F1 2015 PC Review
Codemasters has kept up with the yearly adaptations of F1 since their début with F1 2009 on the Wii, slowly falling into the issues that comes with annual sports releases. Last year’s F1 2014 was the definition of this, as it felt it was time for Codemasters to give up on releasing a title every year – the game featured less content and next to no improvements or fresh features. The removal of classic cars, a mode I was happy to see in F1 2013, was gone, and so we were left with a filler game while Codemasters continued to work on the series’ first current generation début. The 2015 season is already under way, with Lewis Hamilton managing to keep on top, but can Codemasters’ first current generation entry solve issues with the franchise or is it suffering from first-current-generation-entry syndrome that plagues yearly franchises when they make their introductory splash on new hardware.
You have probably guessed it from that closing statement that, yes, F1 2015 is missing content. In fact, it is missing a hell of a lot of modes that should really be in the game, yet on the positive side the actual racing is quality, it’s just that there isn’t much surrounding it, making my opinion on this game mixed. On one end of the scale the racing looks and feels good, but I want to be able to do more than just race in a season for 2015, or 2014 (same thing but with a track swap between Mexico and Germany) as one of the professionals in the sport. F1 2013 was driving in the correct direction, but now I can’t help but feel that this is sending the franchise back to square one, and fans are going to have to go through the generation again waiting for absent modes to return with each new release. The thought of this just makes me feel a bit depressed.
The best place to start would be what’s new with this release. It might be a short section, but credit is still due for Codemasters in bringing what I feel is probably the best racing engine the series has had since it moved into the hands of the Birmingham located developer. This is evident from the next version of the EGO (4.0) engine, which allows for improved physics and handling, especially noticeable with tyre wear when participating in a race that is 25% or longer based on the official lap count for that Grand Prix. The physics bring feeling of wear to the forefront of a race, where you notice your lap times increasing and corners require breaking earlier as the tyres lose grip, with corners that once could be taken masterfully, now ask the player to adjust timings or face going wide and into the dreaded sandpit/grass area. It might not be the same experience as with a wheel, but this time, a pad brings across that feeling of brakes and tyres losing their ability to work effectively.
Tyre grip plays an important role, which impact is lost when turning on all the assists (braking, traction – the usual stuff), but reduce some of these, even if set to low assists, and the feedback from the wheels is distinct, even more so when racing in the new weather effects that add some gorgeous rain visuals and dampness to the once smooth tarmac. Racing in the wet can cause painful experiences – it’s not nice going off at a corner or spinning out because the car was over-revved. These turbo equipped racing beasts require delicacy on the pedal when driving through wet weather until you are safely in the pits for a quick tyre swap to the wets for better control.
Racing is not the only area where authenticity has been given a lift. TV pundits give their quick verdicts before and after each session of the weekend, and TV style camera shots pan around the garages and pit lanes, and can even be used to look at how other cars are performing on their laps. The feeling of being in an F1 Grand Prix comes alive with the audio. The sound of the engines and the gush of wind passing the helmet on high speed straights sounds spectacular, while snippets from the race engineer coming through your ear feeding information about the health of the car, such as tyre life and fuel usage, what the weather is like and positions of other races and their times, adds to that race weekend presentation. You can also request information or pit stops through radio controls and adjust down force on the fly.
AI racers feel more active on the track, making smarter manoeuvres to overtake or defend corners. It even helps add to the drama, as one race had exciting encounters on the last couple of laps. Two drivers in front were going toe to toe for the position, with aggressive behaviour leading to an collision, causing debris to spray the road and a car off the track, while the other manages to keep it together, giving me the opportunity to blast past him into a second place, only losing to a bastard Mercedes AMG car. There is no safety car this time, so flag warnings flash on screen to inform you there is a yellow flag situation, then turning green when overtaking is allowed. It’s very unnatural in a game that has built up its gameplay to be more close to the sport it represents. If you are unlucky to be involved in a crash, then Codemasters’ once innovative rewind feature is here, without limits, allowing you to go back and correct the wrongs or move out of the way.
In fact, that is a representation of the sport that can be annoying. I went with driving as Jenson Button in the McLaren Honda, which let’s face it, are having a horrible season right now, and all you ever see is mostly a one-two finish between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, and unless one of them has a failure, then this is the result you will often see. It’s true that this is currently where the sport is at, and it wouldn’t exactly be true to reflect a poor performing team winning, but with only 2015 and 2014 seasons in the game, it becomes a tired formula of seeing the same winners, and unless you are an amazing driver, it’s challenging to get to the front in one of the weaker cars on the harder settings.
Moving outside of the gameplay is where things take a huge tumble. There is the already mentioned 2015/2014 championship season available, there is another mode dubbed Pro Season, which is the same season, but this section is only playable with the most realistic settings and race length, but also missing the heads up display and locks the player into the helmet view. This means you have to do a full weekend that features practice, qualifying and then finally a huge race with 50 plus laps. I find this incredibly weird, because you can set this up the same way in the original championship mode (without the locked camera), so this feels like it was shoehorned in on the menu to advertise that F1 2015 has an extra game mode. They obviously knew this game was sorely lacking in features – those two mentioned, Quick Race, Multiplayer (online only – fairly standard stuff between different assistance set-ups) and Time Trial with online leaderboards is all F1 2015 offers this season. No Classic Mode, no old tracks, no legends challenge or even basic challenges, and no real career mode where you can make a racer and work your way up through the lower teams until you hit that contract with the championship manufacturer a few years later. There is no sense of growth with this game. It’s one year to chip at those dominating Mercedes repeated each time.
Racing games have recently pushed the graphics prowess, with Project Cars standing as a prime example with what you can do with today’s technology. F1 2015 is a great looking game, but it doesn’t quite match up to Project Cars. It stands out more when the rain is thrashing down with water spraying off the wheels and onto the camera, and the heat wave effect on the exhausts is a nice touch, but even on maximum settings the game has pop up in the distance. There is a soft touch to all the graphics in F1 2015 that stop it from having that sharp beauty that appears when running at 2560×1440, but hardware wise, it seems to run on new cards well without a hitch, but as of yet does not support SLI. I have seen reports of crashes, but I have yet to have one myself, but I did not play longer stints than two-three hours at a time, so the concern for crashes could still be around on long play sessions. One thing I did notice is that online can occasionally hiccup with connection errors and won’t play nice until a few minutes later.
When it comes to the season performance for F1 2015 it’s easy to say that the core gameplay is moving on the right path. It handles the best it has ever been, with wonderful upgrades to portraying the sensation between hand and wheel. Sadly, while that is a nice improvement, it feels a huge step back when it comes to on track features (safety cars) and game modes surrounding the racing. It is like a first attempt all over again, lacking what I feel are key features, such as the multi season careers. If you just want to speed around tracks for a season, then fans will find entertainment here, but really, when it comes down to it, it’s probably best to wait for next year’s release where, hopefully, missing content is back to bring this great racing engine up to par with the quality of game modes that were once a feature of this franchise.