Annual releases get their fair share of stick, but there’s something to be said for following a studio as it steadily develops a licence.

Codemasters took control of the Formula One licence at the end of 2008 and released its first game in the now popular series in 2009. The following year the series went multiplatform, adding Xbox 360, PS3 and PC to the roster.

Two years down the line and Codemasters Birmingham has cemented its position as quality racing game developer.

F1 2012 might retain some of the series’ trademark quirks – the first person view when strutting around the garage and the literal ‘3D-person-in-your-face’ NPC hand-holding through the early stages of career mode, but the whole package is so much slicker than it once was.

Some jiggling around with the game options has seen the loss of Grand Prix mode but adds in some great additions, such as the training tutorial that opens the game. As well as covering the basics – going around a corner, for instance – it also briefs you on systems such as DRS and KERS, as well as giving you a taster of lively wet race conditions.

Perhaps the single cleverest addition is Champions Mode, a subset of the Proving Grounds selection. Whereas the long-form nature of F1 racing means that those tense moments of duelling for position or holding off a rampant predator are relatively rare in career mode – just as they are in real life – Champions Mode presents a selection of just such scenarios that a player can delve straight into.

Furthermore, each comes in easy, medium and hard flavours, providing an excellent reason to return to each, improving your driving in the process.

On the track the visuals have been given yet another bump and really do earn their place up their amongst the best simulators. The racing looks and feels fantastic.

Players are free to keep things easy, with plenty of assists and automated guidance. On the other hand, delve into the depths of the game and you’ll wonder in the details – tyres, fuel mixes, suspension stiffening… it’s as accessible or as hardcore as you like.

Codemasters’ fourth F1 release oozes self-confidence and delivers the best experience in the series yet. F1 2012 stands not just as a great title for Formula One fans, but also anyone with even a passing interest in driving games.

It’s out in the UK today (Friday September 21st).

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