The 2012 Formula 1 calendar has played host to one of the most exciting seasons in recent history.
Whether it was seven different drivers winning the first seven races or the rise of young drivers like Sergio Perez and Romain Grosjean, it's really been a bumper year for motorsport fans.
The question however, is whether Codemasters was able to bring the real-world excitement and competitiveness to F1 2012...
The third game in Codemasters' well-received Formula 1 series, F1 2012 has an uphill climb if it hopes to surpass the standard set by F1 2011.
Boot up F1 2012 and you're greeted by a simple showroom-style menu, complete with an F1 car taking the centre-stage. But before you can get into the nitty gritty, you'll head into the Young Driver's Test - essentially a tutorial, in other words.
The Young Driver's Test is a great way for both new and veteran players to get a feel for things, echoing the licence tests seen in the Gran Turismo series. It starts off simple enough, with straight-line tests and using the drag-reduction system (DRS), but soon you'll be tasked with hitting the apex of corners and running fast laps.
Once you've made it through the Young Driver's Test, you're free to play any mode of your choosing. And there are a few additions to this season's formula worth noting.
The first new game mode, Season Challenge, sees players going through a short, ten-race calendar. It's ideal for players with little time on their hands, with one hot-lap for qualifying and a five-lap race to be had.
Starting off with a lowly team, you'll have goals set by the team, such as qualifying or finishing a race at a certain position.
There's also a rival system in place, which sees players selecting a foe and trying to beat him over a few races. Fend off your rival and you'll be offered to take his seat - or you could stick to driving for Marussia. Your pick.
However, traditionalists have nothing to fear, as the Career Mode is still in place.
The Career Mode has you taking a tour of the full 20-race calendar, complete with practice sessions and knock-out qualifying.
Of course, the new Austin F1 track is also included, and boy is it well worth playing. With its wide first-corner hairpin and a series of high-speed left, right flicks straight after, we hope that the real-world track is this exhilarating.
Once you've completed the Career Mode, there's also another option in the form of the Champions Mode, which has you challenging six world champions in various scenarios.
For instance, one challenge has you on fresh rubber, with three laps to go, tasked with passing teammate Kimi Raikonnen, who's on worn tyres. The Champions Mode is scaleable too, with easy, medium and hard difficulties available.
Still, we would've loved to see more than six scenarios, in fact, a few historical challenges would've really made the game worth buying alone. After all, what F1 fan wouldn't want to try their hand at replicating Ayrton Senna's legendary first lap at the 1993 European GP?
A familiar experience
When it comes to the actual driving experience, F1 2012 retains the same basic gameplay as the previous incarnation - not that it's a bad thing by any stretch.
Driving can be adjusted to suit your skill level too, with traction control, damage, ABS brakes, brake indicators and a variety of other settings all tweakable.
Even with those settings in your favour, F1 2012 still takes time to master, and you'll have a few off-track escapades and shunts at first. But you can rely on the race rewind feature to undo mistakes, albeit a limited number of times.
What's even more fascinating is the difference between cars, with the lowly Toro Rosso being a tad slower than say, a Red Bull or Ferrari.
On race-day, the game is as exciting as ever, with players making use of DRS and the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) during the grand prix. The result is that overtakes are a common occurrence, with pedal to the metal manoeuvres possible.
Although the AI puts up a decent fight on the medium difficulty, I was still left wanting a bit more unpredictability from them. In all my time playing, I don't think I saw any serious car crashes between AI drivers, while overtakes were a rare sight.
It would've been fun to see the AI take chances, but in saying that, you'll still panic when you see an arrow at the bottom of the screen, showing how close another driver is. And they'll use DRS and KERS to push past you, in a great touch.
Still, if you're looking for a more unpredictable challenge, you could always play with friends...
No fuel shortage here
The multiplayer suite is back and as fun as ever, with a local split-screen mode, LAN play and online gameplay available. The latter in particular is loads of fun, and if you're at my skill level, you'll probably find yourself fighting to hold onto a lowly fifth or sixth place.
In fact, the multiplayer games can be even more exciting than the single-player events, as I soon found out. For instance, on the last lap in Shanghai, approaching a hairpin bend, I resisted the urge to turn in soon, as I could hear a car breathing down my neck.
The other racer dove down the inside in a banzai overtaking move, out-braking himself and veering off the track in the process. I simply closed the door on him as he recovered and went on to take fifth place. Harrowing stuff.
If you're looking to up your game, the Codemasters RaceNet network is the destination for you, with different hot lap challenges each week. In this mode, each player gets the same car, with vehicle setup being the difference between a slow and competitive lap.
A spit and polish
When it comes to presentation, F1 2012 might be an incremental update over F1 2011, but it's still worth noting.
Whether it's the Yas Marina circuit, the McLaren car's chrome finish or grass caking tyres after an off-track excursion, it's still a pretty title.
Special mention has to go to the rain effects (once again), as I often found myself going off-line just to stay out of the rooster tail of spray thrown up by the car ahead.
The same applies to the sound, with commentary and race engineer banter all adding to the atmosphere. One tiny detail is the ability to hear how close cars are by sound alone, adding to the tension if there's a car running close behind you.
It's not easy to make a huge improvement on a yearly franchise, but Codemasters has certainly tried. Whether it's the helpful Young Drivers Test or the quick-fix Season Challenge, F1 2012 certainly makes a strong case for purchase. Sti
Score: 8.8 out of 10