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The Codemasters F1 games haven’t been half bad at all, but it’s clear that there was room for improvement with F1 2014 and F1 2015.
The latter in particular was a barebones experience, offering little in the way of content. There was a great driving model, plenty of commands to your race engineer and a step up in visuals – but who cares when you only have a basic season mode and nothing else?
Fortunately, F1 2016 builds on that foundation quite extensively, starting with the all-new career mode.
The next Max Verstappen (or Chilton?)
The game allows you to race as a created driver for any team in this mode, being divided into a couple of categories that each have their own title goals. Tier one teams (such as Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull) expect a title win within one or two seasons, while the lowest tier (Manor and Sauber) expect a title in a minimum of four seasons.
And F1 2016‘s overall difficulty reflects this situation as well. Don’t expect to be winning races in the Manor straight away – the team will be happy if you finish in the top 15. Then again, I finished sixth in my debut on medium difficulty, added an upgrade and proceeded to win three on the trot. Fortunately, you can always tweak the difficulty (very easy, easy, medium, hard, expert, legend etc) and get your butt handed to you.
Your performance through F1 2016‘s career mode will also attract the attention of other teams, allowing you to move up (or down) a team. Along with these moves come different expectations too, keeping things challenging but fair.
You’ll need to carefully think about which department needs improving
In addition to the overall championship aspiration, the game also pits you against your teammate and rivals in other teams. Beat your teammate constantly and you’ll become the number one driver, earning more upgrade points in the process. Oh yeah, upgrades…
Perform well by meeting expectations/goals and you’ll earn upgrade points, which can be used to (surprise) upgrade several aspects of your car. These upgrades are divided into five categories, namely downforce, drag, engine power, weight and fuel usage, with five upgrades for each category. The game doesn’t hand out upgrade points en masse, so you’ll need to carefully think about which department needs improving.
There’s definitely some room for improvement though, starting with the lack of options for created drivers. How about an Asian or female driver? No? Blegh. A helmet editing tool would’ve been a great feature too, allowing you to create your own designs or retro helmets.
Then there are the features hardcore fans would’ve liked. Who wouldn’t want the option of competing in GP2 first, or even being demoted to test driver (ala F1 Championship Edition) if the results are really poor? As it is right now, the game demotes you to a lower team if your performance is terrible, and eventually starts switching you between lower teams (even repeating teams) instead of ending your career.
Otherwise, this is a rather well-realised career mode on the whole, especially thanks to the practice sessions. Wait, what?
perfect upgrade points
Perhaps the best aspect of career mode is the way it makes practices feel like can’t-miss sessions. Instead of merely being a way to familiarise yourself with a track before qualifying and the race, you can play three minigames. There’s the track acclimatisation option, which tasks you with passing through virtual gates (representing the entry, apex and exit of corners), the qualifying simulation (drive the wheels off the car and meet the stipulated lap times) and the tyre wear test, forcing you to drive smoothly to prevent excess tyre wear.
All three mini-games bring a renewed sense of purpose to practice sessions, but it’s the tyre wear test that really stands out. Featuring a tri-coloured bar (red for excess wear, green for moderate and purple for minimal wear), you’ll need to nudge the analogue stick, carefully tap the brakes and ever so gently accelerate out of corners.
The tyre mini-game does an excellent job of preparing you for the race, where you might be forced to adopt a more conservative driving style to keep your boots in good nick.
Otherwise, as with the previous entry, the practice sessions in F1 2016 are also a good way to get up to speed on a track or to figure out tyre life.
New upgrades deliver pace
The three biggest additions to the formula (heh) this year are the presence of manual starts, manual pit entries and formation laps.
Manual starts are a long overdue feature, seeing you hold down the clutch (X on PS4, A on Xbox One) and reaching the optimum rev range to get off the line. Go too soon and it’s a jump start. Rev too high and you’ll have wheelspin and a compromised start. Get it just right and you’ll be leapfrogging the competition, Petrov-style.
Manual pit entry is another interesting addition to the formula, allowing you to attack the pit entry and brake as late as possible to get under the pit speed limit. Get it wrong and you’ll be faced with a drive-through penalty or slow pit time. Get it right and you’ll get a decent jump on rivals. In saying so, I would’ve liked a more interactive pit experience, as seen in F1 Career Challenge (being prompted to turn into your box etc).
F1 2016’s wheel tethers definitely make for more realistic shunts
F1 2016‘s Formation laps aren’t anything to write home about, but they’re a great feature for hardcore fans, allowing you to replicate the full F1 experience. And you’ll really need to work the brakes and tyres to get your car in peak operating condition. Fortunately, this is entirely optional.
Another neat feature sure to please enthusiasts is the implementation of wheel tethers during crashes, so the tyres don’t go flying everywhere (mimicking the real deal). The crashes can still look rather hokey at times (such as cars spinning in an unrealistic fashion or occasional clipping issues with tethers), but it definitely make for more realistic shunts most of the time. Try brushing the Armco at Monaco and see for yourself…
Speaking of crashes, the virtual safety car feature is also in this year, adding more authenticity to proceedings as you’re forced to stick to a specified gap between yourself and the car ahead. But don’t expect to see it happen very often, unless you’re a first lap nutcase…
No black flag for gameplay tweaks
One of the more notable gameplay tweaks this season is the aforementioned emphasis on the rubber (i.e. tyre) side of things. But to the average gamer, with most assists enabled, the gameplay difference between F1 2015 and F1 2016 is almost non-existent. Not that this is a bad thing, as F1 2015‘s handling model was definitely one of the game’s best achievements.
People coming from previous titles might want to try F1 2016 with traction control set to medium or full, as the game is ridiculously tough to play with traction control actually disabled. There’s still a notable challenge playing on medium though, as you’ll need feather the throttle out of corners, keep it on the dry line in the wet and keep it off the grass.
F1 2016 has a bigger emphasis on the tyres thanks to the aforementioned tyre wear mini-game and the ability to create custom race strategies (as well as the introduction of three tyre compounds instead of two).
The engineer also asks if you want to change tyre strategies mid-race, but this can get silly at times though. It’s happened a few times where my engineer would suggest pitting in the last two laps of the race — when I had a healthy lead.
You’ll want to think twice about pulling a Nico Rosberg on these drivers
Throw in a UI tweak (such as tyre wear percentages in the B/circle menu) and actual in-menu figures for how much faster each tyre is and, even though it’s fundamentally the same driving model, you get a better idea of just how important tyre management is and more info to make better decisions.
In fact, Codemasters has done a good job in general of tweaking the on-track menus and adding details, such as a more responsive and persistent race engineer interface. In F1 2015, you could barely make requests from your engineer, as the menu disappeared shortly after pressing the radio button — so we’re glad this is fixed and offers a few more options too. But more engineer lines would’ve been nice though, as they’re still saying most of the same things from last year.
There’s also a DRS meter that fills up as you get close to a DRS zone (letting you know how close you are to DRS), pit boards reflecting real information and an overall lap delta for qualifying and qualifying sims so you can see where you’re losing time. Hell, fans of manual shifting will be pleased to know there’s an audio beep now to indicate shifting, imitating real life.
The AI was rather capable in F1 2015, but they’ve seen effective upgrades in this year’s iteration. AI rivals will go side-by-side with you (and others) through multiple corners, jink to avoid a divebomb up the inside and occasionally try and block you when you try to pass. The only major complaint is that they’re very hesitant to let you by in practice sessions – even when coming out of the pits. Weird. It would be a lovely bonus if AI drivers could be pressured into making mistakes too, as in the first F1 game on PS3…
Nevertheless, it definitely makes for some exciting and challenging races, and you’ll want to think twice about pulling a Nico Rosberg on these drivers (i.e. forcing them wide).
Is it underweight?
Outside of the career mode, there’s a more traditional championship season mode (choose your favourite driver and take them to glory) and a time trial mode. The time trial mode in particular is a more social experience now, owing to the nifty Forza-style leaderboard system in place. You’ll be racing the ghosts of other people doing similar laps to you, and in a neat move, you can choose their car setup too.
Otherwise, online fans will be pleased with the inclusion of 22-player support for races as well as an AI driver for people with spotty internet connections. The latter sees disconnected players being driven by the AI for up to five minutes, giving them ample opportunity to get back in the game.
Unfortunately, split-screen multiplayer isn’t an option this season, which is a shame for social gatherings or people with fellow motorsport-loving friends. A split-screen season mode in particular would’ve been a lovely addition…
Scenario mode would’ve been a great feature
Speaking of lovely additions, I would’ve loved to see more retro content in the game, akin to F1 2013‘s older cars and tracks. After all, which F1 fan wouldn’t want to drive around Adelaide in the McLaren MP4/4?
Another absent feature, being available in a few previous titles, is the scenario mode, giving you several challenges to overcome. This would’ve been a great feature when combined with the current driving model, such as staying ahead of worn tyres, trying to get the undercut at the pits or chasing the leaders on new softs at the end of the race.
In terms of production values, F1 2016 looks the business, especially in wet weather conditions or as the sun goes down. The cars are impressively detailed, the engine sounds are pretty much spot-on (save for that “you can’t unhear it” turbo whine) and the drivers’ faces, while very uncanny valley, are captured well enough. But if there was one weakness in the production department, it’s in the very mediocre character models in general, looking more like last-generation models. Meh.
Release date: 19 August 2016
Genre: Racing simulator
Game Engine: EGO Engine 3.0
Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One (review platform)
Launch price (RRP): R649
Industry average score: 84/100
No drive through penalty: Despite the lack of split-screen play and occasionally odd race engineer suggestions, F1 2016 might just be the best F1 game Codemasters has produced in the past few years. The new career mode offers plenty of longevity and the gameplay builds on F1 2015’s great base. Throw in manual starts, virtual safety cars/manual pit entries will definitely please die-hard fans. Now, about that scenario mode and retro content…