The Formula One series has had a patchy history in terms of quality ever since Codemasters took over the development reins back in 2010. After all, the British-based code house isn’t exactly renowned for crafting true simulation gaming experiences, having cut its teeth in the arcade rally sector for over a decade now.
When Codemasters took the reins in 2010 it was met with lukewarm applause – after all since when did Codemasters ever create a true simulation game? With F1 2013 known to be the last decent Formula 1 game from Codemasters’ arsenal, it seemed that Codemasters pitted the licence and passed it onto another studio. Many thought so, especially after F1 2015.
But another year passes and another season returns. F1 2016 races onto the pit straight with several new features. In fact, there are so many big changes to the handling model and extra features that you can forgive Codemasters for using, seemingly, F1 2015 as a test bed for its new game engine.
Hitting the road in an F1 car is a far cry from handling a car -the sheer torque and horsepower to weight ratio of an F1 car makes it the fastest accelerating sports car on the planet – but trying to control that power is quite something else. With F1’s new handling model, it’s best to take your first foray onto the track in Time Trial mode.
Here you can choose your track, team, and the session settings, whether you want to go top speed and beat your (and other players) fastest lap on a dry track, or turn on the water works and practice those laps on the black sea. If you want to go even further you can change the time of day too which allows for you to race at any time of day, from dusk till dawn, or perhaps you want to use the official times instead.
Once you feel you get a handle for the car then you can drive a Quick Race. Much like the Time Trial, you can also set the type of weather, but also go that one step further and have dynamic weather and set it to what point in the race you want it to change to; accelerating the time of day makes for an interesting dynamic weather race.
If you want to go straight to a race you can with a minimum of 3 laps, or you can go full weekend mode with a full length race, practice sessions, qualifying sessions (even one-shot qualifying). But one option, which is a nice touch, is being able to create your own custom championship by adding races to a list, and you can place them in any order.
The real highlight of the F1 2016 is the Career mode (Championship Mode is the same but only a single season). If there was one portion of the F1 series that has been sorely lacking, it was this mode which definitely required a massive overhaul. Not only has Codemasters thrown the old form book out the window, but its taken the TV footage of a whole race weekend and extracted the best bits out of it, given it a coat of paint, then televised each race like you were watching real TV, only now you’re the star.
Assuming you’re a mega-racing fan and a bit of a sadist, then choose the Pro Career mode instead and get your arse handed to you. Unless you’re someone that can live with the speed and consistency of the AI, you are going to come very low in the order. Every assist is also disabled, damage is set to realistic, and you have no flashbacks. If you make a mistake, then it’s race over.
F1 2016 review continued overleaf…
A new feature added to F1 2016 is being able to improve your car throughout the season. Each race you’re given targets during practice sessions, qualifying, and the race. These targets can be anything from staying on the racing line, completing fast laps while staying under a fuel ratio, looking after your tyres, beating a rival, race performance, and many more. Depending on how well you do you’re given points.
These points can be used to upgrade your car on various different systems (up to a maximum of five additions). Each upgrade can only be applied at the following race so you need to plan ahead. While it is a simple system, it would have been nice if there was more of a research tree than a set of six items that can only be upgraded in a specific order.
A major change for the series has come with forcing the user to think ahead on their race setup. Much like real-life, when you start qualifying, your car is considered to be in Parc Ferme. Thankfully this can be turned off in the settings, but for those that want to be true to the F1 experience then this is a nice addition.
When it comes to tuning your car, there isn’t the wealth of options that can fine tune your car’s handling compared to some of the other racing games available (or in the past). For the options available you can certainly feel the change in handling for every minor change, but trying to hit that sweet spot is a little difficult. Often you will have to compromise with your setup just so that you can keep up with the AI.
F1 2016 isn’t a true simulation game but Codemasters has certainly pushed it in that direction heavily. Once on the track everything you do feels like you’re tied to the road and not floating like an arcade racer. The suspension moves as you ride the bumps and curbs, your wheel’s lock as you try to steer while braking, puddles form on the road as it rains, your car starts sliding when even a few drops of water starts touching the track, dry lines appear on the track. It’s all there and it’s highly immersive – having the AI being positional-aware of your vehicle makes for some superb close wheel racing.
The wet track is something of a marvel. While it isn’t the prettiest looking wet weather I’ve ever seen, it’s enough to foray the track by finding the traction on each corner of the track. It’s not a matter of choosing the racing lines in the wet, some corners have more traction and are faster on the outside, and Codemasters has added this option with immaculate precision.
When there are incidents in the races, you will get times where there are yellow flags. But when there are larger accidents, then you will be pleased to know that you get to line up behind the safety car – a much wanted feature makes its appearance! Even the AI treats the safety car (and virtual safety car) appropriately. When the safety car has to pit, then halfway around the track the AI slows up massively before streaking off to catch you off guard.
The AI is a huge improvement over previous games too, and compared to other racing games it seems to have almost got it just right, but there are some issues. When racing the AI is aware of your position at all times. If you try for an undertake then it will give you room on the inside. If you attempt an outside pass then, assuming you’re alongside enough, you will also be left some room. But what I found surprising is that if I try to close the door on the inside and the exit of a corner, the AI actually back off! It’s not something that should be commended, but when racing games can’t get this right then it’s majorly frustrating. More often than not I have retired from races due to poor AI in other racing games, but not in F1 2016.
Muchly advertised was F1 2016’s multiplayer portion of the game, the “22 player championship”. While this could not be tested to its maximum (only amongst 5 others), the entire championship can be either watered down, or taken to its fullest, like a full blown race weekend. The options available to you are also that of single player mode, including allowing for AI drivers to fill up the remaining slots. Anyone can join the championship, but, unfortunately, the championship can’t be saved. It’s a shame because having an ongoing championship between friends would be a fantastic addition. You can get around this by setting it for a single race and keeping track of your own points on a website, but that isn’t as much fun.
Multiplayer has other race modes including custom races and matchmaking – the latter of which is split into three options – Rookie, Sprint, and Endurance. These are all essentially quick modes and don’t seem to have any indication that there’s a real matchmaking system available to you. Endurance and Sprint is more of an Evil Knievel mode as everyone seems to like ramming you off the track when trying to pass – just like every racing game. If you want to have real races, then make sure to invite your friends only to a Championship Season.
The graphics on the other hand seems to be quite a mixture. The cars look stunning, the animations of when your pit crew change your tyres or put on the tyre blankets looks great, and when you’re handed the PDA to change your car settings, you get a real sense of being in a working environment.
The tracks are wonderfully detailed and easily the most atmospheric filled tracks I have seen in any racing game. During a race the tracks come alive with the spectators in the grandstands, flags waving, and the general atmosphere when hurtling around the track is always right up there. The cheers of the crowd, the pit boards being shown to you while other team’s boards are being shown or removed, the pit team – be they for the pit stops or on the comms – the entire paddock is moving throughout the race. All these small touches really makes you feel you are there.
F1 2016 is not without its issues, however. When the camera allows for free movement, there is a lot of screen tearing and frame drops can be highly distracting. It is particularly noticeable in the garage and the factory/motorhome screens. During wet races, and particularly at the start of the race, the number of particles flying off the competitor’s wheels and into your face makes it incredibly taxing for the PS4. This is only when the screen becomes very busy and, at most times, doesn’t cause problems, but it can occasionally be an issue, especially at the start of races.
During some of the sequences, all of the characters seem to have this eerie look on their faces. Maybe it’s the blank and glary eyed look on their faces, their oddly shaped heads, or maybe the mouth animation that seems to be underdone compared to the rest of the game’s key frames.
The AI is sharp on the hardest difficulty levels and they certainly do race properly while you’re in the thick of the action, but when you’re on the other side of the track, the AI seems to bunch up in a train, seemingly like they are on rails, and just follow one after another in a line. I know Formula 1 can be processional, but this is more processional than Jarno Trulli in his Toyota. At times the AI brakes for corners early too, which in many places is very off and has caused many an accident.
The textures in places also seem a little washed out or very low detail compared to the car and motorhome. Those areas are shiny and highly detailed, but then you look at the characters, the pit garage items, and even some banners around the track, it all is just a bit too murky. This could be due to keep the important parts of the game as high a detail as possible while keeping as steady a framerate as possible.
Driving the cars gives only minor feedback when using a wheel. While you can feel the car sliding from underneath you and the loss of traction from the tarmac, it’s only a very faint feel of rumble on the wheel that gives any sense that something is happening. Trying to catch early traction loss is not easy but it is possible. A stronger rumble or even a greater “return-to-centre” feedback would benefit here.
All-in-all, F1 2016 hits the key points of Formula 1 and it has left out what really isn’t needed. Codemasters has finally hit that feeling of being in the pinnacle of motorsport and has trumped not only their best Formula 1 game to date, but also Sony’s games from yesteryear. While there are some issues to rectify for F1 2017, we can finally say Codemasters has finally made the Formula 1 game F1 fans have been clamouring for – realistic, thrilling, and adrenaline pumping.