Despite growing up with two older brothers with a love for anything with an engine – I absolutely loathed every form of racing they made me watch. Although my brothers were unsuccessful in converting me, playing Codemasters’ F1 2016 may be the most compelling argument to get into car racing I’ve ever been subject to. Whether you’re a racing rookie (like myself) or a Formula 1 fanatic – this year’s release boasts a myriad of customisable options and game modes that will allow you to tailor an experience suited perfectly to the amount of time you’ve spent behind the wheel.
A key component that makes F1 2016 so compelling is its new career mode. However, before you embark on your 21 race journey around the world, you must select where your allegiance lies in regards to the 11 Formula 1 teams. Being raised on a diet of pasta and cannoli, I was naturally drawn to Ferrari. As you’re a new addition to the team, you automatically play second fiddle to one of the team’s more seasoned drivers. You can improve your standings within your team by spending as much time as humanly possible on the winner’s podium throughout the season.
Being a racing game first and foremost, the game’s career mode understandably does not follow any real form of narrative. In between races, you will, however, receive visits from your agent and race engineer. These periodic pop-ins are used to keep you updated on upcoming races, potential improvements for your car, driver rivalries and whatever else that happens to come up. In comparison to the action that takes place on track, these interactions leave a lot to be desired. Dialogue is at times stilted and the frame rate often drops inexplicably. As a whole, the execution of the exchanges does a competent job of selling the immersion of what it potentially may be like to a part of a Formula 1 team.
For me, the greatest enjoyment out of career mode came from the driver rivalry system. Whichever racer you happen to rub the wrong way (which may be literally in this case), the dynamic of this rivalry centers around comparing how each racer performs from race-to-race. It’s a small addition but adds an extra level of satisfaction to races when you’re able to not only place on the podium but also get one over your rival. Surprisingly, my first rivalry was with my own teammate Sebastian Vettel. And what a battle it was. Like the rivalry between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison or Batman and Superman, Filippone and Vettel will go down in the annals of history. And let the record show that I, Damian Filippone, defeated Sebastian Vettel in astounding fashion. Suck it virtual Vettel!
Being unfamiliar with the majority of the tracks I was racing on – I looked them up in order to see just how well Codemaster’s virtual versions compared. The job they have done recreating these real world race locales is seriously impressive. This is, in part, due to the game managing to maintain a relatively solid 60fps during races. The varying weather effects also manage to do a great job of setting the scene for what kind of conditions you’ll be wrestling with on the tarmac.
Sonically, the game does a great job of capturing the sounds that accompany the blistering pace produced by Formula 1 cars. Hearing the decelerating chug of the car as I approach a turn is something I’ll never tire of. Being consulted by your engineer mid-race via your controller’s speaker is also a nice touch.
Along with the racing game staples of quick race and time trial, F1 2016’s biggest drawing cards are its 22-player support for online multiplayer races and its career mode. I spent the majority of my time with the latter.
As mentioned earlier, career mode puts you in the driver’s seat of a rookie racer looking to make a big impression in the world of Formula 1. With every race you partake in, there are three facets which must be completed. Three practice sessions, qualifying and the actual race itself. This all sounds quite time consuming but Codemaster has made each component customisable so that you can make the most of whatever playing time you may have. You can shorten your practise and qualifying sessions while also having the option of reducing the amount of laps per race from three to five if desired. You’ll spend quite a lot of time with a track prior to the race, so the fact that you can reduce the amount of time prevents the process of preparation from becoming laborious.
Each practise session comprises of three different tests that allow you to get a lay of the land quite organically. There’s a qualifying pace test, tyre testing and the most helpful of all – a track acclimatisation test that provides a line on the track for you to follow to help improve how you conduct your car on the tarmac. These tests justify your multiple treks around the track by rewarding you with resource points. Resource points not only allow you to improve your car with mechanical upgrades but also provide a great incentive to spend as much time on the track in order to get the most out of your car. For those only interested in the race itself, these parts are mostly skippable. But in my experiences with the game, having that familiarity with each track prior to the race always paid dividends.
Racing in F1 2016 is an immense experience that does a commendable job of replicating the intensity of a Formula 1 race. From managing the ebbs and flow of a race to managing your fuel supply and tyre degradation – F1 2016 illustrates there’s a lot more to winning a race than just going fast. If all of these things sound like too much to juggle, you can turn on settings such as brake assist in order for a smoother ride. When I rid of some of these assists out of curiosity, it demonstrated to me just how punishing a real race can be. The sight of rain on race day sent shivers down my spine and when I happened to lose a wheel because of a shoddy turn I was forced to retire from the race. I would have given three wheels a go but unfortunately that was not an option. It’s a punishing parameter but it doesn’t seem unfair. It only encouraged me to become a better driver. Tampering with these settings ultimately comes down to just how realistic of an experience you’re after.
With a gratifying campaign mode and a racing experience that had me physically leaning my body into every turn, Codemasters have created a racing game that provides a gripping experience from start to finish. I may not start getting up in the wee hours of the morning to start following the Formula 1 championship but I’ll happily take F1 2016 for a spin anytime.
The PS4 version of F1 2016 was primarily tested for the purpose of this review.