Lack of innovation is something that most sports and racing games are guilty of, even to this day. While the promise of updated rosters is enough to give games such as FIFA and others under the EA Sports banner the pulling power to top the charts worldwide every year, sadly the same formulaic approach, even with a few added touch ups here and there, doesn't translate well in the world of racing. To make things worse,F1 2014 actually feels like a step back, even for a game that by all rights should be making the jump to current-gen technology.
Last year, when we reviewed the 2013 edition of the game, it was clear that what was on offer was little more than a tune-up on the previous versions. There was at least one main selling point however, with the addition of the Classics mode, a new single-player section that offered drivers, tracks, and races from the 80’s and 90’s F1 history. Perhaps cashing in on the hype around the Ron Howard directed drama Rush, the mode was criticised for blatant profiteering, given that a large chunk of the content had to be purchased through premium DLC before becoming available. It’s not an ideal situation, but at least it offered something new for devout fans of the motorsport. Sadly, F1 2014 has done away with this mode completely, even if it was flawed to begin with.
While very little else has changed, F1 2014 is still an all-encompassing Formula One racing sim that for any keen enthusiast, still brings an exhilarating racing experience. New tracks have been added such as the Red Bull Ring located in Austria, Russia’s Sochi Autodrom or Austria’s Spielberg circuit all with careful attention to detail, along with an all-new Driver Evaluation System.
For a feature that’s advertised on the back of the box, this is nothing more than a single lap qualifying race that gauges what difficulty you should be playing at before you start the main game. It’s a fairly simple one-off scenario that is pretty easy to master, even after one or two restarts just to get to grips with the controls. A welcome, more accessible change when compared to F1 2013’s tedious Young Drivers’ Test, but once you get through this, you can change settings however way you like. To say it’s a bit of a letdown as far as new features go is more than an understatement.
However, it does mean that you’re free to choose from any of the game’s fully licensed teams when starting your career, just one of the game’s three single player modes. From the moment you put your helmet on, you can join Mercedes and team up with Lewis Hamilton straight away, even if you are a complete novice. Some might be put off by the lack of ladder climbing addictiveness, but for most, it means you can race how you want right from the get-go. It certainly helps the game live up to its claims of being the most accessible F1 game yet.
After selecting your team, you’ll be taken to a hub that gives you course information and access to email. Much more interesting is the option to choose a rival for each race weekend, setting yourself a target to out run over the course of the competition. It makes each race much more interesting, but can be easily manipulated. You’ll be showered with praise no matter who you overtake, so it makes sense to choose some of the lower ranked drivers to begin with.
A quick qualifier sets your position up for the first race, but before finally rolling out of the pits, you’ll be given the opportunity to tune up your car. The rather robotic looking pit crew is rather off putting, giving Alien Isolation’s Working Joes a run for their money. If you’re a bit of an amateur, you’ll probably just motor on through to the starting line. But if you’re playing on a harder difficulty, taking responsibility for changing tyres depending on the weather or tweaking the handling is all it takes to turn F1 2014 from a pick-up-and-play arcade game into an authentic, technical, challenging racing simulator.
Now that all the clinical set-up is out of the way you’re finally ready to race. That is, if the game’s painfully long save and load times haven’t put you off entirely before then. Thankfully, the racing feels both arcade-y and authentic at the same time. Errors such as cutting corners or thumping into other cars will cause you to be penalized, but the controls are somewhat more forgiving than Gran Turismo, the Forza series, or even Codemasters’ last racing game Grid Autosport, meaning you don’t have to taken an advanced driving lesson before playing this game. Winning races is much more achievable, giving the game an addictive edge for even your amateur soapbox derby enthusiast.
If you do make a complete hash of things, there’s also flashback function, which like most modern racing games these days, allows you to rewind a section of the race if you've made a crucial error, or you’re just totally frustrated if things aren't going your way. However, it takes quite a bit of time to load this feature, making you wonder if you’d have been quicker just starting the race. The forgiving nature of the controls however means that you’ll rarely need to use it, unless for example, your very own team mate decides to scrape up the the side of you, which surprisingly happens more often than you’d think. If this were real life, Lewis Hamilton would be using his Santander wages to pay for more than a few brand new F1 cars by now.
For those who simply can’t be arsed spending half the game checking emails or tuning up their car, then there are a few other modes to choose from. Rivals mode is similar to career mode in that you choose your nemesis, and try and outrun him in a best-of-three competition. However this mode is much more difficult than the career version, making each race more and more frustrating, as you tend to crash and spin out more often while chasing down your opponent, even against some of the drivers in the lower tier of the world rankings.
Scenario mode thankfully is much more appealing. Working through a series of challenges, such as racing on a wet track or using a partially broken car will earn you medals, depending on where you finish, giving the standard affair of churning out lap after lap a more interesting spin. If that wasn’t enough, the game also includes multiplayer modes both online and offline that will put you against up fifteen other drivers, consisting of human or AI controlled players depending on which you use. There’s no doubt that Codemasters offer the most range with their F1 games, but the problem is most of it appeared in some shape or form in last year’s game.
Making the most of of a sunsetting system, F1 2014 still looks great on last-gen technology. Codemasters hold the official video game license to the motorsport, meaning that all of the cars boast legitimate team logos, gleaming paint jobs and all of their decals applied to perfection in the right spots. Same goes for the full range of race tracks, all replicated with immaculate detail, save for the uninspired cardboard cut-outs that pass for the cheering fans in the stands. Rain will splash against your helmet visor or spray off your wheels during those wintery races, while you feel every knock and bump of the track beneath your wheels. Even the menu design is elegant and simple to navigate, all set to an ambient techno soundtrack. While no one expects it aesthetically to live up to slick current-gen racers such as Forza Horizon 2 or Driveclub, the only time F1 2014 lets itself down is with a blocky rear view mirror display or plastic looking humans that make up both drivers and pit crew. Perhaps something for Codemasters to look at before (hopefully) next year’s hugely anticipated tune-up.
A bit like putting your car through the MOT just to find out exactly what is wrong with it, before taking it to the mechanics for repairs, the series has some shaping up to do if it plans on making the jump next year. Codemasters are normally the go-to guys for authentic racing games, which is perhaps why F1 2014 feels like such a disappointment. Obviously no one wants a rushed sub-standard product on their shiny new consoles, but the lack of new features, with some even removed from the previous year’s game, make this year’s installment feel like less of a pit-stop, and more of a step back. This is one game definitely made for the die-hard F1 fans who have a bigger passion for racing, than perhaps for gaming.