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F1 2016 / 9th of September 2016

Formula one, eh? The absolute peak of motor racing, and arguably the only major sport currently in practice that continually lowers the bar, emphasising an ever increasing array of new regulations intended to enhance both safety and competitiveness, yet as it turns out, all the FIA have managed to do is sound the death knell of the sport by turning it into one of the most boring spectacles on Earth. Last year’s video game version from Codemasters was supposed to have been along these lines, personally I didn’t play it, but a complete lack of career mode and terrible AI saw it take a hit, and sent the developer back to the drawing board as they sought to create an accurate, virtual representation of the sport that might actually surpass the real thing.

Twelve months later, and F1 2016 is still something of a mixed bag, but evidently the core features previously missing are now present and accounted for, but sadly, I still find the package as a whole comes up just short of the mark. On a positive note, however, there are now numerous ways to play the game, from Time Trail, Quick Race, Multiplayer and Championship Season all available from the main menu, but these are joined by this year’s biggest new addition, Career.
The career mode in F1 2016 covers a mammoth ten-year period, just to ensure that its predecessors shortcomings are well and truly taken care of, much like the rest of the game, it has plenty of good ideas, but falls short in terms of polish, however, the ground work is definitely there for the series to continue to grow and improve. Weekends can be tailored to meet your specific demands, from straight out racing to the full rigours of the real world sport, with full practice and qualifying sessions, along with 100% race length if you’re really looking to kill some time. Outside of racing, players spend time within the Parc fermé, speaking with members of the constructor’s core team or their avatar’s agent, here team expectations are discussed, rivalries managed and technological advancements can be researched and unlocked all via a smartphone and laptop. Of course, the real meat of this particular course is the racing, so you’ll probably want to spend as little time here as possible.

A remarkable achievement in F1 2016 is the fact that Codemasters have seemingly achieved the impossible, they’ve actually made the practice sessions meaningful. Here, players have the opportunity to try out various pre-set car set-ups or tinker with their own, altering spring tightness, downforce and so on to tailor the car around their particular driving style. Likewise, various tyre compounds are available to try out, but on top of this, Codies have also slung in some potentially useful mini-games that have been designed to teach players how to drive, reduce tyre wear and generally get the most out of the vehicle. There are also tutorial videos available to provide instruction on race rules and general track etiquette in order to keep penalties to a minimum. From the start, all eleven teams are available as potential suitors, these are grouped into tiers depending on their standing within the sport, with team expectations altering as a result, every team seems to expect you to win the championship at some point, but the bigger teams demand it in a more expedited fashion. Players are also judged on how they compare to rival drivers and how they perform on the track in practice, qualifying and in the races themselves. The entire, current roster of tracks are also available, all twenty-one of them, and the full array of rules are also in-place, along with the first introduction of the safety car, just to keep players on their toes.
However, personally, I found that the enforcement of these rules was symptomatic of a recurring problem with Codemasters F1 titles; the AI is abysmal. Now, keeping an eye on twenty-one other drivers and attempting to adhere to every rule demands concentration, just like the real thing, but this is woefully undermined when you have the racing line going in to a corner and a computer controlled driver makes a beeline straight for you, only for the race stewards to hand out a stop and go penalty to you instead. How about a blue flag situation where you rightfully wait until the end of a chicane before slowing and pull over to the side of the track to let the leader through, only for another penalty to get thrown your way. Sound fair? AI drivers seem reticent when it comes to deviating from the optimum line and as a result, may not recognise your attempts to allow them through, well, that’s certainly how it comes across anyway, leaving penalties being divvied out for no reason. Additionally, the pit team are in constant communication, now, putting aside the typically inane and repetitive chatter, another major issue is just how blatantly stupid they are, constantly updating race strategies for little reason, typically these are horribly incorrect too, and can, if you’re not careful cost you rather dearly in the race. The team also don’t adapt to the changing weather conditions very quickly, so after the commencement of a downpour, a pit stop will likely still see you sent out in dry or intermediate tyres, reducing your competitiveness to approximately zero.

The AI problems extend further than this though, sadly. There are multiple difficulty levels in place for players to choose from at the start of their career mode, these are supposed to alter the opponent AI and appropriately adjust team expectations in terms of mini-games and qualifying performances, but I can honestly state that this is not the case. Having started multiple careers in my time with the game, I have found that AI driver lap times and team expectations were all identical, leaving F1 2016 as a rather off-putting experience in general, there’s no way to ease yourself into the game, no difficulty curve like Dirt Rally, and that is really rather sad.
For me, the biggest issue with the game though, is the physics engine that powers it. Driving neither feels particularly realistic nor fun, F1 cars – despite being reduced to whining V6 calamities – are still spritely vehicles, yet here they handle more like articulated lorries; every car feels immensely heavy and sluggish…like a wet sponge. There seems to be precious little feedback given to the player from it, sure the game still tasks us with finding the biting point, where power meets control, but when you drift beyond this and the car suddenly shoots off to the side, you’ll more than likely be left wondering why it happened, particularly when the cars don’t feel especially powerful anyway. In Codies defence here, I suppose, it seems that regardless of whether they have the official licence or not, the developer still isn’t privy to detailed information on the cars used in the current season, a far cry from other simulation games where virtual versions of real world cars are built utilising data provided by the manufacturer themselves. Of course, issues with the physics might be intrinsically linked to other technical problems that also render F1 2016 as…well, let’s just say that it’s not the prettiest game released this year.

Running on Ego, as most Codemasters games do, F1 2016 performs fairly adequately in terms of its visuals, surprising really given the age of the technology that powers it, with a decent resolution and relatively high level of trackside detail maintained throughout, but like every other aspect of the game, it still remains far from perfect. In the Xbox One version that we tested, there were clear frame rate drops and V-sync issues, the later a perpetual problem throughout. The draw distance could be better with pop-up also raising its ugly head from time to time, though this problem is a rather minor one. The presentation is especially cheesy, from the opening TV presentation style sequence though, it is also made abundantly obvious that driver representations, along with the models used for pit engineers and those loitering around the Parc fermé, are woefully substandard, generally looking “last-gen” at best. Naturally, vehicle models are solid, and highly detailed, remaining, as they are, the real stars of the show.
A quick note about the Time Trial mode, is that it seems to have borrowed heavily from Forza’s Rivals Mode, with the game automatically comparing lap times to find the next real world driver on the global leader board for you to race against. Couple that with the unlocking of new car set-ups for besting said times, and you have a game mode that is likely to keep one’s attention for somewhat longer than it really ought to, so kudos to Codies for managing that.

Despite having turned away from the sport of Formula 1 in recent years, I had found myself particularly excited about playing this latest effort from Codemasters only to come away from it bitterly disappointed. I feel that it’s simply not up to snuff in so many areas, but on a more positive note it will surely provide the development team with a solid foundation upon which to move forward over the coming years. Hell, even with a few updates, there’s a real possibility that even this version won’t be a total write-off either, but as it stands just now, there are certainly better driving simulators out there on every platform, including the recently released Assetto Corsa. Of course, if you’re a die-hard F1 fan and you feel that you simply have to play it, I suggest that you try before you buy because otherwise you may just find yourself in the pits.
James Paton
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