Version tested: Xbox 360
A modern Formula One car has more in common with a UFO than it does with the hatchback parked in your driveway. With an engine that revs to an artificially limited 18,000rpm, an electrically powered boost button that delivers an extra 80bhp on demand and enough aerodynamic downforce that it could, legend has it, drive along the ceiling, it's stretching the definition of car to the point of distension.
The five 1980s-era vehicles that are introduced in F1 2013 are spectacular too, with their fat slick tyres and the occasional monstrous turbocharger. The difference is that there's an identifiable thread, however tenuous, between their mechanics and those found in more conventional automobiles. Hamilton and his peers have to wield their cars like scalpels, whereas these are vehicles that beg to be hustled and danced around corners - something that translates beautifully through a controller.
The inclusion of vintage machinery is a welcome one, but also a necessary one. The yearly Formula One games are forced into lock-step with the sport and this season has been one of virtual stasis. For the first time since Codemasters assumed control of the license, there hasn't been a single new circuit added to the calendar and the cars are essentially identical. Had F1 2013 settled for just replicating the current season, it would have felt like a cynical update.
With Classics Mode in tow, though, F1 2013 is certainly novel enough to warrant further scrutiny. The situation is complicated slightly by the release of two separate versions - something that bears explanation again, just in case. There's a regular edition, which features 1980s machinery and two circuits of yore, and a 'Classic Edition' that costs £10 more and adds six cars from the 90s and a further two circuits. Those who plump for the regular version can always upgrade later via DLC.
Driving cars from either era is undoubtedly the highlight of this year's game. These are challenging vehicles to control but in a way that is entirely different from, and arguably more instinctively satisfying than, those in the 2013 stable. It's all about taming vast amounts of unrefined power, either with delicate use of your right toe or liberal application of opposite steering lock. The sheer violence of the earlier cars as they clatter over kerbs and shudder at the limit of adhesion is astonishing.
What's more, cars from each season handle dramatically differently, ranging from rattling around in the sheet metal bathtub in which Alan Jones won the 1980 world championship to hanging onto Nigel Mansell's guided missile from 1992 - a car that's reason enough alone to consider going for the full-fat Classic Edition. Particularly entertaining are the turbocharged Lotus and Ferrari entries from the 1988 season, which deliver the bulk of their horsepower in a single, exhilarating hoof to the spine at around 11,000rpm.
Aesthetically, the game matches your unreliable memories of that era perfectly too. Classic races are given an optional, Instagram-esque filter, so those hazy yellow, imagined summers of the 1980s - when it was absolutely fine to smoke half a packet of Gaulouises Blondes in between free practice two and three, thank you very much - are buttered lovingly across your futuristic flat-screen telly. The 90s gets its own cooler, blueish treatment to reflect the change in broadcast technology - and the slow death of romance in motor racing that Herr Schumacher heralded, obviously.
The problem is that, while driving the classic cars is an absolutely intoxicating experience, the vagaries of licensing mean there's simply not enough meat to the mode. Only three teams are represented (Ferrari, Lotus and Williams) resulting in smaller grids populated with cars from multiple seasons and no option to run any kind of championship. 1988's the only season where all three teams field equivalent cars and, even then, the absence of McLaren means the car that dominated that year's championship isn't in the mix. Even with the 90s DLC and multiplayer taken into consideration, Classics Mode feels like a novelty bonus offering rather than a true alternative to the game proper.
Exhaust the retro content, which you will, and you're left with a game that will feel awfully familiar to veterans of 2012. Almost every upgrade is incremental, with the biggest addition being the option to save in the middle of a race if you want to run the full distance without sacrificing an entire evening to it. The graphics are slightly improved - presumably the upshot of there being two fewer cars on the grid this season - with particular attention given to the immediate foreground. The result is a crisp, vibrant game to round off the generation.
In direct comparison with last year's package, it feels like a token selection of tweaks, but it's easy to forget what a complete racing game F1 2013 has become after four years of those tweaks. Features like localised weather, a full co-operative championship and the option to enlist AI cars to help fill out the grid in a half-full multiplayer game are still a relative rarity in racing games, yet they're here in the one that already benefits from an official license. Not to mention the fact that there are 21 separate circuits to serve as arenas for single- and multiplayer competition.
Classics Mode is a tentative but hugely promising first step towards a more varied Formula One game - one that isn't so actively harmed by the odd duff season in the sport. The evolutionary path of racing technology is already visible in the modest handful of cars included here and F1 has a rich history of iconic machinery to plumb. It's a declaration of intent I sincerely hope Codemasters Birmingham can deliver on in future games.
This is Formula One 2013, though. In isolation it's a great racing game, but in the context of the dreaded yearly churn to which Codemasters finds itself committed, the sensational but ultimately restrictive Classics Mode is the only meaningful addition. Dedicated series fans might feel somewhat aggrieved, then, that they're being asked to spend a further £10 just to augment that slim offering with 90s content, particularly as it's those hardcore fans who likely feel the tug of nostalgia the hardest. Still, it's testament to how thrilling and dramatic the included classic cars are that it's even a dilemma at all.
7 / 10