It’s time again for Codemasters to let us in for a little preview of their efforts with F1 2014, which in real life has been a new and exciting time for the sport. For those of you that haven’t seen the fallout of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg this year over the news and the papers, you might be forgiven for even noticing anything different about this years Formula One season. Of course you’d also have been living under a rock that was stuck beside a stalagmite that was in the back of a very deep dark cave that had yet to have been discovered somewhere in the depths of the Amazon jungle that native tribes fear to approach due it possibly containing a soul sucking monster that could only be appeased by the sounds of a V8 engine… I digress.
Engines are a good place to start given that the real world F1 has had drastic changes to it this year. In an effort to be more representative of the current consumer vehicle climate so that manufacturers will stay attached to it, F1 ditched the petrol guzzling V8 super noisy beasts that had been powering them for the past eight years in favour of a V6 Turbo Powered engine linked to a hybrid energy recover system, or ERS. Basically the engine draws power from a battery that charges up kinecticly throughout a lap, as well as petrol. You may remember this as KERS last year which was available as a power boost. Now it is integrated into the car, which lights up the rear tires like never before giving you a squirmy torque nightmare to handle, along with a software adjusted braking system and the return of the rear wing drag reduction system (DRS). The aerodynamic changes, along with some safety improvements, have led to a step nose which is a design to replace the straight noses of previous years. Apparently it’s to stop the cars taking off in a collision but it has created some fairly ugly phallic designs.
Why am I furnishing you with all of this technical information? Because it will answer quite a lot of your questions about Codemasters newest addition to the franchise. Your first question is “Why isn’t this on next generation consoles?” This is because those rule changes alone have drastically changed the way the game plays, Handling is now a completely different beast and different cars with superior design stick to the road a little better than others. The sounds the engines make has totally changed as well, along with two brand new tracks and a complete change in the way these cars behave aerodynamically. There is no way a next gen version of the game would have been ready. Disappointing, yes. But with the next iteration coming early next year, we hope it will be an easily satiated itch.
Your next question “Is this just another yearly franchise update and why should I get this when I can wait for the next gen version?” It seems FIFA has come under criticism lately for not adding much year upon year, if this years reviews are anything to go by. You could argue that until the classic mode, F1 was in danger of the same. The changes in the sport though require two things: practical testing of making those game changes work, and a comfortable experienced engine in which to implement it. Yes this is a yearly update but a lot has changed in the sport to warrant it, especially if you haven’t brought the recent iterations of the franchise. In fact, I’d say the combo of F1 2013 and 2014 are very clear pictures of several generations of F1 including this newest.
So your final question is “What’s it like and have they succeeded in adapting to the changes in the sport?” Here’s my disclousre of what I played. I did a three lap race in the Mercedes around Australia, a five lap race around Italy in a Ferrari and a three lap race around the new Russia circuit with a Lotus. That way I had all three different engine manufacturers (Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault) and three very different handling perspectives. The car selection actually comes with a difficulty meter now so you can tell which ones are the more challenging.
With the first race, I immediately had to find new braking points. The new brake by wire system does shift your bias quite a lot and with the 8 speed gear box, everything is a bit confusing if you’re a seasoned F1 veteran and are playing with the racing line off. The low growl of the V6 turbos has replaced the echoing roar of previous years and almost sounds a little dull and lifeless compared to the previous years engine. At this moment, there isn’t the raspy kind of sound the real life counterparts have in the down shifts and braking, which is a bit sad because I like that noise but hopefully it will come. The handling is, in the Mercedes, surprisingly responsive. I wasn’t having to correct the car nearly as much as I thought I would be which, when you think about it, is pretty indicative to how the Mercedes have dominated the season in real life. The Ferrari on the other hand was much less stable around Monza, especially after slowing. The first chicane was tricky getting around without the luxury of being glued to the road like before. Hitting your apex will be incredibly rewarding, not just for nailing perfect lap, but also for getting the car hooked up well with enough speed and grip for the next turn or exit. I didn’t notice too much of a change in the engine noise between them but there was slight differences.
The Lotus was a very realistic representation… Utterly shit. If you’ve been following F1 then you’ll know Lotus’s fall from prominence compared to the past few season’s competitive car has been quick and nasty. Changes of drivers haven’t helped, especially with one of them running up the bill for spare parts quicker than you run up the bill at your works Christmas party bar. It might not have helped that I was driving around the new Russia circuit in Sochi that I’ve only seen in a BBC feature. The track is surprisingly tight and has a lot of potential to create missed braking points and wall collisions. The tightness, especially with kerbs and sharp apexes really make the car quite unstable and the torque bites the car as soon as you hit the gas. It does not have the raw pace of the other two cars which is quite nice compared to the other slightly unrealistic representation of lower grid cars. It presents more of a challenge to you by upping the difficulty of the car, rather than having to rely on upping the difficulty of the AI and of the driver aids.
There’s still a few weeks left before the chequered flag falls on F1 2014 and the last generation of Formula One racing games. In a way, it’s a shame that the rule changes happened for the game because last year’s effort, especially with the classic cars, was a great love letter to the sport, if not lacking more DLC opportunities due to licensing. The current £40 price tag will definitely be a sticking point for a lot of people, especially given the reception for GRID Autosport and its lower pricing. The only thing this game is missing visually is the red stripe of alcohol sponsorship on the Williams, but we shall see, puns aside, if the team at Codemasters can churn out a challenging racing game or an annual iteration. I’m hoping for the former.