F1 2016 delivers a true return to form for the franchise.
Last year’s F1 2015 was ultimately a disappointing game. Codemasters nailed the actual racing and mechanics part of the equation, but that was really it. F1 2015 was slim pickings all around as far as actual content went, with Codemasters’ development time evidently having gone into nailing down the fundamentals of the racing simulation, and the transition to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, over actually developing content around these basics- and fans of the series and of the sport expressed their discontent at the product en masse.
This year’s game, though, is an incredible return to form. It is, simply put, the F1 game we should always have gotten. The actual racing bits are as good as ever, backed by Codemasters’ incredible pedigree and years of experience in this area, but what sells this one is the sheer amount of content, all authentic, all compelling, and all exciting and dynamic, that is available to the player.
"This year’s game, though, is an incredible return to form. It is, simply put, the F1 game we should always have gotten."
The star of the show this time around is the career mode, naturally, and what a career mode it is. Returning after its absence last year, the career mode this time around bends over backwards to accommodate the player. You get to make your own avatar and character, you get to choose the team you want to race for, you get to choose your own teammate, and getting a different experience each time around. You can choose to play for Mercedes, and get a two season long career mode where you help the team maintain its hegemony. Or you could play as Manor, and get a longer career, as you attempt to chart Manor’s rise to the top. The objectives change, the length changes, the experience changes. The career mode is great enough to warrant multiple playthroughs, and get a different experience each time- it alone would justify the package.
This career mode apart, there is also a great practice mode, which lets you accumulate resource points spent on improving your car, with variable objectives available to the player again, as well as an accurate portrayal of the actual track you will be racing on later – including the time of the day – so there are no unexpected and unpleasant surprises for you when you have to take to the track for the real thing.
Arguably as great as the litany of modes in the game, however, is the sheer authenticity on display here. ‘Authentic’ is a word that is used a lot for sports game- but here, it is actually earned, with Codemasters going to ridiculous lengths and extremes to recreate the motorsport accurately beyond any reasonable belief. From the handling of the cars to the tracks themselves, to even the pitboards, everything is painstakingly rendered to seem as real and authentic as possible- if you’re an F1 fan, the sense of authenticity alone should be enough to sell you on this game.
"If you’re an F1 fan, the sense of authenticity alone should be enough to sell you on this game."
Of course, none of this would matter if the game didn’t play well, if the actual racing part of the equation was broken. Thankfully, Codemasters has a storied history of making great racing games, and that shows here- the racing engine feels absolutely on point, the handling is accurate enough to not lose the sense of realism the game is trying to sell, but fun enough to still be engaging, and there are few things as satisfying as shifting the gear successfully while holding down the gear in a neck and neck race. Tight track design – faithfully recreated from the real world – and very accurate physics, along with some very neat weather effects (I don’t remember the last time I found a racing game as challenging as when I had to race in wet weather in F1 2016) all come together to create an addictive racing experience that will definitely stand out to motorsport enthusiasts, in spite of some puzzling AI programming that can often detract from the experience. The racing is certainly engaging enough that it will end up picking up some casual stragglers along the way too.
That last bit is particularly true because of multiple concessions that the game makes to casual racing fans. For instance, F1 2016 permits time strapped players, or simply players who don’t love the sport enough, and just want to jump in for some quick races, to race in short 3 or 5 lap races, with appropriately shortened practice sessions and qualifiers too. Even hardcore F1 enthusiasts will probably appreciate not having to spend an obscene amount of time on one single race- the feedback is immediate, and the player can make more progress in a single sitting this way, too.
"The racing is certainly engaging enough that it will end up picking up some casual stragglers along the way too."
All of this is wrapped up, however, in a rather baffling UI that I cannot say I am personally a fan of. A virtual paddock interface presents the player with messages between races, notifications about teammates and rivals, new opportunities and improvements available, and the like. The interface is a bit obtuse, and adding to the problem is some unskippable cutscenes that the player is often subjected to. It also looks a bit rough, and on the whole definitely feels like the least appealing and most unfinished part of the experience.
All said and done, however, the few warts can’t take away from just how fun and fully realized this game is- the sheer level of improvement here over last year’s game is enough to give a series fan a sense of whiplash. Authentic and engaging enough for the motorsport diehard, and yet fun and accessible enough for the casual racing game fan, F1 2016 is one of the best recreations of a sport in a video game that I have yet seen- and is an easy recommendation for all racing game fans.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 4.
Authentic, fun, engaging; staggering amount of content; highly flexible and accommodating to the casual fan; very realistic and true to the motorsport; incredible racing and driving physics
Graphics can be a bit rough; the menu and UI is off-putting; AI can baffle on occasion
Authentic and engaging enough for the motorsport diehard, and yet fun and accessible enough for the casual racing game fan, F1 2016 is one of the best recreations of a sport in a video game that I have yet seen- and is an easy recommendation for all racing game fans.