F1 2015 is no masterpiece, but as you find yourself tiptoeing around a sodden Sepang circuit, where pastel blue skies have faded gently to a menacing black, or hurtling up the hill towards the Casino at Monaco, you see the game at its best.
Following a two year absence, Codemasters’ award-winning Formula One series has made its return. F1 2015 is the first to appear on the latest generation of consoles and fans of the sport rightly have high expectations. But have they been met? At a glance the answer is no, but scratch beneath the surface and the game’s true merits can be found.
As the lights go out and the engines begin to roar, it becomes apparent from the outset that the graphical improvements are somewhat underwhelming. Some of the scenery around the track looks great, especially on the city circuits like Monaco and Singapore, and there are some fancy new animations too (but more on those later). But on the track, the changes are pedestrian at best. I can remember Codemasters bemoaning the fact that they were at the absolute limit with the previous consoles, so I think it’s only right to complain about their lack of progress in this department. Throughout the series they have always chosen to distance themselves from the TV style presentation of the sport, which had been used by previous game developers. Yet whilst its presence here is being touted as one of the key new features, its exclusion never really seemed to ruffle too many feathers in the past.
The choice of modes is equally low-grade. Essentially there’s four choices; Championship Season, Pro Season, Multiplayer, and Time Trial. The latter does exactly what it says on the tin, no qualms there. Meanwhile, Championship Season forms the game’s core and this single season option is the best on offer for those looking for a career mode. This is a truly glaring omission and is actually pretty inexcusable; it’s like Call of Duty minus the campaign, or Mario Kart without split-screen multiplayer. Short cutscenes telling me that Max Verstappen is only 17 years old (we know), or that Fernando Alonso’s move back to McLaren was a shock (again, we know) may make for a slightly more immersive experience, but when one is aware that this has been prioritised over significant gameplay elements, it’s actually pretty infuriating.
The online experience is also an odd one. Players are limited to set race packs that are divided up by difficulty, which would be fine, if it was in addition to the ability to perform a custom search for a particular circuit. But no, custom races are limited to invite only sessions. So go find nineteen friends to make up a full grid and you’ll be fine. But if like me you’re sat inside on a beautiful summer’s day, then you probably don’t have that many friends.
In terms of the AI drivers, the most notable change is their aggression. If they see a gap, they will try and squeeze into it. This is a definite improvement, and although it can sometimes lead to frustrating, unnecessary collisions, it is great that they won’t just sit patiently behind you. Another significant improvement is the addition of intuitive engineer communications. It is now necessary to call on them for information on things like the car’s condition, or the weather forecast. It sounds simple enough, but requesting these requires dexterity of the highest order. Hurtling around the track whilst simultaneously fiddling about, trying to find out if a tropical storm is approaching, is a real challenge, but one that adds to the realism. This is something that real Formula One drivers have to do and is a nuance that adds far more than all of the superfluous cutscenes combined. However, like everything in F1 2015, it’s far from perfect. If like me you don’t have an Xbox Kinect, then the Pro Season mode is literally impossible. This forces you to play without the HUD, which means you can’t manually request information from your engineer and must use the Kinect to do so. That’s a pretty big issue. Nonetheless, this it’s a great new feature and something which should be retained and refined in future incarnations of the game.
The handling is probably the most satisfying aspect overall and it’s as fun as I’ve known a non-arcade racer to feel. When pinging your Mercedes around with reckless abandon, beware the tyres. The improvements to force feedback mean that you can feel the tyres wearing away in the palm of your hand. Slam on the brakes into a hairpin and the controller will shudder. It’s a horrible feeling, but one that allows gamers who don’t wish to fork out on a wheel setup to experience the illusion of simulation.
Codemasters have made something which looks real but lends fun a priority (think how boring Gran Turismo 5 was). It’s a balance mastered in the FIFA series, and the developers have made no secret of their desire to emulate it. In this respect, they’ve succeeded. Video games are meant to be enjoyable and whilst this one may not have the aesthetic delights of a Ferrari, or the brunt of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes, it does what it wants and has a heap of fun on the way. Here’s looking at you Mr. Raikkonen.
F1 2015 is available now on Xbox One and Playstation 4.