With the release of F1 2016, Codemasters invite you to a new season of Formula One racing, and though they’re really the only rodeo in town, they’re not taking things easy. Building upon last year’s trimmed back, foundational entry they’re aiming to provide the most fully-featured digital rendition of the sport yet, packing in both new elements and fan favourites.
Hopping straight into the returning career mode – noticeably missing from last year’s entry – you can naturally opt for the full weekend experience, with a trio of long practice sessions followed by full qualifying and 100% of the true race length, or the lighter Short Weekend mode that trims each period back prior to taking part in a 25% length main race. If neither of those options sits quite right you can also punt for a Custom Weekend and tailor it however you see fit.
That includes an option to more or less do away with the entirety of the proffered immersion, reducing your racing to a short practice, one-shot qualifying lap, followed by a five lap race. It really does cover every possible combination for both the ardent fan and those with only a vague interest, and this is something that Codemasters have continually aimed for.
As you progress through the career mode you earn resource points with which you can upgrade your vehicle’s performance, with points allocated for various on-track achievements from successfully completing laps to having a clean disciplinary record. As it’s the research and development department who have to manufacture any upgrades, they won’t be fitted to your car until the following race weekend, which plays to the realism that Codemasters are clearly after.
Between each session you’ll be tinkering with your laptop, or having brief encounters with your technicians and other members of your team. From here you can keep track of your current session and upgrades, as well as your present standing in both your offline GP, and in a global leaderboard that places you based on your total points.
The central part of your laptop’s display is dominated by your standing against your rival, which aims to put a figure on your very own rendition of a Hamilton-Rosberg “friendship”. Having initially taken up a place on the McLaren team that meant I had to beat the eminently likeable Jensen Button into submission, by consistently outclassing him through every session. Of course I did it, and I definitely didn’t ‘accidentally’ run him off the road – there don’t appear to be any extra points for that.
One of the best additions to the career mode are the different aspects of the practice session. Here you can run through a number of practice programmes that are designed to help you acclimate to your car and the track, from driving through a series of gates to learn your optimum racing line to finding the best way of managing your tyres.
Successfully completing these programmes can then reward you with extra resource points with which you can upgrade your vehicle, making them virtually obligatory. The information you can glean from the track acclimatisation programme alone is a huge boon, showing you the corners where you’re not performing at your best and drawing you ever further into the minutiae of being an F1 driver.
During the practice sessions you can also grab your driver’s tablet, and delve into your tyre selection for each period, as well as tailoring your car’s setup, with the ability to choose from various presets or your own custom one. Every option has an explanation, but the tangible differences won’t become apparent till you actually get out on the track.
For those looking to immerse themselves in the sport it offers a huge amount of depth, while those looking for something more immediate don’t really have to do any tinkering at all. Overall the handling can range from tight and consistent to loose and lively depending on your chosen assists, and each car offers a clear and palpable difference in their performance.
Besides the excellent career mode are a range of game modes that should please every player, with the Championship Season mode allowing you to step into the shoes of your favourite racer and try to take them to the title. It’s worth noting that much of the extra material that makes the career mode so compelling is removed here. There’s also Quick Race and Time Trial to sink your teeth into before heading online to try your hand against the best in the world.
The multiplayer has a fantastic array of game modes on hand as well, including the option to customise your session or play a full season online. Largely my experience with the online was smooth and problem free, but it’s worth bearing in mind that this was prior to launch. There were none of last year’s AI replacement woes, and that was despite some of the competitors seemingly not having the best connection, but I wasn’t able to test it with a full field of 22 players. Codemasters have clearly ploughed plenty of time into this mode though, and I’m quietly confident that the online portion will remain solid after launch.
F1 2016’s TV-style presentation is an enjoyable approximation of the circus that surrounds any F1 event, but it ultimately falls a little flat, whether through the extremely poor character models or Anthony Davidson’s phoned-in vocal delivery. It does the job, but both EA and 2K have at various points pushed this particular art forward, and Codemasters’ effort feels lacking.
Of course, that off track frippery is entirely separate from the real meat of the experience and visually things have certainly improved on previous years. Whether they’ve improved enough for current-gen gamers is a different matter though, and while both tracks and vehicles are clean and crisply represented they feel somewhat soulless and subdued in comparison to the genre’s current champions such as Driveclub or Forza 6. There’s also a few unexpected graphical lurches at times, with occasional texture pop-in, visual glitches and some infrequent bouts of screen-tearing as well, all serving to tarnish the experience a little.
There are however some great touches that Codemasters have included, whether it’s your team radio emanating from the Dualshock 4’s speaker, or the return of the much-requested safety car and his imaginary brethren the virtual safety car. Outsiders may wonder why on earth you would want to include such aspects of the sport, but in chasing an accurate simulation these are the details that will immerse some players more effectively than others.
F1 2016 offers the most comprehensive representation of the sport we’ve ever seen. Codemasters have implemented an array of features that are pure wish-fulfilment for fans, and cover the whole gamut of the F1 experience from paddock to track. There are still some key presentational improvements that need to be made, and perhaps next year’s entry will be a visual powerhouse, but for this season, beyond becoming an actual driver, there is no way to get closer to the world of F1 than Codemasters’ latest.
Version Tested: PS4