The Formula One video games license has been all over the show for decades now, but once Codemasters got hold of the license all F1 fanatics rejoiced. Soon we would have a F1 game that would put all previous F1 games to shame. It’s not quite been the case. Until now.
This is where F1 2016 leaves F1 2015 in the dust – permanently
Forget about the disappointing F1 2015. F1 2016 is here to correct all the wrongs, or just about. All the teams and tracks have been updated with the 2016 roster and you’ll find that Max Verstappen is a royal pain in the backside and that McLaren does not find itself it last place anymore. It’s also obvious that Mercedes is in control, as they’ve been for the last few years, and just about everything is presented beautifully. If you’re a F1 fan who does not miss a practice, qualification and race then this game is for you. So what’s the big deal? What’s new?
[pullquote_right]Once you enter the F1 lounge you feel like you belong to a team[/pullquote_right]It’s hard to load up F1 2016 and not stare with a rightful grin at the Career mode starring back at you. It’s here that you’ll find most of the new bits and upgraded parts (you can take that literally or figuratively). You’ll enter your name and surname, choose your helmet, car number, look-alike and then the team you prefer to sign up with. The teams are divided into three tiers. Select Renault, Sauber or Manor and it’ll be much easier to match the team expectations. They’ll deal with lower positions in qualifying and in the race that allows you to get away with some mistakes. Go higher up the chain to Force India, Toro Rosso, McLaren or Haas and it’ll be tougher, but still possible. Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams and Red Bull have high expectations and demand you perform, or else.
Get your career into first gear
Once you enter the F1 lounge you feel like you belong to a team. It’s here, in front of your laptop, that you’ll manage your career when you’re not out on the track. You’ll get to follow see how impressed your team is with you and if you’re beating your rival via some easy-to-understand graphs. Your engineer and PR relations person will often chit-chat with you, or tell you to check your phone for important voice messages. By competing in weekend events (that’s the Practice, Qualifying and Race) you’ll earn points. These points in turn allows you to buy parts for your car in your effort of upgrade it throughout the season, as the teams do in the real world. You can upgrade the Engine Power, Fuel Efficiency, Chassis Weight, Downforce and Drag. To the right of these upgrades you’ll get to see how your car compares to the rest of the teams on the grid, which really gives a genuine feeling of progression. We all however know that all these finer details only relate to your on-track results.
In the Practice sessions you’ll be introduced to the Practice Programme. Think of it as little tests set by the team to push your car (and skills) as far as possible in their efforts to help you get as much telemetry out the car as possible. The Track Acclimatisation assists you in learning the track layout, racing line and braking points. Every time you pass a checkpoint it’ll either turn red, green or purple, with purple being the perfect checkpoint. Tyre Management teaches you how to deal with tyre degradation. It taught me very quickly that I’m somewhat of a Lewis Hamilton or Max Verstappen as my tyres never lasted and I failed just about every test. You’ll also be asked to perfect the qualifying pace and other team objectives, such as nailing fast sectors or testing your DRS. So why do all this? It’s here where you’ll gain all the extra points to buy the upgrade parts you’re after. Once you have those upgrades fitted you’ll feel that improvement right away.
Something I’ve slated over the years, post the Psygnosis F1 days on the PS1, was the fact that the F1 cars all felt so stiff. For a vehicle that’s supposed to be so agile and the pinnacle of motorsport it really never excited me as much as it should have. In F1 2016 they’ve tweaked the handling so much so that I had to return to F1 2015 just to check if I was not dreaming. The cars in F1 2016 is a dream to drive. The twitchy feel of F1 2015 is nowhere to be found. Every apex and fight with another rival will remind you that you really are in control. The controls are exceptionally smooth and all the other bits, such as tapping the LB button and using Kinect to speak to your pit crew or managing your own pit manually, has never made me feel as connected to the world of F1 as this experience has. It’s easily the most engrossed I’ve ever been in a F1 game in my life… and this is only where the goodness starts.
The perfect setup for the perfect drive
If you’ve seen it on TV then expect it to be in the game. Unfortunately you won’t hear David Coulthard and Ben Edwards introducing you to each race or session, as that’s replaced by Anthony Davidson and David Croft. In your garage you’ll deal with other issues such as your tyre selection as it could very well affect the outcome of the race. The tyre wear percentage is something you actually keep and eye on. There are preset car settings for tracks that require more downforce or maximum speed, and if you’re not satisfied with that you can play with the various settings. Adjust your Aerodynamics, transmission, suspension geometry, suspension, brakes, tyres (the tyre pressure in this case), weight distribution and fuel load, and once you’ve done all that, and got the perfect setting for a particular track, you can save your preferred setup to use in any other race, including the multiplayer.
[pullquote_left]Your team might change its strategy mid-race, that’ll have you frantically responding while trying to keep a cool head and avoiding a rival passing you as your tyres have hit the cliff[/pullquote_left]On the track you’ll find that your competitors are perfectly matched to your specific skill level. I played it on Hard, but if you need more of a challenge you can increase it to Expert, Legend or Ultimate. Ultimate is of course only for the die-hard F1 simulation fans. There’s also a mode purely just for those who love punishment – Pro Career. It plays out exactly the same as the normal career mode, but you race against ultimate driver AI, have no assists and the weekend is the full weekend as you would experience in the real world. If a race takes two hours in real life then expect to be out on the road for two hours on race day. There’s also Championship Season mode where you can race as any one of your favourite 2016 drivers and mimic their success throughout a season, or race as Fernando Alonso and create a fairy tale by being on the podium when you really should not (*raises hand*). There is a lot of good in F1 2016, but there are one or two improvements that can be made for next year’s outing.
The wet weather racing is much improved from last year, but after the benchmark set in Forza Motorsport 6 there is much for Codemasters to catch up with. The car, when on wets or intermediates, does struggle and slip and slide all over the show, but if it’s raining cats and dogs there should be some Aquaplaning moments that’s absent. Graphically the game looks the part and the cars look amazing, but once your driver gets out the car and stands on the podium you’ll cringe a little. The animation and detail is completely lost. I also found that it took a while for the resolution to catch up and in turn showing off some blurry team logos and the like. I’m also really not a fan of Anthony Davidson and David Croft. Lastly, and this could, thanks to recent races, be purposely included, but when you lap a driver they don’t always adhere to the blue flags. I went all ‘Kimi’ on my team when that happened one time to many.
Head to multiplayer and you’ll race up to 21 other drivers and you’ll have to deal with accidents that could cause the safety car or virtual safety car to be deployed. Your team might change its strategy mid-race, that’ll have you frantically responding while trying to keep a cool head and avoiding a rival passing you as your tyres have hit the cliff. It’s just so F1… and that’s what makes it such a great game. The real world of F1 might have had one or two dull races this year, but be assured that each and every race in F1 2016 is quite simply spectacular.