Hands on Preview: F1 2014

As a sport Formula 1 gets a bit of a bad press at times. Whether it’s a lack of excitement, the excess amount of money changing hands or the diva-style tantrums delivered by some of the drivers there’s always someone looking to have a pop at one of the most advanced forms of motorsport around. You could argue some of it is justified – you only need to watch a touring car race to see an abundance of supertight racing and overtaking and see the difference – but to those who enjoy F1 there’s a huge satisfaction in the tactical aspects and insane driving abilities on show, and recent changes in the rules have certainly made the racing closer on the whole.

The same issues have often applied to Codemasters’ F1 series. While the likes of the Dirt and Grid games have offered fast, intense and crash-happy racing to an almost universal audience the F1 games have sat in their niche corner, appealing only to those who¬†happen to already be hooked into the sport. Newer versions haven’t really done much to change that, but I’m not entirely sure that’s ever been Codemasters’ intention. These games are designed for people who know that driving an F1 car isn’t easy, those who have the patience to wait for a more likely overtaking option, and those who are happy to keep half a mind on strategy as well as the actual action on the track.

F1 2014 looks set to continue that trend, but that only means good news for fans of the sport. We’ve been getting our hands dirty on the upcoming PC version, and current indicators all point towards a very slick and accurate take on this year’s new rules and changes. Visually the cars are modelled, as you’d expect by now, absolutely brilliantly. Every last curve, twist and bump of the new car shapes are immaculately rendered, and the tracks look as great as ever. The new Austrian and Russian tracks were ready to rock even in the preview version too, another slice of evidence that the F1 series is definitely keeping up to date. I’d expect a slight step-down in visual fidelity when the PS3 and 360 versions arrive, but we know what we’re getting by now in a last-gen racer from Codemasters. You know it’ll look nice, it’s the rest that’s interesting.

Game modes seem largely untouched with the usual array of championship modes and single races, but the scenario mode looks like it’s received some love over the past 12 months. There looks to be a wider range of events across several difficulty levels, and lets fans recreate some of the great moments from both this season and previous years. We pooped up with a 2nd highest global score on one event, then spent the next hour trying to beat it. It never happened, but I could’ve carried on for another hour just on that one scenario, such was the addictive nature of it.

Handling feels tighter somehow too; I was expecting the back end to be twitching around all over the place, and while you can tweak various driving aids to help Codemasters have done a good job of making the racing more friendly, without taking away too much realism in the process. It’s easy to customise for your own style, and a short race when you first play gives you a suggested difficulty and set of aids. It’s a nice system and could help new players get into the fold quickly.

The big question is whether it’ll bring players of F1 2013 back into the frame. On older systems, with a smaller audience and the next-gen version round the corner it might struggle for numbers. But one thing is already clear from the preview build – you won’t find a better F1 title on the systems it’s coming to at the moment (PS3, 360 and PC) and for authenticity and driving satisfaction it’s already difficult to criticise.

On October 17th we’ll find out just what else Codemasters have up their sleeves. Racenet has evolved well and could provide plenty of longevity, but we’ll have to wait and see. But right now it’s looking very good indeed though, and fans of F1 should be looking forward to this with great excitement.

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