It’s been awhile since I last played a Formula One video game, with my last venture in the racing franchise being F1 2011. I played it a lot and really enjoyed it, but the problem with F1 games is that each title is only marginally different – cars only change a little, whilst typically the same courses feature in a Formula One season each year. Much like the FIFA games, there often wasn’t enough change to justify anyone other than die-hard fans purchasing the latest entry in the series.
After a five year absence I’ve returned to the series with F1 2016, and boy am I impressed. F1 2016 not only provides the most authentic Formula One experience I’ve come across in video games, but one of the most enjoyable racing experiences too.
Developers Codemasters have strived to provide an authentic experience with F1 2016 and they’ve succeeded in almost every facet. Each of the twenty one tracks of the 2016 Formula One season feature in the game and they’re all perfectly re-created too, be it the tight streets of Monaco or the long straights of the Italian GP in Monza. The dynamic weather system of the game keeps things looking stunning too, with the sun scorching across the track and cars when the weather is kind, or the drenching puddles reflecting the course lights at a wet Singapore GP.
The cars look fantastic too, with 2016 flyers like the Mercedes F1 W07 Hybrid and the Ferrari SF16-H looking impressive – sure, they can suffer the same weird shiny look so often seen in racing games, but they’re still visually stunning. I especially loved the way that the heat coming from the backend of the car seemed to blur the air, with these minor details adding a significant amount of authenticity to the whole experience. The real-life drivers have been re-created too, so you can expect to see the familiar faces of Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg and Red Bull newbie Max Verstappen out and around the paddock.
The most enjoyable game mode of F1 2016 is the ‘Career Mode’ that allows you to create your own Formula One driver and set out to try and become World Champion. Those who enjoy spending hours fine tuning their character’s appearance will be a little disappointed as you’re only able to select your character’s face from a selection of pre-set appearances, though fortunately you’ll be spending most of your time behind a customisable helmet so it doesn’t matter too much. You can select which Formula One team you begin your career with and which of their drivers you’ll partner with too, though the choice you make will affect what they expect from you – a team like Mercedes or Ferrari will expect you to be winning the World Championship within your first couple of seasons, but a lower team like Haas F1 will have a more long term plan for you.
Whilst you’ll be spending most of the time on the track, Career Mode also has an extended emphasis on interacting with different people behind the scenes. Not only will you have an agent that deals with issues such as your contract, but you’ll also keep in contact with the head of your team’s R&D department too. R&D plays a big role in your Formula One career – you’ll earn points during race weekends that can be used to improve a variety of different facets of your car. You’ll earn points depending on how well you perform, but they can also be earned from practice sessions too. I’ve been guilty of skipping practice sessions in F1 games previously, so this added incentive saw me putting plenty of laps in on the earlier days of a race weekend. You’ll also get to interact with a lot of familiar faces from the Formula One world with a variety of real-life team principles showing up, though fortunately I was spared the threat of ‘team orders’ from Toto Wolff during my time with Mercedes…
Career Mode even gives you a rival to face off against and compare performances, be it a team mate or a driver from another team who’s trying to pip you to the World Championship. Things such as qualifying places, final positions, lap times and how well you drove are compared, with you and your rival scoring points for out performing each other. If you consistently better your rival then you’ll reap the rewards, be it just personal glory or replacing your team mate as the number one driver for the team. We’ve seen plenty of heated rivalries throughout the years in Formula One, so it’s great that it’s accurately represented in the video game too.
Whilst there’s plenty to do outside of the race track in F1 2016, the most important aspect of the game will always be the racing itself – thankfully Codemasters have delivered a thrilling driving experience that’s both enjoyable and accessible to all players. There are seven different difficulty settings on offer, ranging from ‘very easy’ to ‘ultimate’. You can actually customise the difficulty setting yourself though, so you’re able to choose which assists help you out during the game as well as deciding how intelligent your opponent’s AI will be too.
To the developer’s credit, F1 2016 features well balanced AI that ensures that races are incredibly pulsating without having AI drivers pull off moves and manoeuvres that might be considered unfair. Sure, there’ll be plenty of crashes that might ruin a race for you, but that’s to be expected in the world of Formula One.
There are indicators that show when another car is making an attack on your position, giving you the opportunity to defend it or try to avoid a potential collision. I’ll admit that I was often guilty of intentionally blocking any rival drivers from all angles, even if it is considered unsportsmanlike in the world of Formula One. Still, if you’re not first you’re last, right? Rival racers will do the same thing though and it’s always exciting to try and attack an opponent’s position when hitting some of the tracks corners, though they could defend a little too harshly at times – I made a real rival out of Nico Rosberg who was somehow always guilty of spinning me off the track.
When there is an accident the game introduces either a safety car or the virtual safety car. Admittedly, I’ve yet to the see the actual safety car in action, though I did get to witness plenty of yellow flags that warned be not to try and take over rival drivers. I don’t play by the rules though, which quickly saw me disqualified after refusing to go through the pit lane after not giving up my position. F1 2016 makes sure you don’t fool around too much and there’s no spoiling things for other racers too, with your car taking a ghost-like appearances to ensure you don’t cause any intentional collisions with other racers. Mind you, there are some exceptions to the rules and you can cause the occasional pile-up if you’re feeling particularly mean, though the same can easily happen to you and see your chances of winning a particular GP ending during the first corner…
Those who don’t like their race ruined by a one off accident will be glad to see Codemasters’ popular ‘rewind’ feature making a return in F1 2016, allowing players to rewind back to an earlier point in the race to rectify any errors or crashes. I used it a few times initially, but quickly found that it could take away from the authentic Formula One experience. Instances of running off a track by mistake or crashing out of the race are so common place in the world of Formula One that I felt I was cheating the game a little. Still, you’re not forced to use it and I’m sure some players will appreciate it anyway.
Your race strategy plays a big role in the game and you’re always able to monitor how both your car and your tyres are holding up. You’ll notice your tyres wear away over time, so there’s the risk and reward factor of making another pit stop or hoping they last you until the end of the race. These kind of decisions can be the difference between you winning a race or not making it on the podium at all, so you’ll always need to be aware of how your car is performing.
You can easily modify each pit stop setting on the fly – for instance, if you’re driving on a wet track but notice it’s drying up, you can choose to put on the soft tyres to pick up your speed and take advantage of your opponents who might stay on the wet tyres for an extra lap or two. Of course, this could also backfire and you might find yourself sliding off the track and retiring early from the race. You’re given the freedom to choose how things play out, but you’ll still have to use your head a little. Your team will often make suggestions to you (via your controller speaker if you’re playing on the Playstation 4), but they’re not always necessarily the smartest decisions – I ignored my team on plenty of occasions when they’d try to pull me in for irrelevant reasons, or maybe that’s just me trying to live (quite literally) in the fast lane.
Besides the career mode, you can also partake in ‘Quick Races’, ‘Championships’ that see you compete as an already established racer, or even take part in the twenty two player ‘Multiplayer’ races. Multiplayer is ridiculously fun, with each race feeling intense and exciting as the game re-creates a race weekend on a much wider scale. You can still have a quick race that simply takes place over three laps if you want, but those who want to take part in a sixty lap authentic race can do so if they please. Hell, you can even take part in a full-blown online championship if you like, though my experience with multiplayer so far certainly doesn’t give the impression that I’ll be basking in F1 2016 online championship glory anytime soon.
The only downside to the multiplayer is that the length of races can mean you’re left waiting as a spectator before actually being able to take part in a race, especially in some of the lobbies that were close to being full. My experience with multiplayer was pre-release though, so I’m sure that now the game is officially out there’ll be a lot more online races that you’ll be able to take part in from the get-go.
With F1 2016 Codemasters have created the best Formula One video game yet, offering an experience that provides authenticity without sacrificing any of the fun of the racing itself. Whether you’re playing through the fantastic career mode or in a hectic twenty two player online championship, F1 2016 will keep both die-hard Formula One and racing game fans entertained for a long time.
Release Date: 19/08/2016
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC