I remember back in the PS1 days, playing Colin McRae Rally and TOCA Touring Cars and saying to my brother “Ah, can you imagine if Codemasters got the F1 licence? How good would that be?” Fast forward to 2010 and they did, and the game was great – winning a BAFTA award no less. Sadly, like many other sports franchises, they fell into the trap of the yearly cycle of all too similar games. Indeed, F1 2014 was the 2013 game down to menus and everything, with just a reskin on the cars and a new track. Now Personally I loved it, because I hadn’t bought one since 2011. 2015 launched and was lauded as The Next Big Thing, which in terms of graphics and physics it definitely was. The jump from 360 to One gave the title much more than a face lift, with the feel of the hybrid open wheelers being just right. Unfortunately, not all was well outside of the gameplay though – the career mode was gone, forcing you to play as one of the real world drivers during the standard season mode. Co-operative career, the real pull for my brother and I, was completely absent; no longer could I see him pulling out of the pits in front of me, listening to him discussing his tyre strategy over the headset as we headed to our first one-two finish.
Now here we are. This is Codemasters seventh title in the series, and once again it promises to be the all singing all dancing bells and whistles definitive Formula 1 experience. But is it?
From the outset, things look very similar to last year with a familiar menu and user interface. You have several options from here, including racing in a standard championship over a full F1 season, starring as your favourite driver or competing in your preferred manufacturers car. You also have the option of competing in Time Trial, a leaderboard based competition which sees you against the clock trying to get the fastest lap you can around any of the games fully licensed tracks, all recreated from their real world counterparts in detail. It may sound boring, but as Codemasters have shown repeatedly with their rally titles, you versus a timer can be an edge-of-the-seat, terrifying yet rewarding experience.
Of course, the bulk of the single player action belies in the titles revamped career mode. Unlike F1 2015 and it’s stripped down season mode, career allows you to create your own character, take up a contract to drive for a team and race up to ten full seasons as you vie for the championship crown. And good news for those who which to keep their nose a little further from the grindstone is the fact that you don’t have to choose a bottom tier team, such as Manor or Sauber. You can jump straight into a Mercedes or Ferrari and the like, but the expectations of the team will be demanding – expect to be winning the championship in your second season, or be out on your ear! The Manor may be the runt of the litter, but scraping a point or two from a race, and qualifying 15th or above are easier goals to reach. As you progress through your career, you’ll be kept up to date on all of your goals, as well as your nearest rival, by your engineer. So, unlike some games of the past, there are no fake email systems or Twitter feeds; it’s far more down to earth and personal. This feeling continues elsewhere, with the inclusion of driving formation laps and bringing back the safety car, as well as implementing the virtual one for the first time.
Throughout your career, you have the option of upgrading your car gradually as the seasons wear on. Just like in real life, every car you drive is a prototype for what you’re bringing to the next race, with tweaks and new parts providing hundredths of seconds of performance advantage. You have a sort of experience point system in play here, and it’s quite clever how it works. During practice sessions, which you may otherwise be tempted to skip, your engineer will give you goals to reach. These play out as mini-games of a sort, but wait, don’t baulk yet! You may have, for example, a series of virtual checkpoints placed around the track, which you have to pass through within a certain time window. Succeed here, and you’ll gain your tokens for upgrade. It not only keeps you invested in driving pre-race, it also of course allows you to practice the track in advance of qualifying, lessening the aforementioned temptation to skip. For new players in particular, this will also help to dampen the frustration of just how difficult driving an F1 car on the edge can be!
With regards to the technical aspects of the title, everything fares really well. The games graphics are good, sometimes great even, especially to say there’s a certain level of detail lacking in some areas of the tracks in order to keep 22 cars moving at a smooth frame rate. It’s still the best looking F1 game to date, just don’t expect a Forza 6 level of graphical polish. All of the cars themselves look fantastic, with bodywork and sponsors recreated in fanatical detail. They even managed to get most of the steering wheels right this year, which is a turn for the better. The sound is superb, with the meaty baritone engines firing quite literally on all cylinders as the pack bunches up around you into turn one. In surround sound, or with a decent pair of headphones, it just comes alive really well; it’s almost like grandstand seating. The music which plays during the menus and replays is Codemasters usual choice of middling, underwhelming beats, but that’s just fluff anyway. Most importantly, the gameplay itself is the finest to date. Everything in the car feels great, and from the squeeze of the throttle to the squeal of the tires as you take Casino Square just a little too quickly, you always feel like you’re driving it, rather than the other way around. Add into the mix some superb tyre degradation physics and the developer’s usual expertise when handling dynamic weather and how the track becomes a mixture of puddles and dry lines, and you’ve got the finest F1 physics system in console gaming.
Of course, there are a plethora of options to suit not only players of every ability level, but also players of different character. There are the expected assists such as traction control, ABS, automatic gears etc which can be employed by those wanting to ease into the experience (although it has to be said you are in fact losing the inimitable experience of driving an F1 car by using them). There are also options for changing the race distance, and which sessions you participate in – a hardcore fan can race throughout all of practice, three qualifying sessions and the race on Sunday at full distance and full time, in real time. Other players can choose anything from arcade style three lap sprints to various percentages of race distances, although I recommend a distance at least 50% to get an idea of how the tyre and fuel management come into play. The best thing here is, you can change these options after every race – If you’ve got a full day free and want to throw yourself into the simulation and the atmosphere, you can switch to doing a full distance race for one track, then to whatever else the next if you don’t have as much free time.
Last but not least, I’ll focus on multiplayer. Of course, custom races and quick race modes are available, and some modes balance all of the cars performance for a short but satisfying multiplayer stint. The best feature here though is the return of the online championship. Not just co-op, you and up to 21 friends can now participate in a full championship season, in any available car, with all of the rules and settings you can choose from in single player. Even if there’s just two of you, you don’t have to be team meats like in previous F1 games. You can both be at opposite ends of the spectrum if you so like. All of the progress is saved between sessions, and AI drivers can fill slots if someone can’t make it one day. It’s really good, especially organising for a full human field, but it does lack the unique rivalry and co-op satisfaction that existed last in F1 2014.
With plenty of content to keep you playing whether on your own or with others over Xbox Live, as well as the excellent career mode and online championship to get your teeth into, and the best handling and physics of the series, Codemasters has hit the nail on the head with F1 2016. Everything which was lacking last year is back in abundance, and the level of control – regardless of whether you’re using a wheel or a pad to play – is perfect. It’s difficult to know how Codemasters could make a deeper, more robust and rewarding F1 game in the future, but we don’t have to worry about that now. F1 2016 is near perfect.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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