The F1 franchise has been depressing for the last couple of years, so much so that F1 2013 never even made it to Canada. In the fall of 2014 The Codemasters released F1 2014, a game that was so bland and by the numbers that I compared it to Twilight star Kristen Stewart. A mere 9 months later they released F1 2015, a steaming pile that screamed contractual obligations until it was hoarse. Just in time for the last ¼ of the actual 2016 F1 season, The Codemasters have released F1 2016 and I don’t think I could be any happier. The Codemasters could not have turned things around better if they had Vicki Sue Robinson’s song playing on loop during the entire development process.
The odd thing is that the gameplay itself in F1 2016 hasn’t changed all that much. You can still play a single race, race online in multiplayer, perform a time trial, or try your hand at the season long career. The difficulty level and length of each race is still changeable. Loading into an event weekend, practicing, qualifying, and racing are more or less the same as ever. Your ability to set up your car hasn’t changed all that much, and the game still does its best to make you feel like you are living the life of an actual race car driver.
What has been added in F1 2016 are things like a manual start to each race, the addition of the formation lap (which the game makes optional and I rarely saw used) and the online Multiplayer Championship mode that lets 22 players compete against each other over the course of a season. They’ve also added tutorial videos during the career mode to instruct new players on the different functions of the car or game. These videos pop up smartly when a specific situation (usually the one the video explains) happens during gameplay. These changes might seem cool, and usually are, but their effect on the overall game is minimal.
The real change, and what makes F1 2016 so amazing, is the attention to detail that was given to the game’s physics and the track/car modelling. The cars, which to be honest have always felt pretty good, feel even better this year due to the updated physics. It’s hard to come up with a word that properly explains why they’re so great since we’re dealing with a feeling here, but I would say that “harder” would be the best word. You can push the F1 cars harder than ever before and they can stick to the corners as only a drivable jet could. They’ll also fight back if you’re messing around or get out of line. When you do screw up, the damage animations of these cars are also very impressive. Being aggressive often results in a front wing that slowly deteriorates or tires that hang from broken suspension arms.
When it comes to the tracks in F1 2016, I was finding bumps on the road of the Monaco street course that I never noticed in other videogames before. It’s a small thing, but every time you dip your tire off track the controller would shake slightly to simulate the feeling of debris on your tires. On top of that, the brand new European Grand Prix street course at Baku, Azerbaijan looks amazing, and the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal looks as close to the real thing as I can remember. The weather effects are also a visual meal to consume when you’re not focusing on trying to get a multi-million dollar racecar around the track; that said, you should be warned that the weather often changes the track’s characteristics in unexpected ways.
In terms of game modes there hasn’t been much change. Fans of the couch based split-screen will likely remain pissed off since it is still not in the game, but they may enjoy one of the three career modes. There is a normal career mode that lets you role play a custom made driver like last year, a pro career mode with every difficulty level in the game set to extreme, and a championship season mode that forces you to take on the role of a real F1 driver instead of making your own avatar.
Beyond those differences the three career modes are so similar that I wonder why they bothered to separate them. The only difference of note is the fact that the normal career (role-playing a custom driver) mode is more bloated than a lactose intolerant man at a milk convention. The problem is that since you’re playing dress up, everything around you is also dressed up behind some other action you must take. If you want to progress to the next race you have to go to your virtual team lounge and use your virtual laptop. If you want to know what your owner expects of you, you have to listen to the same pre-recorded voice mail every time. If you want to race you have to watch the ten second long broadcast quality television slate every time, which consists only of a race car that turns into the words F1 2016. It’s true that you can skip the slate a few seconds in, but its presence only reinforces the feeling that everything takes mores steps than needed. Other modes, like multiplayer, suffer less from the bloat issue, but no part of this game is completely free of it.
The game also spends a lot of time trying to replicate the feeling of a television broadcast during most of the racing events, but these “broadcasts” come with the problem of being too short on content. By the second race of my career I was already bored of seeing the same canned animations repeated, and the commentator’s dialogue is sparse. That said, it would only be fair of me to admit that these are tiny flea-sized problems on the back of F1 2016, and like fleas the game would have been better if they were never there in the first place.
In the end, I am very happy that F1 2016 exists. It really is the F1 themed racing game that The Codemasters should have made all along. The physics and modeling are worthy of the current console generation, and that is not something that could have been said in the last few years. The menu is overly cluttered, and the fact that The Codemasters felt that they needed 3 career modes is just silly. However, regardless of those drawbacks the game satisfies almost any whim or wish you could have as you climb behind the wheel of a racecar.