What does it mean to enter into a franchise for the first time well into its maturity?
That’s the question I continued to ask myself while reviewing F1 2016. Let’s be clear – while I have enjoyed racing games for many years, I am not a connoisseur of the finer details of traction control nor aerodynamics. So this review won’t be about the fine differences between F1 2016 and its predecessor from last year. Instead it will be more of an impressions piece from someone who is utterly new to the franchise.
And what I it feels like is something special, albeit one that feels somewhat foreign. F1 2016 is a true tour de force, with a huge raft of small details that give you the impression that the developers Codemasters both recognised what an F1 racing game should have, and actually implemented it.
If you were looking at the game at your local store, one of the first questions that would need answering is where the game falls on the spectrum between arcade racers and immersive simulation? I had always thought that Gran Turismo and the Forza series were simulation-like games. But playing and experiencing everything in F1 2016 has completely redefined what that means to me. The simulation off and on the track is impressive and fully featured, at least to my eyes. An entirely faithful recreation of the entire F1 experience is here – teams, logos, race tracks, the minutiae of how the garage works, an impressive achievement.
For example, you have to carefully manage the clutch manually to ensure you get off the line quickly – there’s no simply holding A to go forward. For those looking for a quick and simple race in five minutes, F1 2016 won’t be the game for you. Yes, you can do a short three lap race, but in this game every second is a do or die moment. But once you start learning the tracks, which you will fairly quickly, it all becomes familiar. It’s not like, for example, a platformer, where you must not only master the core mechanics of jumping around, but also have to be adept at facing new challenges in new environments each Level. In F1 2016, you come to know both the car (the mechanics) and the tracks (the environment) intimately. The limited number of tracks in the whole of the F1 sport is an advantage in that regard.
The flipside of that is small mistakes, small deviations from the ideal path are punishing. That’s because F1s don’t handle like a normal car, and the game is intensely aware of all the variables which make that so and the extreme speeds at which you drive. F1 2016 is one of the few games that truly makes it feel like you are moving at the speed the speedometer says you are.
This is the type of game that you buy extremely expensive accessories for. Very quickly you come up against the hard limitations of driving by game controller, especially I found in terms of acceleration. The gamepad simply doesn’t have the nuance required to play F1 with ease. For a quick blast around a track it’s fine, but if you plan on spending a great deal of time with the game then I would strongly suggest investigating a wheel and pedals. And if you’re playing on PC and only have a keyboard and mouse – best rectify that. Being able to have analogue control over the acceleration is a must, and the binary on/off nature of keys are not well suited to the task.
Not all is peaches and cream though, especially for newcomers to F1 racing and this series. There is a large amount of assumed knowledge and familiarity with the hugely complex rules of F1 racing. I appreciate the tutorials, but they are lacklustre, non-interactive and hard to find. There is a fair amount of waiting around at times, such as coming back into the pit, waiting for animations to play out. While I appreciate the dedication to accuracy, a skip button would have been nice.
I also would have liked to see Codemasters play with the whole sport a little more – it doesn’t really verge off the serious track. Perhaps it is not the game for it, but I would have liked to see some “fun” modes or even a bit of humour in the commentary.
If you want an F1 game, you have no need to wait to buy F1. It’s everything you could want and probably more. If you are at all interested in racing sims, F1 2016 should be on your radar. And if you’ve found other racing games too easy, or you’re looking to stretch out of your comfort zone, then I also recommend this game. It will test you, no doubt, but at the end is a huge sense of achievement and reward in managing to aptly handle such powerful and wild machines.
F1 2016 requires much of you, but in return delivers much back in ways that will impress and delight any and all F1 racing fans. That said, if you wanted a more casual or laid back game, this one is probably not for you. Fortunately, there has been a virtual renaissance of quality racing games recently and you have plenty of options to choose from all along the arcade to simulation spectrum.
F1 2016 is not for everyone, and I’m fine with that. It has a clear vision, perfectly and exactingly executed.
Released: August 2016
Platforms: PC (Windows 7 or higher), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Racing, Simulator