It's hard to believe that it's been just over seven years since Codemasters first obtained the license to produce official F1 games. Their first effort F1 2010 promised to be the rebirth of a franchise that so many of us have longed to see return since the days of Grand Prix Racing, F1 2002 and numerous other early titles.
F1 2010 was seen as a solid start that while not perfect, Codemasters had produced the foundations on which to build a successful F1 series. Fans initially where willing to overlook some of the early faults knowing that the F1 license was a long term project and that future titles would hopefully grow, expand and be built upon.
It's unfortunate however that since then Codemasters have struggled to build a complete game and gain credibility around the F1 franchise. Since 2010, Codemasters F1 game releases have been associated with day one bugs, inexplicable design choices, feature commissions and overall performance and physics issues which have resulted in people understandably becoming cynical and impatient with each new game.
This week saw the release of F1 2016, the first title developed specifically for 'next generation' hardware. It's been touted as their most complete offering to date so given it's troubled and chequered past, can Codemasters regain some of its lost credibility with F1 2016? Have Codemasters learned from their previous mistakes and finally delivered the F1 experience we've been asking for all this time?
One of the big criticisms levelled at Codemasters is its inexplicable decisions regarding game design. Too often features that appeared in one game are for unknown reasons dropped in the next, leaving out important elements of F1 races that added to the immersion. The result has been a mixture of games that keep falling short of the mark in feeling 'complete'.
It appears Codemasters have finally listened as F1 2016 sees the welcome return of features we've come to expect, as well as new ones that add to what is starting to look like a 'complete' experience.
The biggest relief has to be the return of career mode. Inexplicably dropped in F1 2015, 2016 sees drivers carve out a carer over 10 seasons. Players can now create a complete persona, modifying templates, choosing a number and even designing their helmet to be used in game. A stronger emphasis on team mate performance over previous titles is also present as you battle to outperform them each race weekend. If your rating against your team mate drops too low, you could potentially lose your race seat!
Free practice sessions finally have a use now as you develop your car through a season, unlocking performance by achieving targets set by your team. Track acclimatisation, qualifying and tire management are all part of the 'weekend testing program' and these become critical to unlocking performance to push your car further up the field. Rival teams don't stand still either and throughout the season you'll see upgrades appear on other teams too.
2016 also boasts a new damage model which is much less forgiving then it has been in previous games. Any significant contact that would have gone unpunished before will result in bits of your car coming off affecting your performance. For those who want the ultimate realism this is a welcome feature, but don't stress if that's not you as you can customise the damage level accordingly.
The virtual safety car makes it's first appearance in an F1 game as well, and just like the real deal requires you to keep above the 'delta' or risk a penalty in race. The actual safety car is also back adding again another strategic element to the game. Your also more likely to see the safety car now as the tweaked simulation damage model means cars involved in accidents are more likely to trigger them.
Formation laps also make an appearance for the first time as players now have full control over the preparation their car prior to the lights going out. The formation lap being critical to ensure your tires and brakes are up to temp as well as an op to do practice starts. It's inclusion while probably not essential really does mean Codemasters have been thinking about giving us the 'complete' experience.
One of my favourite new features is the manual clutch starts. Balance that throttle and release that clutch at the right time to maximise your start and get a jump on the competition is a great inclusion. Get it right and you'll gain places off the line. Get it wrong and you'll be swamped into turn one. Mark Webber could have learned a thing or two here.
The engineers role in previous games boarded on annoying without really adding any real information. In 2016 however they become vital as you lean on them to understand everything from gaps to other drivers, your team mate, current weather, damage, tire strategy and more. You can also like in previous games speak directly to your engineer which still is a novel feature. You can also tell him to 'leave you alone' Kimi style (it's actually an achievement).
Graphics have never really been a weak point of the series and given that this is the first generation of F1 game touted for current consoles and hardware it's not surprising the game still looks great. Racing under the skyline of Marina Bay Circuit or watching as the sun sets in Abu Dhabi still look amazing.
AI & Multiplayer
Achieving AI balance has always been a challenge since the appeal of F1 can be anyone from the casual amateur all the way up to sim racing enthusiasts. Striking a balance in appealing to all skill levels has always been a challenge and one area that will see close scrutiny.
Previously people have complained that the AI has been a bit timid, allowing you to bully your way through. Codemasters say the AI in 2016 is it's most aggressive yet and from my experience it's definitely is true. AI drivers will challenge corners and not be so easily pushed out of the way. They'll attack as well as perform 'undercuts' and other maneuvers often setting up passes several corners in advance.
They can be however sometimes a little too aggressive, occasionally causing contact with the player in situations where it shouldn't happen. A number of times I was hit on straights and in acceleration zones where they definitely should not be making contact. Overall however the AI is largely improved and probably stands the best it has for some time. Not perfect but certainly no worse then previous games.
Multi-player finally gets a full 22 car grid, a significant improvement over the 16 from previous games. For the first time online championships can be saved which should prove a useful feature for league racers and organised online championships. This also means indirectly that co-op championships can be run. Something that will surely be a welcome return for many.
Calling 2016 a sim would be a stretch but saying it was an arcade racer would also be inaccurate. Like in previous titles, I would put this in the 'sim-arcade' category, enough to give those skilled in sim racing a challenge, but not so unapproachable the casual racer can't enjoy. Cars generally handle as expected with an emphasis on torque meaning throttle control is critical. Throttle too fast out of an exist and you'll find yourself pointing in the wrong direction. 2016 feels definitely more difficult and challenging to drive which should suite the purists, but of course all the applicable aids are there for those need/want them.
Codemasters in recent years have taken a bit of a battering when it comes to the F1 201X games. Some of this justified, othertimes perhaps not, but there is no denying that while there have been some great features and wonderful moments, none of their previous titles have really captured the F1 experience as a whole. Thankfully it appears that Codemasters have finally delivered the F1 game we've been asking for. They've finally understood that it's not enough to just let us drive an F1 car, we want the full experience and F1 2016 delivers on that front in spades.
Codemasters might just have just redeemed themselves after several dissapointing releases, but the question is are they too late? We hope not because this is the F1 game we've been asking for all along.
- Indepth career mode
- Comprehensive race weekend
- Tweakable difficulty
- Sometimes overtly aggressive AI
- Sound is a little lack lustre