F1 2015 Review

Season opener.

Drag reduction systems, varying tyre compounds and even brand new power units have done little to change the sport of Formula 1 over the past few years. Though the decks have been shuffled and different teams have risen to the top, the racing has remained fundamentally the same for the last four or five years. While the sport has remained the same, Codemasters have endeavoured to wipe the slate clean when it comes to their videogame.

The consequence of that move is that F1 2015 is a surprisingly minimalist release, with few bells and whistles beyond the core racing gameplay. You have a Championship Season mode, in which you pick any of the drivers and race as them for a full season, Pro Season is the same, but with all of the assists stripped back and full weekends and races, for the ultimate challenge. These are joined by quick races, time trials and multiplayer racing.

There’s no career mode though, where you create your own racer and work your way from one team to the next. Nor are there sprint seasons, challenge modes, classic cars and tracks or any of the ideas that have featured in the series over the past few years. There is the full crop of 2014 cars and tracks – including a German Grand Prix – but they’re simply there as a variation on a theme, letting you play as one of the bankrupted teams or with a mildly competitive McLaren car.

When the game was announced to be coming earlier in the year, Codemasters explained that this was to be supported with content patches and car performance updates over the course of the year. Yet, without game modes that make use of this functionality in F1 2015, to explore evolving car performance or let you relive key moments from races in the sport over the last 18 months, it feels somewhat futile.

Ultimately, F1 2015 is a foundational game upon which Codemasters can build for the next five years, introducing further game modes and making use of new frameworks and features as they go. With a whole new game engine, physics model, AI and plenty more besides, it’s still worthy of the current generation of console.

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In particular, the visuals are excellent. As I noted in our first impressions, it’s a relatively soft image, but one that is pleasing on the eye and with very few instances of aliasing. Lighting effects have been improved greatly, so that the night races on the calendar actually look rather good now and we finally have a day-night transition when racing for any decent length of time at Abu Dhabi. The track scenery is very attractive as well, whether it’s the crowded buildings around Monaco or just the fact that grass actually manages to look like grass, rather than a horrid mottled green texture with odd tufts sticking out of it.

The attempts to ape the look and presentation of television broadcasts are a mixed bag, however. There’s some really nice touches, like being able to spectate other drivers when you’re not on track, having some commentary from familiar voices before and after a race, and it’s great to see the grid packed with people before the race. It stumbles with the lacking character models, as all of the drivers look like stiff second-rate waxwork models, brought to life to flap mouths and splash each other with champagne in a strictly scripted fashion. Much of this is skippable, but there are a few odd points which you cannot bypass or have to wait a few moments before you can.

Of course, none of that matters when you’re in the thick of the action, and at the beating heart is the game’s handling model. Naturally, you can play with all of the assists turned right up, but as with any racing game, it’s better as you turn those down or off. Compared to the last few years, racing without assists is a little more exacting, with the rear tyres easier to spin up as you try to accelerate and the brakes much easier to lock up. Certainly, it’s much more difficult to get a good race start without wheel spin if you don’t have traction control turned on.

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Thankfully, I didn’t find any drastic differences in my best lap times as I fiddled with the assists, but rather found that having a dab of traction control or ABS simply let me be more consistent. Oddly, I was also able to get up to my best pace quicker with a pad than with a racing wheel on PC – something especially true of driving in the rain – but just found a wheel to be more engaging and fun, even if I’d like to have more force feedback, with a slight edge in pace if I was able to hook it all up.

The challenge is amplified greatly by stepping into the Pro Season. It pits you against the fastest AI while pushing you to tackle full race distances from within the mandatory cockpit view, no assists and even without the HUD that keeps you informed of track position and laps. That job instead falls to the race engineer, who will regularly badger you with information and tips – don’t worry, these can be reduced in frequency or removed entirely – but can also be prompted with voice commands or with a D-pad menu.

When using voice commands, your stuck with stock phrases like “Driver behind” or “Fuel target”, rather than being able to ask who’s in third place or where a particular driver is. Even outside of Pro Season it can come in handy to get a quick reminder of when your pit window is or the gap to the car behind, but I found it quite unreliable and confusing when warning me of my remaining fuel. My first 25% race saw me lost positions with speed limited through lack of fuel, because I hadn’t been warned of low fuel to my knowledge, and I also had conflicting messages where I asked for an update, was told I was running on fumes and then the automatic message told me that I had 10% fuel left. It’s another area that has the potential to grow over time.

The same must be said of the AI in the game. Pick the right difficulty for you and they’re solid competitors that can give you some wheel to wheel action and keep you honest, but they can quite often be bottled up behind you and they lack that spark of uniqueness from reality, where we see drivers taking very different lines through Brooklands and Luffield at Silverstone, for example. Then there are the genuine problems, such as a tendency for both team drivers deciding to pit on the same lap of a 25% race under normal racing conditions, or their overly racy behaviour during practice and qualifying, which can lead to truly asinine moments where a driver on his outlap ruins your hot lap.

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Taking the game online sees an interesting assortment of race types to choose from, as well as baring all the options to you in custom lobbies. You can choose from short sprints without collisions to 25% length races with a one-shot qualifying session and up to 50% races without assists. Picking a category then sends you to the menu to let you do something else for a few minutes while it searches for a space. It can take a while, even with the game freshly launched, and there are further loading times and countdown timers, so that it can feel like quite a wait between races.

But it’s not without its issues, and there were some bizarre bugs that I saw with the occasional instance of invisible racers meaning that I was further down the finishing grid than I thought I should be. Of course, you’re also racing against the all to familiar types of racer that you find online, with the race engineer sagely advising me to take it easy into the first corner, to avoid any crashes… Just as in previous years, this will still be best enjoyed with friends in private lobbies.

What’s Good:

  • Excellent new game engine.
  • Tight, responsive but challenging car handling.
  • Pro Season adds a new target for the most skilled drivers.
  • A solid foundation for future games.

What’s Bad:

  • Small number of game modes compared to recent years.
  • Inclusion of 2014 season and 2015 updates seem pointless without more game modes.
  • Voice commands are restrictive and race engineer can be unreliable.
  • Driver models and animations are terribly awkward.

F1 2015 doesn’t have many of the features and game modes that we’ve seen over the years, and this feels disappointing given delays during development, but it gives a solid basis for future growth. With lush visuals, tight car handling, good racing and a sprinkling of fresh ideas, this is exactly the fresh start that Codemasters needed.

Score: 7/10

Versions tested: PlayStation 4, PC

17 Comments

  1. 7 is fair, it is quite barebones, but seems polished enough. Now that I’ve discovered the engineer information (must have disabled it by accident at the start), I can race according to tyre and fuel conditions.

    Also a couple of tipsfrom my playtime so far: When it’s raining, do NOT go onto the wet tyre unless the rest of the field is on it. I tried to be too clever and fit it when I was given a choice at the start of the race. The game isn’t joking when it says it’s 5 seconds a lap slower than the inters. Also I got 3 punctures on the wets so there seems to be a bug there possibly.

    Stay out for a lap extra on the option tyre, I find it handles much better when worn, and then you have license to push hard on the prime.

    Maybe running a rich fuel mix at the start of the race then toning down is more efficient in terms of fuel wheight, but it’s hard to tell.

    • Yeah, the core gameplay, engine and handling is good, it’s just that it’s not been dressed up in enough exciting ways.

      I’d also recommend staying out an extra lap. You get the chance of some clean air, aren’t as likely to be held up for a second or two while other cars drive past you in the pits and get the benefit of other teams stupidly pitting both drivers on the same lap. It really is dumb.

      As for fuel mix, you just need to shift up as soon as the revs hit the red line or sooner, and you can run the entire race like that. My issue was that I was shifting up too late, using too much fuel in the process, and when the race engineer says such vague things as “you’ve got 10% left” or “that’s 15kg of fuel remaining”, I didn’t have the reference points to figure out how much that was, and you can’t see for yourself how much there is and how much is draining each lap, so I ran out and was limited to 140kph.

      It’s a bit dumb because, while it’s a nice idea that has potential, the screen that you have on modern wheels lets drivers see so much information about the car and the race. Micromanage lap deltas, fuel load, lap number etc. etc. and you’re just missing out on all of that.

    • Yeah, as Stefan mentions, you have to shift relatively early. The engines go up to 15,000 RPM but currently drivers shift up at around the 11,000 – 11,500 RPM mark, which in most cases is split second before the rev lights hit max. On most straights, you should aim for 8th gear, and on mid speed corners with TC off it’s best to shift quick and incredibly early to carry the torque through the gears and avoid wheelspin. Plus if the fuel usage is anything like real life, then expect some lifting and coasting on GP’s like Canada and Monza.

      I’m not sure fuel loads can be adjusted for races, but it’s 100KG capacity on the 2015 cars, and 150KG on the 2014 cars and usually that load cannot be messed with in terms of under-fueling the car.

      When it comes to wear and usage in general, Codies have never provided enough depth in the data, and I’ve always ended up recording fuel usage and tyre wear in free practice manually, when going for a 100% race.

    • Reply to Stefan and Avenger.

      Thanks for the short shift tips. I run automatic gears and do short shift occasionally, but I’m hindered by the aggressive automatic downshifts, especially in 7th and 8th. It’d be cool to have customisable gear change maps/criteria.

      As for the actual fuel, it says in the setup that 5kg is 3 laps, so I work it out that way. When the engineer says a % it’s more difficult. But I run 50% races, I can tell The tyres are definitely scaled, I’m unsure if the fuel is scaled or the tank is just filled half full.

      The 11k RPM shift you mention is due to the fuel flow limit not allowing extra power beyond 11k (revving higher just to get the same power-ineffective) Definitely something we could look at, but we don’t even get an absolute rpm display afaik so it’s hard to test…

      And lift and coasting is purely a strategic choice by the teams who choose to underfuel their cars, again, hard to tell how well this is represented in game. And I’ve not seen an option anywhere asking me the amount of race fuel I want.

      • Well gearing is locked due to regulation, so RPM limits and gear maps are unavailable to change.

        As far as I know, underfuelling is not allowed or not done anymore due to strict fuel flow regulattions, although I might be mistaken. Lifting and coasting, plus short shifting, worked in 2014 for saving fuel, but I’m not sure its better than switching to lean.

      • I do 50% races too. You start with 50kg of fuel, but I’m finding that I always end up with an excess even after using rich for the most part.

      • Cool, didn’t know about gearing being regulated. Surely the ratios change between circuits though?

      • Yeah, gear ratios change between tracks. They’re all pre-agreed by teams for each track.

  2. I’ve had the same issues with every point rasied. The omission of split screen and career mode is criminal; career mode has been my favorite game mode for the entire Codemasters’ series. It’s just bizarre how it’s been left out.

    The AI is inconsistent. If it’s not on expert or higher the game is far too easy. Also in qualifying I can coast to pole by 2 seconds in a Sauber on expert, then in the race the expert AI set faster laps than qualy on the opening lap of a 50% race. It’s madness.

    I like the option to talk to the engineer, but again it’s inconsistent. Sometimes they keep telling me to pit, but when I ask about my pit window they say it isn’t for another 5 laps (what?!). Also during a dynamic grand prix at Maylasia I wanted to switch from intermediate to prime, but they gave me another set of intermediates instead forcing me take an extra put and concede first, finally ending up 5th.

    The only redeeming feature is the new game engine, which as you say it’s fantastic. Although the game still seems unfinished, not just by a little, but by a country mile, which is frustrating given the amount of time Codemasters have had to bring out a new F1 game on PS4, so it’s not quite a 7 for me.

  3. I am really enjoying it but its full of strange development decisions like they were scheduling for september all along.

    Career mode is silly to leave out and even more so when you have last years cars as a welcome bonus.

    The AI in corners on Elite are great but my issues have almost all come from them drifting across onto the racing line down the straights. I have left flashbacks on purely because of so many races being ruined to them running into my sidepod down a straight.

    Elsewhere despite 4 hours of trying I have connected to one multiplayer game and the weird omission of the temperature, damage and fuel menu (should be circle button) is there on the pc version but not on the ps4.

    So much potential and Dirt Rally shows they can do it. This feels like a Late Access game. Enjoyable but unfinished

  4. I love the handling and the extra track detail. Private lobbies keep track of championship point too. The way it’s set up for races against random people is weird, but then again really cool that you can race career and then pop into a rave once a lobby is found. Everything is in place for a great 2016, fingers crossed!

    • I do like to go out raving after a few races.

  5. Loving the racing but there is definitely a lack of features. I wish the ‘voice commands’ menu would stay onscreen a bit longer so you have time to choose the right option with the D-pad before it disappears.

  6. For me, the improved handling model alone would make it worth getting the game, but I haven’t moved to the current gen just yet, and I may well end up leaving F1 2015 and getting F1 2016 as that sounds like it will have the full beans in features and modes.

  7. Good review dude, I pretty much agree with everything that’s been summed up from my short experience of the game.
    Enjoyed the meet last night, albeit a quick visit for me having a night shift to prepare for. Pretty odd though, not sure if it was net lag or penalties incurred but I won the Mexico race with Sitorimon in second place yet the game said that I was in 5th or 6th at the end….very odd, on my game screen anyway!

    • Yes that whole AI were us and we all had different races was weird. As was Lee beating us all whilst not even driving and bring in the menu

      • That’s quite the rubber banding! ;)

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