Formula 1 has this year seen the biggest rule changes to the sport in a very long time. Gone are the screaming V8s and in come the much more complex and much less deafening V6 hybrid turbo engines, or “power units” as they are officially called. But, has the latest official F1 game, F1 2014, from Codemasters seem similar changes or is it nothing more than an incremental update?
Well, change can be seen when you first boot up the game, in the form of the Driver Evaluation Test. This replaces the Young Driver Test that appeared in the last couple of games and is basically a one lap race around Monza. After you complete the test, you are given a recommended difficulty setting, though you can change this if you wish. Things you can change include various assists such as the racing line, ABS, traction control and AI difficulty. There is a new Very Easy AI setting too which is aimed at newcomers to the series. Another example of this increased attempt to target low skilled drivers is allowing unlimited Flashbacks, so no matter how much you mess up, you can always rewind and give it another go without restarting the race.
The biggest change that F1 2014 makes to the series is of course the new cars. These cars aren’t as sharp or agile as the old ones but have more grunt and are more likely to end up sideways in a corner. This actually makes them more to fun drive as controlling them can be a handful if you decide to have no assists on. If you don’t want to use a DualShock 3 and don’t have a steering wheel then I have good news: F1 2014 on PlayStation 3 supports the PS4’s DualShock 4 controller. However, there is a caveat, the L2 and R2 buttons for brake and accelerate are seen as digital buttons so you get either full brake and acceleration, or nothing. Traction Control and ABS are recommended if you want to use the DualShock 4.
When it comes to the cars, each team has a difficulty rating which is represented by four dots which are highlighted. These actually refer to their performance. The fastest cars are just one dot whereas the backmarker teams get all four dots lit up. The Mercedes should probably be zero dots given how this season has gone so far to be honest.
The AI when racing is functional, not spectacular. The AI cars will move out of the way if they are to be lapped, and you will sometimes see them make mistakes, but it appears to be random. You don’t feel like you can pressure the car in front of you to make a mistake, they mostly stick to the racing line and do very little defending, which is unfortunate.
The game modes that are available in F1 2014 are pretty much the same ones that have appeared previously, though some have new variations to make them more accessible. Career Mode, once the meat of the F1 game experience, now allows both 7 and 12 race seasons. When testing this, it appears the races are fixed and are not randomised, which is a shame. That could have been a nice feature to have shorter, more random seasons where you don’t know what races there are.
You can now also start at any team and not just one of the lesser teams, even on the hardest difficulty. It’s nice to have the option. Apart from that, it’s unchanged from how the Career mode was structured previously. There’s a hub, for example, where you receive templated emails and info about the next race and you can also check the calendar and see what’s coming up during the season, like R&D tests, for example.
The fact that one of the new things in F1 is a revised numbering system, where each driver picks their number as opposed to having them assigned by where the team finished in the previous year’s Constructor’s Championship, isn’t in the actual game is a little disappointing. Instead, you will have the number of the driver you replace. Even then, this can glitch out and it looks bad; like when I replaced Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari but I somehow ended up with car number #14, that of his teammate Fernando Alonso, despite the fact I should have been driving car #7. It’s not a game-breaking issue but it’s these things that make the game feel rushed.
Scenario mode is back too, with some new challenges that emulate some of the earlier races in the 2014 F1 season, and some of the other scenarios I’m almost certain appeared in last year’s game. You earn medals as you complete challenges and there are leaderboards to see how well you have done compared to everyone else in the world.
There’s also Time Attack mode, where you have to beat a specific time on a track, of which there is a small selection. There’s also Time Trial, despite the similar name, which sees you racing alone on the track attempting to improve your own lap times and testing out any car. There’s also a single race Grand Prix mode and several online modes, playable in split-screen, LAN and online. These are the same as before, where you can do a single race, or a co-op championship with a friend. When trying it out, I was only pitted against players from Japan since the game has only been released there at time of writing, so it can not be used as a barometer for how the online aspect of the game really performs.
Last year, Codemasters introduced a Classic mode where you could race old F1 cars around the current tracks as well as some older ones. Despite being a nice idea, it was a little undercooked and could have been great with more cars and tracks. So what has Codemasters done for 2014? Well, it has removed the mode completely. Presumably, this is because the focus was on the new 2014 cars so it felt that it couldn’t do Classic mode justice. Still, it’s disappointing that a new, potentially exciting feature was dropped after one game because being able to drive the new cars around Brands Hatch and Jerez would have been cool.
Presentation wise, F1 2014 keeps the same menus and UI that the previous game did. In terms of performance, the game remains mostly steady but there is some slowdown when things do ger hectic with a lot of cars bunched together.
Graphically, F1 2014 isn’t great. There are low resolution textures on the cars, as well as jagged edges throughout the game. The tracks are also surrounded by low resolution textures that look extremely jarring, as well as having jagged corners that aren’t completely round. I feel that the series has gone backwards in terms of graphical fidelity.
There are also incorrect liveries in regards to the McLaren and Williams cars. The McLaren has the car’s name, MP4-29, on it which it only had during testing and the Williams understandably doesn’t have the sponsor Martini logo on it, but doesn’t even have the correct colour of stripe as it is a dark blue instead of the iconic red with light blue at both sides. They don’t look that awful but they don’t look authentic.
F1 2014 is ultimately a by-the-numbers annual sports game. There is something here to enjoy if you haven’t played one of these games before since this one is the most accessible yet, but if you have, then unless you desperately want to drive the new cars there isn’t much else for you. The game feels more like a contractual obligation more than anything, which would explain the lack of a PS4 version. Hopefully, this means that Codemasters is getting ready to truly take the series forward as it has been stagnant for a little while now.