F1 2015 could be the greatest racing sim ever. It could be applauded for how it can be tinkered to suit anybody of any skill level and still remain challenging. It could even be celebrated as an authentic representation of the megabucks motorsport. It could be…If it wasn’t such a colossal, aggravating failure for so many other reasons.
This edition of Codemasters ongoing F1 series is the first for current generation consoles after taking a gap year. This should be where an annualized sports franchise gets a chance to evolve and add to the brand in a positive manner, or at least try. Instead, Codemasters has struggled to change or add much at all. In fact, the route taken is that of a few other first entries in long-running sports-based games on current gen (take a bow FIFA 14, NHL 15 and WWE 2K15) with the removal of large slices of the established formula.
The Pro Career mode -in which you pick one of the official roster of drivers from the 2014 or 2015 season- is the same as the regular one, bar having the difficulty settings on the highest level, meaning Codemasters is trying to convince us there’s more content. Instead it serves to remind you how shallow this edition is. The only other options are time trial and quick race; it’s as vanilla as you get for a racer. It’s an insult to fans when you’re taking out previous popular modes like the career mode that allowed you to put your own driver up against the superstars of the Grand Prix circuits and take your rightful place amongst them, and if you’re going to cleave content, you best be delivering revolutionary gameplay overhaul to justify it; something that is incredibly tough to do because there’s a very good set of racing sim mechanics already in place.
As I mentioned at the start. F1 2015 has impressively inclusive control and difficulty settings. Hardcore fans can go full-on with mechanical faults, full control of your speeding death missile and punishing penalties for marginal errors, but if that’s not for you then you can go all the way back to ridiculously simple controls and get fitted with stabilisers, pushed along by your Dad while you gleefully pretend to be a real race-car driver. He might even let you win and buy you an ice cream. The perfect day, though Dad will still occasionally knock the ice cream out of your hand and push you over in the interests of authenticity.
What I mean to say is that you can tweak a whole bunch of options to suit your exact driving specifications, but the game still adheres to a simulation style of play. It’s a commendable feature that ensures you can play the game no matter how great/average/rubbish you are. Again though, it’s a scaled back selection from previous incarnations that will annoy hardcore fans more than anything, as it continues the theme of "less for more" that echoes throughout. Furthermore, the cars don’t even feel connected to the track at times, veering between silly floaty gliding and realistic grip for no discernable reason.
Audio is not an issue as all the commentary, car noises and pit crew interaction is absolutely spot on, but even the visual side comes under scrutiny. The whole race experience is slicker than a stack of Bridgestones and presented like you see it on television. The drivers look a bit waxwork in menus and cutscenes, but otherwise the game looks pretty good. Car interiors are intricately designed and tracks are recreated so well that fans can instantly tell which one they’re on from a screenshot alone. Guess what though? Yep, F1 2015 looks good, but as visual upgrades go it’s barely changed from F1 201, which was, of course, a PS3 game. Admittedly the bar is set high in this case, but with so little content available it once again serves to remind you how raw a deal you’re getting. That is further punctuated by occasionally choppy frame-rates and pop-up taking you out of the immersion far too frequently.
It’s a fair assessment of F1 2015 to call it an underwhelming stop-gap. It’s difficult to find many reasons to recommend this over 2013 for fans, and the lack of variety sees it on the back of the grid when it comes to the tastes of all-round racing fans. A hefty price cut is needed to justify a purchase for either party and even then it will probably still leave you disappointed. There’s much work to be done for the next installment.