I think it’s fair to say that F1 as a sport has had its ups and downs. While some bemoan the current format with its reliance on technology and gadgets, others point to some brilliant racing and overtaking as evidence that things aren’t quite so bad under the surface. So too with F1 2015, a game which is light on features compared to previous efforts, but has some vitally important stuff going on under the virtual bonnet which make it a crucial stepping stone in the F1 series of games.
First, the bad news: as you might have already heard, there are fewer features in F1 2015 than in the past couple of games. There’s no multi-season career mode, no option to race using cars from the 70s, it’s just a 2014 or 2015 season with some single-race and time-trial options in the mix as well. Maybe a problem for some people (as previous reviews elsewhere have shown with some low scores) but I’ve been thinking carefully about this, and it’s a move which Codemasters have made with a decent level of thought and intelligence.
At the moment, F1 is a rapidly changing sport. Rules alter dramatically from one season to the next, and the way the cars handle and perform will change a lot as a result. Nobody can predict that change, and while having a 20-year FIFA career is entirely possible due to the fairly consistent nature of football rules, F1 isn’t the same. That’s not to say I disliked the old career mode, not at all, and the single-season condensed career would still be entirely valid, but F1 2015 is all about realism, it’s about stripping back to the basics to make sure they’re done right. This is the first F1 game on the new consoles remember, and there have been a fair few changes which make this a game which needed to happen before more features get thrown back in.
The core part of any driving game is the driving; indeed, the core part of any racing game is the racing. Most games aim for one or the other, but F1 2015 manages to do both extremely well. Whether you’re throwing your car around in a time trial trying to shave seconds off your best time, or jostling for 10th around the ever-awesome Spa circuit, it feels great to play. AI drivers have more awareness of you and won’t turn into a corner if you’re making a mental tyre-ruining lunge down the inside. They’ll pick the right moment to try and overtake you, holding back in a tricky corner in order to get a good run on your in the DRS zone. It’s intelligence not seen before in a Codemasters racing game, and shows a huge step forwards for the series.
Other nice touches include the engineer talking to you via the speaker in the PS4 controller, something used to similarly good effect in Project CARS and detaches your radio chatter from the other sounds in the game. Visually the game is quite pretty too, with heat hazes rising from the cars ahead and replays using the new consoles’ power in a very effective way. It’s maybe not up to the incredible standard set by DriveClub and Project CARS, but it’s the best looking F1 game to date, as you’d expect for the newer consoles.
So in terms of game modes we’ve got on offer, there’s the simple single race and time trial options, which are exactly what you’d expect and let you dip in and out of various circuits and cars without getting dragged into anything too epic. But then you’ve got the Championship Season mode, something which on the surface looks like the same old game mode, until you notice something else about this year’s F1 title: this is for racing fans. The basic season mode insists on a minimum of 25% race distance, along with the various practice and qualifying sessions (which you can skip or fast forward if you so choose), giving you a far fuller version of the actual F1 season. This time you can’t just go from start to finish on one set of tyres, you can’t do crazy brake-locking dives down the inside of cars at every corner, and you can’t just punt someone off the track knowing a slightly damaged wing won’t matter for a 5 lap race. You need to think of strategy, looking after your tyres, deciding whether to pit sooner for the undercut or stay out longer and enjoy an empty track ahead of you. Do you start on the harder or softer tyres? Do you enrich your fuel earlier on to get ahead, knowing you’ll need to weaken it later to finish the race? All of these things need to be considered, something which was never forced on you before. That won’t appeal to everyone, but for F1 fans looking for something more authentic, it’s a masterstroke.
For those after a bigger challenge, the Pro Season ramps things up to a crazy level, removing all assists, upping the difficulty to 11 and insisting on giving you full length race weekends. It’s not for everyone – in fact I’d go as far as to say it’s for very few people – but for the true racing fans you’ll want to aim for it. It’s very very difficult, but will certainly be quite an achievement if you’re successful.
The online options are interesting but odd; instead of a lobby system F1 uses something called hopper sessions, letting you choose what kind of race you’d like to do from various options, then goes away and finds you a game. While it’s doing that you can go off and do something else, such as the time trial or single race modes. As soon as it finds a session for you, a message pops up and asks if you want to join. It works well, but does mean you can easily get dropped into a lobby with only one other player. Whether this is due to a lack of online players or some strange matchmaking is hard to tell, but we weren’t able to race in a full lobby at any point before writing this review.
So while not being as fully featured as some might like, I still see F1 2015 as a vital step in the F1 series. The new racing and physics engines are fantastic, the longer races in the championship give people chance to race like they might not have done before with the shorter championships, and the new consoles have given the lift to the presentation which you’d expect from the generation leap. F1 2015 might not be the game that people expected, but it’s definitely the game we needed. Don’t rule this one out as a result of the lessened game modes.
Reviewed on PS4