It may only be lap eight out of fifteen in the Australian Grand Prix, but I’m already feeling confident about winning, holding pole position by quite a stretch. Suddenly, a blueprint of my car pops up on screen and a member of my pit team informs me that my tyres are wearing thin. I weigh up my options - either make a pit stop now and temporarily sacrifice my lead, or hold out for as long as I can, hoping that my tyres don’t blow out on a difficult corner. I decide to trust my pit crew and swoop in for a change. The rest of the race becomes a battle as I work my way back up the ranks, and even though I never manage to take the number one stop, a respectable second feels earned and deserved, especially considering the other option would have meant I’d wind up coming dead last.
Without a doubt the unsung heroes of F1 2016 are the pit crews. I may be the one behind the wheel, but it’s their in-depth technical expertise and swift hands that help me climb up the pack, complete each race with a respectable time and even help me earn a podium finish. They may be doe-eyed, personality vacuums on the screen, but they are the face of everything going on under the bonnet in this series best for the high-torque motorsport.
Codemasters have been in control of the Formula One license since 2008, but everything up until now has felt like a practice session. By testing the road year after year, the Southam based development studio has taken the time to learn from their mistakes and understand their fan base in order to create a defining milestone in the F1 series. And if last year’s effort felt a little on the lean side, then this year’s instalment negates on that stripped back approach, in favour of a highly detailed racer that will definitely satisfy F1 fanatics and probably win over a few newbies in the process.
F1 2016 is as authentic as they come. Everything from holding the clutch and revving the engines at the start of your campaign to parading around each track during the formation lap in order to warm-up the car feels like a necessary stepping stone towards victory, leaving you to wonder how some F1 games in the past survived without such features. From the pit crews working tirelessly to ensure your vehicle is performing at peak levels, to the roaring of engines drowning out the cheering crowds, there’s a business to each and every Grand Prix that perfectly recreates a race-day atmosphere. This game has all the looks and sounds you’d expect from a F1 TV broadcast, let alone a game. You can almost smell the petrol fumes and burnt rubber coming from your television set.
Notably absent from last year’s instalment, the career mode makes a very welcome return to series, bringing with it a whole host of additional features designed to beef up gameplay and assist you in winning each race. After selecting your avatar, nationality, helmet and even your lucky number, you’ll be given the choice of lending your driving talents to any one of the officially licensed teams. Each one comes with a number of expectations so depending on how much of a challenge you’re after, you can decide if you’d rather help Ferrari or Mercedes AMG maintain their visible leads or help bring a struggling team up through the standings.
Your campaign begins with a few brief introductions to members of your team, before you suit up and make your way to the pit lanes. From there you’ll be given the option of participating in three pre-race programmes which upon completion, will reward you with resource points that can be spent on souping up your vehicle and making it competition-ready for the upcoming main event. Rival teams whizz by, conducting their own experiments in the process, giving the game some life never before seen in other racing games, let alone other F1 games.
The programmes themselves come in the form of three distinct mini-games. The track acclimatisation programme gives you the opportunity to learn the lay of the land, while telemetry data is fed back to the pit crew so that they may provide information on how to take corners at an optimal pace. A tyre assessment programme will recommend which tyre tread is best suited to the racing conditions, while a qualifying run programme will task you with completing three laps within a set time limit, in order for you to earn your position at the start of the race. These new practice modes are optional but come highly recommended if you want to get the most out of F1 2016. Breaking up each race, they add an extra layer of detail to an already impressive racing sim. At times, they can feel a little monotonous, particularly if you fail the parameters required of you, but completing each one in turn and earning resources points is almost as satisfying as the main event itself.
The greatest achievement of these practice sessions is they never once feel like distractions from the rest of the game. Instead, they provide you with an extra boost of confidence and some inside knowledge that is vital for when you finally begin the Grand Prix. As you juggle positions on the track, pit crews will use the data you’ve accumulated to provide on-the-fly tips and recommendations that will help you get the edge on your opponents. A highly detailed menu on the HUD allows you ignore these commands or provide additional information for future reference as you wish, further adding to the high levels of detail going on behind the scenes.
The racing itself builds upon the already impressive system that was introduced in the 2015 edition of the game, adding in some new tweaks and features along the way. The slightest oversteer or charging into corners at great speed can have devastating ramifications (along with some spectacular crash sequences). The DRS system when activated will give you some valuable additional horsepower on the straights while gently pumping the accelerator and the breaks will keep your tyres a little fresher, giving you the turning power required to successfully navigate each bend in the road at a respectable pace.
Perhaps one of the disappointments to be found during a race comes from the game’s AI. At times my pit crew were telling me to come in for a tyre change when I was on the last leg of the final lap. Meanwhile, opposition drivers and even my own team mates were rear-ending me as they robotically followed the track like a Scalextric car, unphased by the fact that my vehicle was inches in front of them. In situations such as this, the Codemasters tried-and-tested flashback system really comes into play, giving you the chance to rerun the last few seconds of the race should things take a turn for the worst.
Beyond the career mode are the usual quick race, time trial and multiplayer options, the latter of which giving you the opportunity to participate in an online championship. Up to twenty-two players can compete and although the AI can be a little off when playing on your own; that’s nothing compared to the hustle and bustle of an online race, where your opponents will gladly take the penalty if it means pushing you off the course altogether and ruining your perfect lap. Sadly, there are still no local multiplayer options available but it’s easy to let that one slide as more of a trend within the games industry rather than a missed opportunity for the series.
F1 2016 is a game made with so much care and detail that it’s hard not to see just how much passion Codemasters have for the motorsport. Rightly so, they deserve to hold the F1 license just as much as EA deserves the FIFA one. Rich with extras and deep cuts from the F1 world, this is a game that understands its target audience better than most other racing games do. An accomplished racer that takes the game beyond the track, F1 2016 takes pole position as Codemasters most enjoyable take on the series to date.