faster. F1 2013 is rewarding in a way that an arcade racer could never be.
While I'd have a hard time recommending this game to casual fans of racing, those that like steep, technical challenges will be thrilled, as will fans of the sport. I want to be clear, though. You will have to have a lot of patience and time on your hands to make F1 2013 a rewarding experience. It's tough.