It’s pretty safe to say that if you want a quality racer, you can rely on Codemasters. For years now they’ve been creating games which, even when they haven’t been what people expected (hello, Grid 2) they’ve been great fun. But after having the F1 license for a few years things took a step back recently with a stripped back F1 game which lacked some key features from the sport. But with F1 2016 Codemasters have brought things back to exactly where they belong, and have created one of the best F1 games you’ll have ever found on a console.
Much like the recent DiRT Rally, the emphasis here is on realism. New additions to this year’s game include the formation lap which tasks you with warming your tyres and brakes before the race start, manual starts which involve balancing the clutch and your revs before the lights go out, and both virtual and physical safety cars for when things on track go a bit overly bonkers. The career mode lets you start with whichever team you fancy, meaning you can start off in a Mercedes hunting for instant trophies or hop into a Manor and try to work your way up through the field by improving your car. It’s a free choice leaving you with a simple decision of which route you want to take.
Personally I started my career at Renault, but having claimed an easy pole in the first race soon needed to hike up the difficulty a few notches to give a more realistic challenge. There are loads of ways to tweak the skill needed though; as well as the AI levels there are plenty of driving aids to play around with, giving you varying levels of traction control, braking help and so on. What this gives you is complete control over your own experience, giving you the exact kind of a racing you want. You’ll develop rivalries throughout your seasons, both with your teammate and another driver in the field, and beating these improves your standing in the team, pushing you up from the less appreciated second driver up to team leader and attracting interest from other teams. Testing sessions are genuinely useful now as well, letting you earn development points by learning the track through a series of gated checkpoints, practising being gentle on your tyres and setting fast qualifying style laps. These points can upgrade your team’s cars bit by bit, and it was a great feeling seeing my languishing Renault team slowly becoming more competitive than the likes of Force India and Torro Rosso. Other teams improve too though, so you need to keep plugging away – it took a long time to catch McLaren, such was their rate of improvement (mirroring real life of course).
But while on track the close racing is as finely tuned and exciting as you’d hope from an F1 game, it’s often the times you find yourself alone on the track which shine through more. The handling of the cars is sublime, and although I’ll probably never get to drive an F1 car the ways the cars behave feels just as you imagine they would. The huge torque of the hybrid engines spins the rear tyres up with no effort, leaving them in shreds and forcing pit stops, and with tyre wear being one of the biggest challenges facing an F1 driver it seems only right that it’s another consideration here as well. As a result it’s often those laps where you’re furiously hunting down the guy in front, or trying to build a lead, or desperately stringing out your knackered old tyres for a few more laps to give you an advantage in the pit strategies where the qualities of this game sit. It feels tense. It feels tough. It feels punishing. And you know that, even with the flashback system forgiving some mistakes, it’ll only need one missed braking point and your front wing will be half way across the track. It’s fantastic.
Elsewhere you’ll find 22 player online races, which work impressively well if you can survive the typical first corner issue of those players who forget you’re meant to brake before a corner. We found plenty of lobbies available (which, unlike last year, you can browse and join yourself instead of relying on matchmaking) and there’s a decent amount of options available to give you control over what kind of races you have, be it the amount of damage you can suffer, whether the cars behave the same or match their real life counterparts, the number of laps and so on. The Time Trial mode lets you head onto any track (including the awesome new Baku circuit) to fine tune your setups and save them for later use, and there’s the usual options to do single races with various options for the time of day, weather and so on.
So considering how great F1 2016 feels when you’re out on track, as well as the nice improvements to the presentation between sessions, it’s pretty much a given that if you’re a fan of F1 then you should be picking this up. In the same way that DiRT Rally absolutely nailed the rallying genre, F1 2016 has rejuvenated the F1 series in a way we haven’t seen for a long time. It won’t please those who want a variety of car types and 50 tracks to race on – those people will be better served by a Project Cars or Driveclub – but for those who want to race against the likes of Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel this is absolutely on the money.
Reviewed on PS4