The sport of Formula One has seen a lot of changes this year. New venues, a controversial new double points system for the final race, a new dominant force in Mercedes, and most importantly, new more efficient engines. It’s these engines that have caused the biggest changes, seeing Red Bull usurped by Mercedes’ domination this season.
Releasing their games late in the season ensures that Codemasters can accurately recreate the changes and problems that unpredictably occur throughout the season and thus bring a more realistic approach to the latest game. However, F1 2014 suffers from being a transitional game in the series, a stopgap between last year’s game and the new generation’s introduction to the series next year. This also means that it falls into the “yearly update” category, rather than a proper successor.
The game starts you off the same way every Codemasters F1 game does: with its Evaluation Test. This comes in the guise of a “young driver test” and offers a series of minor challenges that act as a tutorial to the game, then it recommends a difficulty level for the main game based upon your performance. It’s a tried and tested formula (pun intended) that works well, but is mercifully optional for those already accustomed to F1 games, or racers in general.
Once you’re in the main menu, you can jump into any one of the modes on offer: Grand Prix, a simple “quick race” mode that can be customised to the player’s tastes, even offering a full race calendar; Career, which offers the player a chance to start at any team and experience the ins and outs of an F1 driver’s career; Season Challenge, which is essentially an arcade mode in which you pick a rival and attempt to beat them in order to replace them at their team; Proving Grounds, offering various scenarios in which you attempt to complete challenges and earn medals; and Multiplayer, which probably speaks for itself.
This is where the “yearly update” concerns come into play. Take away the 2014 from the logo, and the title screen, main menu and game modes could easily be mistaken for last year’s model. No real additions, not even minor changes.
When you do jump into a race, regardless of the game mode, the handling also feels no different from 2013. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, given that last year’s game had superb handling and was possibly the peak of the current generation’s abilities as far as Formula One is concerned. With plenty of customisation in terms of AI and driving aids, it also offers something for every level of player, be it the hardcore F1 fan or a newcomer. Everyone is catered for here.
The car moves much as you might expect if you’ve ever watched F1 on TV: very fast and with very sensitive steering. You cannot let your attention be drawn from the screen here, or it’s game over. Unless you have Flashbacks available, of course. Codemasters pioneered this technology back in the original Race Driver: Grid title, and it allows players to rewind time up to a certain point and resume their race from there. It’s a fantastic addition that suits the F1 games perfectly, as such speeds can produce spectacular crashes – and rather than having to restart the entire race or just accept the consequences of a DNF (Did Not Finish), the Flashback system removes some frustration and even allows players to learn from their mistakes.
This all sounds fairly positive, and it is to a point, but it also has its fair share of flaws. One of these is that there is almost nothing new for returning fans, beyond the changing of the team rosters and the engine sounds. Which is perhaps the biggest flaw in the game. It may seem trivial, but F1 cars are supposed to be the pinnacle of racing machines and, despite the change in real engine sounds in the sport, F1 2014’s cars sound like turbocharged Vespas. It isn’t pleasant on the ears and it becomes increasingly irritating as races go on, and when the minimum race distance in Career is 25% (usually at least 12-15 laps) it really does grate.
Career mode is also too easy on normal difficulty, though it has gone some way to improving the challenge this year. Starting in a Sauber in 2013, you could easily reach pole and go on to win almost any race. Doing the same in F1 2014 isn’t quite as easy, you may struggle to get beyond 10th in qualifying and around 4th-6th in the race proper. This at least feels like a step in the right direction, as does the team expectations, which no longer feel as unrealistic and unfair as in previous games.
Aside from the engine sounds however, the racing is still fantastic in F1 2014. The AI is better than ever and will challenge for positions, yield when you have track position and sometimes even dog you for an entire race, leading to the most tense scenarios. This goes for the online side, too, as you can fill any open slots with AI racers in order to combat the potentially empty race tracks of many online racers.
Playing via Steam, I enjoyed solid connections and little-to-no lag, resulting in fun racing against some fair opponents. Obviously the human opponents are a random element (unless playing with friends or as part of a racing clan) but there is something to be said for the PC community with regards to racing games: they’re mostly a good bunch.
On PC, F1 2014 offers full controller support for Xbox 360 pads as standard, and is extremely customisable in terms of the visual side of things. It’s very scalable too, meaning it will run fairly well on anything that meets the minimum specifications. It even goes so far as to offer a benchmark test in order to give you an idea of how it will run on your system, based on the graphics options and resolution you’ve selected. It’s pretty comprehensive and shows that it isn’t just a quick port of the console versions.
It’s just a shame that the game as a whole isn’t quite as comprehensive. With F1 2014’s unveiling coming at the same time as Codemasters’ announcement of a PS4/Xbox One game for 2015, it makes this year’s package feel all the more of a wasted opportunity to give the old generation a proper send-off.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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