Marking the first incarnation of this recurring racing sim on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, F1 2015 is the built-from-the-ground-up reboot the Formula One series so desperately needed. As you embark on your first race, you’ll immediately notice the whole experience gives a fresh perspective on the high-torque motorsport. But as much as you’d like to believe that the only thing missing is the intoxicating aroma of petrol fumes mixed with burnt rubber, Codemasters’ latest exploration of the franchise still lacks some crucial elements that hold it back from being anywhere near the winner’s podium.
As before, F1 2015 is tailor-made for fans of the motorsport rather than the casual racer looking for arcade thrills. Despite it being a rather slim package, underneath the bonnet the realism and thoroughness give it the power, drive and edge over last year’s edition and that’s even before you factor in the console generational jump. What it lacks in variety, it makes up for with not only an official roster of teams, drivers, and landmark race tracks but with plenty of detailed options and customization opportunities, making this Codemasters’ most authentic take on the series yet.
Much of this accuracy can be attributed to the all new version of Codemasters’ very own EGO engine. The balance between acceleration and handling comes very much into play and no longer can you win the race by simply putting the foot down and overtaking the rest of the competitors. Race weekends are very much won and lost on corners and controlling your speed is a necessity for fear of spinning out altogether and dropping positions in the blink of an eye. You can feel every rev of the engine as you pound the tarmac while skidding around tight corners. Factor in micro-managing your tyre wear and taking into account the weather, and you’ll realise just how deep this simulator really goes.
Adjusting the setup of your car has never been more important in an F1 game and while going through the various tyre options will certainly be off-putting for some, for fans of the sport it proves just how much has gone into making F1 2015 the most realistic sim to date. You can even save your car setup and import it into any of the other game modes, bringing a new level of customisation that the series has never seen before. For newbies however, it’s a lot to take in particularly if you’re not quite clued into the tactical side of the sport or just don’t have the energy to your research beforehand.
Thankfully, you’re not alone in your quest to become world champion. The pit crew and race engineers have been given a completely new lease of life, offering welcome tips both before and throughout each race. From the moment you arrive on the track your engineer will inspire a sense of comradery and that being a team player will benefit you in the long run. Cockiness and arrogance can easily lead to disaster, so it’s well worth taking on board whatever advice you’re given, as it’s bellowed out through the speaker on your controller. They even look better, with character models built to appear more natural, instead of the walking crash test dummies we’ve been treated to in the past.
The AI of the other drivers also feels more human, with rivals no longer blindingly bumping into you as you slow down for a corner or team mates inadvertently smashing into you in order to move up positions. If you’re a newcomer to the series, you’ll quickly realise that any bumps or crashes you encounter are more than likely down to an error in your own driving abilities, rather than the pre-programmed nature of the computer controlled drivers. It makes for a rather steep learning curve, but one that becomes fun to navigate as you polish your own racing skills and learn the various pitfalls each racetrack has to offer.
Where this attention to detail becomes tricky is when dealing with the rules of the road. Being flagged for illegally overtaking or cutting corners is the most apparent it has ever been and even the slightest error will be picked up by the race judges. The opening few races will quickly test your levels of patience, particularly if you’re more interested in holding down the accelerator button and pushing your way to first. It gives the game a much needed strategic element that many racing games are often guilty of overlooking altogether.
As expected, the graphics have also been updated to use the power of the PlayStation 4 to its full potential. While it isn’t quite up to the very high standards set by Project CARS, Driveclub or Forza, it’s certainly the best looking F1 game on the market and for fans, that is certainly all they could have asked for. Cars have been replicated with striking attention to detail, right down to the heat waves generated by the exhaust or the splatter of rain on your visor on wetter race days. Each of the nineteen tracks on offer also look their best, with each location sporting the appropriate decor and landmarks they are associated with. For example, Monaco’s backdrop is peppered with fancy yachts and even the palace on the hill that make this rich man’s playground so enticing. Don’t get too caught up in admiring the scenery however, or you’ll soon find yourself in last place.
All of this attention to detail comes at a cost however. If you read our review of last year’s disappointing edition of the official Formula One game, you’ll recall that many of the brand’s popular features and gameplay modes had been scaled back, if not removed completely. It’s hard to believe there’s any more fat to trim but the lack of a progressive career mode, along with split-screen multiplayer, co-op modes and even whimsical extras such as the classic car mode included in the 2013 edition are all missing, making for all-in-all a rather linear, lean game. The added bonus of including the 2014 season on the disc makes up for some of this, but won’t likely immediately appeal to the more casual fans of the series.
Aside from the usual quick race option, there are essentially four modes to choose from. Replicating the current F1 calendar, Championship mode certainly holds the most appeal. Before you begin, you’ll not only be asked to select your team but also which driver you’d like to play as. Character models of Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg and the rest all look great, but are somewhat redundant beyond the menu screens and TV broadcast cutscenes before and after each race. After all, you’ll spend most of your time either playing from their point of view, or looking at the rear end of the car. Even your pit-stops are spent sitting patiently behind the wheel while your team make the necessary adjustments.
Objectives are set prior to each race weekend so it’s up to you to fine tune your car according to the track and the elements, but the majority of the gameplay will be spent earning race positions racking up new lap times and of course trying to gain a higher position. You can select difficulty and the length of each race weekend depending on your abilities too, which is a particularly useful tool for novice drivers. However, this all makes one thing abundantly obvious. Championship mode is not quite the career mode we’ve been treated to in the past. While it’s great being able to play as a proper F1 superstar, the ability to create your own driver and bring them through the ranks has been cut altogether. In last year’s game, the task of crafting your own F1 legend came with a certain amount of unnecessary admin but now that whole feature has been left behind, it takes away a certain addictive progressiveness that was the saving grace for many of the previous instalments. There’s only so many times you can take Mercedes to victory before the novelty wears off.
Pro Mode essentially plays like Championship mode on a much higher difficulty. You’ll be forced to play from a first-person perspective, meaning that there’s no HUD to rely on either. Race weekends are at their longest and the AI of your competitors is unrelenting. Beyond that however, there’s no real benefit to playing this mode unless you’re up to the task or are a total completionist, which just goes to show how few options really are to be had in this game. Even the time trial mode has no added value, aside from online leaderboard rankings.
Perhaps the biggest omission is the lack of multiplayer options available. Online multiplayer is included and focuses on competitive races, all ranging across a number of difficulties and events. While the single-player strictly follows the F1 code of conduct, at times these rules go out the window online, turning this elegant sport into a not very pretty destruction derby. Sadly, there’s no co-op mode meaning that you can’t team up with a friend and create your own dynamic duo to take on the world. There’s also no offline multiplayer either, a feature that is dwindling from not just F1 games but from the racing genre as a whole.
Many will be glad to finally see F1 make the leap to their new console of choice and for the fans, F1 2015’s stripped back approach will be a welcome one, focusing on winning championships and paying attention to the great detail that goes on beyond the track. However, limited variety will only take you so far. We’re still quite a bit away from mastering that winning F1 formula, so Codemasters best keep that champagne on ice for now, and hopefully next year they’ll prove themselves worthy of winning that elusive gold medal.