F1 2015 – Review

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Formula One is the pinnacle of Motorsport. There is no denying, despite the rise in popularity of endurance racing, MOTO GP, rally and other disciplines, as well as the introduction of Formula E, that Formula One is still at the cutting edge of aerodynamics, engineering and now, hybrid racing. We’re almost two years in to the V6 Turbo kinetic recovery era and, despite the dominance of one team and certainly one engine manufacturer, the technology is well and truly at the forefront of design and evolution.

So it should also stand to measure that Codemasters’ latest iteration of their franchise, F1 2015, should not only reflect this but also embody it. We are well and truly in to a new generation of consoles now and this game is the first look at the new and improved EGO engine. The past two releases on the last generation of consoles were not anywhere near the standard we’ve come to expect of the studio. GRID Autosport felt like a shoe-in to make up for people upset with GRID 2 but it really fell flat and looked rushed. F1 2014 was a shadow of its former years, but with good reason. Unable to release on the now current generation consoles, Codemasters had to come to grips with a rapidly changing F1 rule book and a short amount of time to do it (as well as probably having to release annually due to contracts). The game and the studio were not ready and it showed. You could say it was their Red Bull/Renault moment.

Recently, the studio has won back some kudos thanks to the early access PC title DiRT Rally which takes the formerly “Colin McRae” titled series back to its time trial rally roots and successfully so. The hype for Formula One then is very much real among racing game fans who are excited to see this new engine look spectacular, excited for the changes in the rules, for performance to be expertly reflected, for an in depth setup changing option, and a great racing experience against both AI and online drivers. I can tell you now that three out of five ain’t bad.

Firstly the game engine does look spectacular but not in the way you would imagine. Sixty frames per second, perfectly replicated tracks, cars with up to date livery, and a smooth and exciting experience are all present and accounted for. But graphically, it doesn’t have the visual effects or the artistic panache of Project Cars (also published by Bandai Namco). Although it doesn’t really pretend to have them or even match that level of photorealistic detail in anything except the cars, or the swoon inducing lighting glares. In the effort of maintaining realism to an obsessive level, you won’t get the traditional gaming motion blur to replicate the feeling of speed. As part of the more realistic “broadcast” style, the game looks and replicates a television broadcast experience. For example the lack of natural light on an overcast day dulls the visuals, as it would on screen. Your TV camera won’t get the artsy motion blur we’ve been spoiled with for many different racing games. Surrounding scenery though can look a bit flat and the crowds/marshalls are still poor last generation blurred models (something Forza Horizon 2 is far better with). But other than those niggles it does work incredibly well.

Where there are the artistic sacrifices however, significant gains are made in other places. Wet weather and night races are exciting and incredibly tricky. The weather effects aren’t going to hit you like DriveClub would, but Formula 1 wouldn’t race in those extreme conditions anyway. It does the levels it needs to do well and with expert translation to the car, the handling and the track evolution. The cars and the AI have a massive increase of memory to race better and give you as a driver a more authentic feel. The heat haze from the car’s exhaust is not just a pretty effect as I will explain later. The crash particle effects and the ancillary features like the pit crew and a tablet for the garage set ups are all nicely done, as they always have been. The actual experience of racing, the broadcast chatters and the overall environment around you has been well refined.

What this does is make for the smooth, constant experience, that Formula One is. The gameplay has much more room for interpretation and even if you’re on a wheel or a pad (we played with both) the level of feedback you can feel from the car is extraordinary. You can tell when the back is just a tiny bit lighter, when your brake bias is just that bit too far forward, when the tires are cold and when the torque constantly throws you around as you accelerate out of a corner. Die hard F1 fans will be happy to know that a rudimentary understanding of what everything does and tinkering with set-ups is not only recommended but practically essential on higher difficulty modes. More casual players won’t have a problem getting to grips with the cars thanks to the level of assists but will struggle to race the AI without delving deeper in to the inner workings of an F1 car.

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The understanding will make your experience better and possibly more frustrating. In real life F1 there is an issue with overtaking that I now appreciate a lot more thanks to F1 2015. The heat haze from the exhaust isn’t just a load of hot air and a nice effect to see, it is potentially crippling to your race. One of the issues with the current aerodynamic rules and set ups in real life is how much turbulent air a car causes. Normally when you get in to the slipstream of another car, the reduction of drag should allow you to have less air resistance and close up on the guy in front. But now, the air from the car and the exhaust, combined with the squirmy nature of the modern F1 car actually leaves you with no grip at all. So much so that being under the rear wing of another car will impede your progress. Your car will list one way or another and you’ll be forced to heavily compensate to keep the car facing the right way through a corner, taking vital life out of the tires and combatting wheel spin. This happens regularly in F1 2015 and it’s a frustrating and accurate representation of the sport at present. The best tactic is to hold distance about a half second behind before a DRS zone, use the corner to catch up and have the momentum to leapfrog and be beside your opponent so you can cleanly pass or out brake him at the next corner.

You get the message that F1 is realistic to a point which might take away from the enjoyment of it as a game, but it is an F1 simulator so this is kind of what you expect. And whilst the addition of broadcast style presentation and new cutscenes is nice in a “Pro Evo 5” kind of way, they don’t really bring much to the overall enjoyment. New tweaks like your car being tended to on the grid for the race, rather than the garage, and a new race engineer voice are all nice though. The new feature for the in-car experience on consoles is the radio chatter. You can now directly ask your engineer about race updates. It’s voice activated so you can press the assigned button (L1 in my case) and just say a phrase to get information from your engineer. That’s using Playstation Camera, Kinect or a headset. You also have the entire 2014 team list and season (Caterham and Germany both present), as well as a day one patch that puts the Manor Marussia team in and updates the McLaren 2015 livery. The Pro Championship feature also gives you the hardcore full weekend, no assists experience that you can’t be bothered to manually adjust to in the normal championship mode, which is convenient.

Yet there is a list of things that really let F1 2015 down and it’s a list that grew longer the more I played it. The lack of a career mode is a well explained absence from Codemasters but it is an absence none the less. Personally, I find it a bit too forced to have your generic avatar with your name racing. I’d rather have a full team management mode or some kind of career progression system with a supporting formula. But its absence highlights that this game has three game modes: Championship/Pro Championship, Quick Race and Time Trial. The lack of a challenge mode is a bit of a shame as something like that could have compensated and has always enjoyed the kudos of leaderboards and the Codemasters RaceNet. Sadly, there is nothing in single player for RaceNet users.

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What about online? Well… You shouldn’t have asked really. Patches will surely come but my experience of the online game has been incredibly bad and practically broken. The “hopper” system that searches for suitable session types, ability levels and the like, is supposed to make it easy to find and partake in games quickly. There are different difficulty hoppers and a race challenge that changes to reflect the real life calendar. Except I’ve been barely able to connect to any lobbies, when I do the hopper is already three or four races in out of five and therefore is rather pointless competitively. The game somehow cannot fathom what position you are in either. One race I spent the entire time in 7th out of 9 racers, crossed the line and was rewarded with first place. There were no penalties or anything to cause it, I was just given it. I even got the trophy for it. Sadly this needs to be patched rather quickly, for PS4 especially.

There are a few other things as well such as graphical glitches in replays (the cars constantly leave a tyre trail), and occasionally disproportionately fast race AI (frustrating after your two hour slaving over a setup and getting nothing out of it). The Race Engineer talk back feature can be clumsy as I couldn’t find the talk button whilst racing with a wheel and couldn’t reassign it in the menu. The manual is impossible to do while racing if you don’t have a headset (far too clumsy), and (most importantly) didn’t work with chat headset that Sony supply with the PlayStation. I tested the crap out of it and it only worked with my Turtle Beach headset. I also found that the engineer’s voice level is too low, even at full volume with the other sounds adjusted, and that the saturation of engine noises during races is so similar that, again even with levels adjusted, it’s practically impossible to hear your own engine. I’ve spent a lot of races either visually glued to the rev limiter or, after a couple of laps, changing gears by instinct. Maybe this is better with headphones or a good sound system, but on a TV it’s very difficult.

F1 2015 is a fantastic leap forward for the series, and game the engine and playability shows good promise for the current generation of gaming. Whereas many have struggled to get their visuals across or to hit a specific frame rate, F1 has sacrificed the right things in the right places graphically to make an enjoyable experience. But the whole thing kind of feels like an incomplete project. The game feels complete (which could be slightly worrying if you over think about what you don’t like), but it’s very obvious that the work, the improvements and the refinement in everything around the engine and the basic racing mechanic is not. Ultimately the game desperately needs a large renovation of its multiplayer set up and quickly, but fans should enjoy the single player experience even if it isn’t the immersion they crave for just yet.

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F1 2015 feels like a Formula One game. All of the detail, the graphics, the setups, the torque, the wheelspin, the frustration of riding in the wake of another car… All of it is good and a great reflection of the sport as it currently is. But it does feel like it’s a project that is still a work in progress with numerous glitches, absent modes and a very broken multiplayer. One for the die hards who will happily enjoy and wait for more.

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[tab title=”Good Points”]

  • Smooth 60FPS graphics.
  • Up to date 2015 season and bonus 2014 season.
  • Excellent translation from car’s handling to controller.

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[tab title=”Bad Points”]

  • Broken Multiplayer.
  • Absent Modes.
  • Occasional Glitches.

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[tab title=”Why a 7?”]

I’m a massive fan of Formula One: the sport. Therefore I will and do enjoy the game version. Critically the game itself is rather good as a single player experience and I’m sure a few hot patches for AI and driver performance will help in balancing everyone else’s experiences. A career mode would have been great but I’ll take its absence in lieu of having a bad career mode instead. The current issues with the multiplayer though are very poor and need to be fixed soon, and all these little glitches and issues sadly detract from what has been a promising outing.

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This review is based on the PS4 version of the game and tested with the DualShock 4 Controller and the Thrustmaster T300 RS wheel.

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F1 2015 – Preview

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The rain beats down heavily over Marina Bay. The flood lights are reflected, shimmering in the pools on the tarmac occasionally splashed with colour from the lights of ferris wheel. You’re thrashing through the streets, skating as you hit the puddles, the floor of your V6 turbo-charged hybrid monster scratching against the contours of the tarmac where it rises above the water. The raspy and angry sound of the 600 BHP engine roaring between the concrete barriers and bouncing under the stands as you enter the final chicane. It sounds like a petulant child as you carefully feather the throttle, taking every effort of your concentration not to squirm the misbehaving rear in to the wall, and screams with great freedom as the straight appears and you floor it, feeding petrol and recovered kinetic energy in to one last hurrah before crossing the line and taking the chequered flag… In 14th place.

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The changes to Formula One in the real world are finally ready to be properly reflected in the video game franchise from Codemasters. F1 2014 used the last generation engine and for those that played it, it definitely showed its need for an update. Yearly licences will always get to a point where the cross over of technology can betray it. F1 2014 was beset by this on both the gaming front with next-generation consoles and with the motor sport’s own evolution following a massive dynamic shift to more energy efficient vehicles. We previewed F1 2014 last year and you could tell from the games entire demeanour that this wasn’t going to be the game of F1’s past. In a way it was almost a good soft launch or education in to capturing the feel of the new cars.

So we fast forward to this year and F1 2015. A game that is coming DURING the season, which is excellent news. The game has traditionally, and rather annoyingly for Codemasters, launched towards the end of a season rather than other sports titles that precede their competitive starts. And as a bonus, although some may see it as a “thanks for sticking with us last year” present, last years Formula One season will be included along with the 2015 season. So you can dominate as Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes against two different seasons worth of driver lineups.

As you can probably tell by my opening paragraph, the game is tricky. It of course can be watered down with assists but, come on! The sport is deliberately trying to make these cars harder to drive, so go along with it. Like most simulation based games, practice and an appreciation of the learning curve needed to drive a virtual Formula One car is very rewarding. Especially when you see the work that has gone in to making the game stand out on Next-Genertaion hardware.

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You could argue that the EGO engine was due a facelift and it has got it. Whilst the Singapore circuit and the changing weather effects are quite obviously for our demonstration benefit, they are a great demonstration. The problem with many racing games, thanks to the realism in the cars and the track, is that the surroundings can suffer from not feeling very alive. But as you drive around Marina Bay in the lashing rain, you actually feel the tinge of fear. You have that worry that the beautiful puddle in front of you that’s majestically reflecting the light from the theme park is going to send you aquaplaning in to the floodlit tyre wall. As you enter the chicane under the grandstand towards the end of the circuit, you come close to where the waters edge is and you wonder if a big crashing wave will come over, through the barriers and on to the track right as you’re hitting the apex. Of course it won’t but that’s the feeling the game can evoke. Your fear and trepidation makes you falter with the intense concentration you need to drive these cars, and they are intense in the wet.

So much work has been done to make the game feel more alive and it’s not just a mechanical device in the gameplay, it’s also an atmospheric one. The new focus on broadcast cameras and new cutscenes, along with the return of Stevenage’s lesser known F1 master, David Croft, brings the game closer to the presentation that EA hit for their games. But this isn’t at the expense of the game or just added colour. If you remember the old F1 games on Playstation, you used to have Murray Walker making occasional quips which after a while grated and annoyed more than pleased. And commentary can quickly date a game. But the branding, the new camera angles, the more graphically televisual approach to things like menu screens, driver selection, etc can really get you in to it. Along with a new race engineer, the game is aesthetically getting quite the facelift, much like the sport.

I operate under a strange bias when it comes to Formula One games as I love the sport and I’ve really enjoyed Codemasters games. F1 2013 was a magnificent package. But I’m also quite demanding now thanks to what has come before it with Project CARS’s wonderful visuals, Driveclub’s amazing environments and the freedom and sense of vehicle character you get with the Forza Horizon games.

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Much like current Formula One, your management of your car and fuel is paramount. The control methods on both wheel and controller are easy to use (last year’s pad control wasn’t particularly great). But this heightened drama is being propped up by better AI and the Campaign mode. Picking a driver and playing an entire season with them has been a staple of ALL racing games so it’s good to see it finally appear in F1 2015. There’s the new Pro Championship mode which is for the purists (masochists) to give you the most authentic experience without having to individually turn everything off.

The dynamics of Formula One are changing all the time. For all of the Mercedes dominance, Renault’s failing’s, Red Bull throwing their frustrations at Renault, Bernie Ecclestone making soundbites that would probably dissolve many PR companies and McLaren Honda’s struggle to make their new partnership deliver on the track, it is the narrative behind all of them that grip up to those 2 hours on a Sunday where we live and breath our passion for the sport through our love of the racing on offer.

It’s something that the rule changes have done to give us a more open race and therefore a more interesting narrative. F1 2015 looks on course to give us the solid experience of racing and the drama we crave from the sport. If it’s the evoking of a powerful visual of a rain soaked track in Singapore, the elation of mastering a corner, the bittersweet sadness of seeing Jules Bianchi’s name in the roster from last season or the triumph of winning a race, the early impressions are that F1 2015 has it. Let’s hope it keeps up the pace during its final laps.

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