Released as the F1 season builds to its climax, F1 2012 is just what F1 fans need to keep them going during the winter break. The game lets you play the full 2012 season, with every track, car and driver present and correct (including the United States Grand Prix circuit in Austin, Texas).
Whether you're a seasoned racer or new to the series, F1 2012 has plenty to offer. Even if you're upgrading from either of the F1 2010 or 2011 titles, there are subtle but worthwhile improvements that make it worth buying.
Although you can buy it from Amazon or your local game store, Codemasters has made the move to Steam so you can download it and get playing within hours. More usefully, it means updates are automatically installed and you can more easily find friends to play against.
F1 2012: gameplay
The game starts with a Young Driver's Test - essentially a tutorial - which sees you prove your skills in Abu Dhabi with various tests. It teaches you how to control the car, corner properly and use advanced features such as DRS and KERS - the game faithfully replicates the rules of the current F1 season. It's worthwhile even if you play racing games day-in, day-out as it gives you a feel for the physics used in the game and a chance to tweak your steering sensitivity and dead-zone.
Following in the footsteps of Codemasters' previous racing games, the main career mode sees you progress from a rookie driver starting with a back-running team such as Caterham up the ranks to the top teams.
Cut-scenes and emails from your agent pull everything together to make it a more immersive experience that simply using menus to go from one race to the next.
Possibly the best thing about F1 2012 is that everyone from beginners to hardcore simulation fans can something out of it. Make no mistake, though - this isn't an arcade racer, it's far closer to a simulator, so it isn't for casual gamers. It's a game that will reward you only if you put the time in to learn the tracks and how to drive the car smoothly around them. Don't expect to jump in and win races otherwise.
You can get as involved as you like, using every practice session to fine-tune your setup before qualifying or skipping straight to the race and using a basic slider to alter your car's setup without bothering with the details.
Similarly, there are all the driving aids you'd expect to allow novices to make it through a race without spinning off at the first corner. From steering and braking help to traction control and racing lines, you can pick and choose what to disable to tailor the difficulty level precisely. You can also change the AI difficulty, although even the Easy setting isn't a walk in the park if you're not trying.
Fortunately, there is one reprieve: Flashback. Anyone familiar with Codemasters' other racing games will welcome this, as it lets you pause a race, rewind time and have a second chance at making that pass or taking that corner without making a pig's ear of it.
Purists can avoid using it for a more realistic experience, but for everyone else it will make longer races less frustrating.
F1 2012: graphics and physics
F1 2012's requirements aren't that demanding, so even a mid-spec PC should be able to run it at maximum detail without it turning into a jerky slideshow. Playing on an nVidia GeForce GTX 670 at full HD, it ran flawlessly and looked pretty spectacular.
Attention to detail is excellent, with cars looking as good, if not better than on TV. The mirror-like finish on the McLarens is a particular joy to behold as the sun (or trackside lights in night races) reflects off them.
The tracks themselves are also accurately modelled and only F1 nerds would be able to detect any mistakes. Admittedly, it's hard to notice improvements over the already great-looking F1 2011, but F1 2012 is one of the best looking PC racers around.
You notice this particularly in a wet race with authentic-looking rainclouds looming over the circuit and spray from cars in front obscuring your view of the road ahead when the rain starts falling.
It's not just eye-candy, either. The driving experience is so precise that you really notice when your tyres begin to wear out, or you run wide and pick up grass or gravel which reduces grip and takes a few corners to dissipate. The cars aren't easy to drive, which is exactly what you'd expect. The pros wouldn't get paid millions of pounds if any old Joe could jump in and make it round the circuit unscathed.
Even more impressive is the feeling of speed, more so than in previous F1 games. The grandstands fly past in a blur as you're searching for your braking point, and you really get the feeling that you're driving a 200mph machine that's running right on the edge of its ability. Stab the throttle too hard (it goes without saying that you need a steering wheel and pedals - or at least some sort of analogue controller) and the rear wheels will break traction with the tarmac and you'll find yourself trying to avoid a spin, and losing precious tenths at the same time.
Once you're zoned in to a race, it's amazingly rewarding when you put in that perfect lap and begin to catch the car in front. Equally, there's a palpable sense of tension as a faster driver bears down on you and you start driving defensively to prevent them passing.
Pulling into the pits gives you a few moments of respite - the camera switches to an external view so you can watch your pit crew in action - before you re-join the frantic action.
All the while, you're ears are treated to an ultra-realistic soundtrack which again gives a real sense of being in the race car on your screen.
F1 2012: game modes
There's plenty on offer besides the full-on career mode. A new Season Challenge mode offers a short 10-race season with single-lap qualifying sessions. You nominate a rival from a higher-up team and then attempt to beat him in a series of three races. If you succeed, you win his drive and get yourself a faster set of wheels to progress further.
The Champions mode is great fun. Here, you select one of the six world champions in this year's season and are given the chance to beat them in a different challenge. Pick Kimi Raikkonen, for example, and you're transported to Spa for the last few laps of a race where you have a limited amount of time to catch and pass him. It's an ideal quick fix when you don't have enough time for a full race session.
Multiplayer-wise, up to 16 players can race against each other and eight AI-controlled cars to bring it up to the full 24-car grid. As well as the online mode, there are LAN and split-screen modes, plus a co-operative two-player mode where you and a friend can play as team-mates for a season's racing.