I was once asked if I would buy anything that was endorsed by or had an F1 logo on it. My answer was yes. Kingfisher beer, Gillette razors, Head and Shoulders shampoo, even cigarettes. I’m not a smoker, but the appeal was always in the branding that referred back to my favourite racecars. If only the shop assistant knew that when I was 8 years old. My most recent purchase was this years F1 game – which from the looks of things was the same game I bought 12 months ago, just with this years cars, drivers, and circuits on it.
To some extent I was right, but much like the FIFA and NBA games there are some refinements to it that make the playing experience that more enjoyable and true to this years racing formula. I’ll start off with the negatives and work my way into the positives.
The first thing is that its utterly absurd that I have to pay £39.99 for a game thats on last generations consoles and will be out of date in a months time. I was expecting to pay at least half of that, considering next years game is supposed to be coming out within the next six months. The absence of classic content was also making me second guess buying the game, but as I explained earlier I’m a sucker for anything F1 and usually any game made by Codemasters.
At first glance the graphics seem improved and more true to life. In fact I think they resemble the low tones of the 2012 game, but it doesn’t seem as low saturated as the 2010 game. The menu screen is pretty much the same they’ve used for the last two games now, which I find to be a bit of shame because I always felt that the ‘live the life’ aspect of the previous games was cut out by doing that. But I have to say, the cars still look majestic. Every little winglet and detail has been sculpted nicely to really make these cars stand out, a bit like they do on Forza or Gran Turismo.
Onto the gameplay, Career mode hasn’t changed much apart from the lack of tutorials that you had to go through in the form of the Young Drivers Programme, and now every team is open so you can choose to race as either of the top teams without having to work your way up from Caterham or Marussia. This is good because whilst I could understand them employing such an aspect in the earlier games, I never saw why by around F1 2012 that you couldn’t do this anyway.
For me however, the big disappointment came when I couldn’t choose my own number. In fact, its been a trend since F1 2010 where bits such as driver names on overalls and on cars still contain the names of the official drivers, as opposed to my name in the career. This to me is lazy game design, especially when this years title doesn’t really offer that much more in terms of features.
Difficulty wise the game gives you the option to complete an ‘Evaluation Test’ which at the end, recommends a difficulty based on your performance doing three laps around Monza in a Williams. I managed to get the highest recommendations, even though I binned it at the Lesmos, but I didn’t loose any positions in doing so or too much time.
But as I experienced with previous titles, the ‘Legend’ difficulty level is too much. I could spend the time and learn the handling model enough to be able to beat it, but I usually put it down to ‘Expert’ which seems to offer the right kind of challenge this time around.
Handling wise, I think the cars are harder to drive than they actually seem to be. I find that putting together a lap time at a reasonable and consistent pace is a lot easier during Practice, however once you get into a race situation I’ve found its hard to contain the backend on the exit of corners, especially if you have the pace and are used to the ‘point and squirt’ mechanics of previous F1 games. But after a couple of time trial sessions in the rain with no assists, I’ve managed to control the car a lot better and extract that missing tenths of a second each lap during a stint in a race.
Car setup is pretty much the same although because there is only one gear ratio change throughout a season in F1, the luxury of being able to tinker with them has been taken away in career mode. This leaves an empty space for another setup element, which I think could have been taken up by tyre pressures or telemetry as it seems like a lost commodity.
The racing itself I’ve found to be a lot fun. Just a couple of hours before writing this I had an epic battle with Fernando Alonso in the Red Bull around Malaysia, where I more or less recreated the battle he had with Hamilton in 2011, but without the contact exiting turn three. I made one defensive move throughout the battle, and mostly did him under braking when he passed me with DRS. But once we got to the final lap I had no other option to concede my podium place, because I’d ran out of fuel. Never the less I still enjoyed the side-by-side bits, and the start which saw me go from tenth to third within the space of four corners.
Sound wise, the cars are pretty spot on. I don’t know who runs this part of the game development, but they are a genius. Every detail that makes each engine subtly unique is in there, from the Ferrari ERS recovery sounding like a spaceship from Star Trek under braking, to the high pitch of the Mercedes upshifts, and the growl of the Renault engine. In a strange way, it makes me love how badass these racecars are, despite having skepticism about dumping the V8 engine noise 12 months ago.
On to Multiplayer, this an area which I think needs more exploitation in future versions of F1 games. Much like the career mode, I think Player XP and Car XP which gives you updates as you progress would make the game mode more meaningful, as opposed to there being no ranking system at all and barely any gain from winning races apart from self fulfilment. But at the moment it seems like nothing much has changed here, with the RaceNet challenges still being the only notable item since the 2012 game.
I suppose on the whole F1 2014 feels like F1 2013, just with new cars and a refined handling model. Its not worth a £40 upgrade, but I think its a nice supplement to this years season – which as we all know – has been one of the most competitive on track wise to date.