Each year a new Formula 1 seasons heralds a tweak in the rules, a slight change in aerodynamic rules and a few drivers swapping teams. But the 2014 seasons was a bit different, with the new season bringing in one of the biggest changes to the cars themselves for many years. Out go the fuel hungry, emission belching engines from the past, replaced by 1.6 litre turbo charged hybrid engines, using recovered energy to provide huge electrical boosts to horsepower. The result, cars which are extremely twitchy, challenging to drive and require careful and deliberate actions to keep in a straight line. In other words, everything that sounds terrible for a video game. Impressive, then, that Codemasters have managed to keep all of the challenge from a real F1 car while making it entirely accessible to almost any ability. It’s just a shame that this time round it all feels a bit like a stop-gap between new and old.
It must be an almost impossible task for Codemasters to keep the F1 games feeling fresh. Unlike other racing games such as Dirt and Grid they can’t just drop in extra tracks, more cars and crazy game modes to mix things up a bit. Previous ideas included the excellent historical F1 mode which allowed you to race in sepia tinted races using cars and tracks from previous decades, but with an unfortunate lack of a full grid of older cars it didn’t feel like a full addition, and this time round has been chopped all together. So what can Codemasters pull out of the bag to make F1 2014 more than just the latest update in an ever-growing sequence of F1 games?
In all honesty, there isn’t that much in terms of new features. That’s not to say this is a bad game, because that’s not true. F1 2014 is a very good racing game, so it’s very much worth focussing on the positives initially, and one thing that’s clear is how well the game lets beginners tame these throttle happy beasts that now pass as F1 cars. With the incredible amount of torque delivered this year it was always going to be a tough task when it came to making this an accessible game for everyone. Step forward the driver evaluation system, a quick sprint which is there to figure out just how good your car control is and set up the relevant driving aids to help get you into the first few races without constantly getting intimate with nearby gravel traps and barriers. It’s a good system, and although I found it to be a bit over protective (I’ve played every Codemasters F1 game so far and it still suggested I used every aid turned up to max) you then get the option to fine tune each and every driving aid, giving varying levels of traction control, braking support and so on. You’ll be playing with these for the first few races, but whether you’re using a wheel or a standard controller the sheer range of possible options mean you’re definitely going to find a combination of settings which feel right to you. I started using quite strong traction control for example, but as I got the hang of being slightly less aggressive with the accelerator turned it down little by little until it was off totally. I regretted it whenever it rained though…
Elsewhere Codemasters have been typically detailed with the new tracks and car changes which have entered the F1 calendar this year, with the Hockenheim race making a return, alongside new tracks in Austria and Russia. The night time Bahrain GP is in full effect too, giving a very different challenge to what’s seen before on that specific track. The cars look great too considering this is running on the older consoles, and have all the new bizarre lumps and bumps which have been brought about from this year’s rule changes in terms of car shapes and nose heights. It’s nothing which will blow you away if you’ve seen the previous couple of F1 titles, but it maintains the shine that we’ve come to expect. The new engine sounds are quite different to before though, with the quieter and more whiney engines sounding surprisingly beefy when you’re positioned inches from the front of it.
In terms of game modes it’s more a case of tweaking what was already in place as opposed to adding anything new (and as previously mentioned, we’ve even lost some features). With the new consoles receiving their own F1 title next year huge new features weren’t really expected, and so instead we’ve got some useful changes to the scenario and season modes which are aimed at giving gamers more bite sized gaming options. The scenario mode has been polished up, spanning several difficulty settings and awarding various medals depending on how well you do in the challenges. These range from taking advantage of other drivers’ mistakes, making the most of difficult weather conditions and loads of other real-life recent events. They’re a fun challenge, often lasting no more than three or four laps but serving up a very addictive challenge as you try to beat the times of other racers around the world. The season mode gives you options too, letting you choose how many races you want to complete and how much to do during each event. All fine so far.
Multiplayer is much the same as last year, with online races and championships giving a lot of flexibility over how you race against others. Online games were thin on the ground while reviewing this (such is the nature of reviewing games before they’re released) but those we found worked well and were a breeze to set up and join. Racenet is back too, giving the usual challenges which update regularly and often match the goings on in the real life F1 world.
And yet despite all these nice tweaks to the content and the introduction of the new engines, I’m not sure people who own F1 2013 will really need this. If you’re a huge F1 fan, as many people are, then you’ll love the new tracks and relish the challenge brought about by the new engines and handling models. If you haven’t been in the market for an F1 game for a while and fancy trying it then you’ll do well with this as well – after all, it does offer a very friendly introduction to the insane speeds you’ll be travelling at. But all things considered the audience for this is pretty narrow, and most of you will probably be more tempted to wait and see what the new consoles deliver. Codemasters need their new generation engine to start producing games, and they need it now. They’ve run out of steam on the older machines, and while this is still a great F1 racer (and I mean that, in isolation it really is a great game) it’s also very tough to recommend it if you’ve already got a recent F1 title.
Reviewed on PS3