F1 2016 is out today, and this edition is easily the best version yet. This time developers Codemasters have focused on enhancing the end-to-end driver experience which of course includes improvements to the racing, but also focuses on important inclusions your career, including contracts, rivalries and working with your engineers to develop new upgrades to your car.
Although the F1 season is on break at the moment, a typical F1 weekend sees me jump in the racing sim and challenge myself to put down the fastest lap, hopefully somewhere close to reality. As the cars and tracks are different this year, racing F1 2015 just wasn’t cutting it, so its great to have the current generation cars, teams and circuits to go racing on.
While 2017 is the big rule change in F1, playing this game really does reveal how much things have changed in the sport in 12 months. Of course there’s drivers and team changes, but there’s also new circuits like Baku and the return of the German GP in the game. Then there’s the ever changing rule changes.
With the final code of the game finished a short time ago, the developers had a difficult challenge to cater for the on again off again qualifying format changes as well as the rules around the use of team radio. It seems the fan feedback which drove the reversal of both decisions fell exactly the right way for Codemasters and the game got it right.
Something also new in the game is a formation lap where you can warm your tyres or just refresh your memory of the track layout quickly if you took a break between qualifying. The introduction of a manual start procedure is definitely welcome and nailing a good start actually has some difficulty about it, which gives drivers a more realistic and rewarding experience when you get it right.
Safety cars are a fundamental part of motorsport and F1 2016 has two versions. Of course there’s flags for temporary, low-effect incidents like a spinning car, but for dramatic crashes the field may be slowed using a virtual or real safety car. When the yellow flashing lights indicate the VSC in place, you’re required to drive to a time, not always easy, but if you have a car in front of you, you can drive relative to that. The real safety car effectively resets the race as it bunches the field up, removing any gains that had been made since the start. This adds a brand new element to the game and one that definitely helps make you forget you’re not a real F1 driver. It’s also a great time to grab a drink and a few deep breaths, something in the heat of racing that can easily be forgotten.
Like previous generations, the cars have DRS, which is dynamic and unavailable in wet conditions, but becomes available should the track dry mid-race. While you can press a button to open your rear wing, gain an aero advantage and help yourself to a position, the same can’t be said about ERS. In F1 the energy recovery system makes up a huge part of the battle’s we’ve seen on track. Deploying the extra kW from the battery as well as charging and deploying strategically, allows for both offensive passed and defensive resistance to be achieved. While I understand this does tip the scale into the territory of having too much going on, it definitely could have been an option for advanced drivers.
The big promotion for this game was a massive 10 year championship. In my mind, this meant you’d travel back in time and race the events that happened in 1996 through 2016. That unfortunately isn’t the case. The 10 years is really just the ability to repeat races 10x, something hardcore fans will do, but the casual racer won’t bother with.
When you start your career in F1 2016, you’ll pick a team. I was expecting to be limited to the back of the field and have to work my up, but I really could select from any on the grid. After some unskippable introductions to team members, you’re sat at a desk with a laptop and mobile phone. The laptop is useful as you can spend in-game credits on performance upgrades for your car.
The way this works is that you acquire points for race results and can then apply them into engine upgrades, weight reduction, upgraded aero package and more. The R&D team go away and work on it, then after a couple more races, you’ll get to have the new parts bolted on to your car.
Is there a huge difference? Probably not a terribly noticeable one with the first few upgrades, but racing a developed car vs one that’s stock is substantial.
When you start your career, be sure you’re happy with the settings you choose around practice, qualifying and race lengths as not everything is changeable after the fact.
Practice challenges / data gathering
Practice sessions serve a couple of different purposes. They offer an ability for you to familiarise yourself with a new circuit, but in this edition of F1, your team puts you to work. The Practice Programme includes Track Acclimatisation, Tyre Management, Qualifying Pace and additional team objectives.
F1 2016 now lets you create your own character, selecting your face, helment design and more. Unfortunately customisation here is severely limited. While its great they’ve added it to the game, its so limited, you have to wonder why they bothered. There’s only a very limited preset of faces to choose from and you can’t mix and match face shapes and something as simple as beard or not.
The helmet design is the most advanced of any of the character customisations, as it should be, given it’s the driver’s personal brand. The problem Is you get A, B and C colour sliders, with a variable of glossiness, but that’s it. You don’t get to add logos or even choose a different (half interesting design). This area really lacks the customisation options we’re used to and the developers should looks at titles like Need For Speed for an example of what’s possible, hell they could look at the Xbox Avatar editor and they’d find a far better implemented customisation engine.
There is a game add-on called the ‘career booster pack’ that does add some career helmet designs that are also reflected on the lid of your laptop. While these improve the situation slightly, this is still one massive area ripe for improvement.
It seems Codemasters was paying attention to racers who complimented the difficulty of Dirt Rally, because F1 2016 is hard. I’ve been racing for a long time and while I certainly don’t claim to be at the top of the timetables, I consider myself pretty decent, so when given the option I chose a hard difficulty. After a few races of not even seeing the front of the field, I decided I needed to start over on an easier difficulty.
The Career difficulty levels you can choose from are : Very Easy, Easy, Medium, Hard and Expert.
We expect better graphics every year despite the game running on the same hardware (sans the Xbox One S minor tweaks). Everything in F1 2016 is beefed up, from the environments which feature so much more detail than ever before in the buildings and crowds and lighting and shadows, to the reflections on the car bodies (unless you’re racing the matt finished Red Bulls).
There’s always room for improvement, like the still noticeable edges on what should be a perfectly smooth line on the road around the turns, or the quality of the models and textures on your pit crew.
If what we’re shooting for is realism, then having a realistic damage model is critical to achieving that goal. In F1 2016, there’s now wheel tethers that like real F1 cars will ensure the safety standards see a brush with the wall or another driver, doesn’t leave dangerous wheels flying around. You can damage your car in many ways like the front wing, tyres etc and all effect performance.
Depending on the severity of the damage, you may be able to limp back to the pits for replacement parts, or if the geforces of an accident were high enough, your race will be over. Expect a radio message from your engineer to check if you’re still conscious.
Personally I race with the Logitech G920 mounted to the GT Ultimate V2 racing rig from Next Level Racing. When I first set off on a time trial, the wheel felt really delayed on steering inputs, after jumping into the menu, I quickly discovered that while a wheel was automatically detected and selected, it was a Fanatec wheel, not the Logitech. After selecting the G920, things got a whole lot better. Like any game, it takes some time to dial in settings exactly to your preferences, but within a couple of minutes I was putting together competitive times.
When you’ve invested in a racing with a wheel and pedals, you’re someone who wants a realistic driving experience as possible. Thankfully there’s subtle touches that really make the difference. In F1 2016 you can really feel dynamic wheel weighting that transfers the geforces around high-speed corners, into resistance in turning the wheel.
While personally I’m happy with the extent of the force feedback, I’d suggest its a little light on for some, even with everything set on max. When you hit a ripple strip, you should feel that, just like the loss of traction and understeer in the wet, but by the same token, you don’t want the wheel to snap out of your hands. It’s a fine balance to hit and obviously hardware limited to some degree, but I was surprised to find I had everything set to 100.
Far too many racing games forget about off-track, yet equally important, pit stops. In F1 2016 you get to communicate with your chief engineer by pressing X and either selecting or verbally issuing commands on pit strategy, settings or even telling them to piss off and don’t talk to you in the corners.
In practice and qualifying, you’ll see your pit crew put on and take off tyre warmers, you’ll also be challenged to reduce your speed on pit entry or risk a penalty. If you damage a front wing, you’ll see your crew replace it in record time, but perhaps most of all, I like the feeling of nailing a quick pit stop and getting back out into the action on track.
While pit stops in previous years have felt like autopilot, this time round, they feel much more like the real thing.
BBC Voice over
Adding to the realism of racing events in Formula 1, is track previews and event summaries provided by the BBC commentary team. This may not sound like much, but the insights, and review of the championship progression enhances the overall experience of the game.
As driver’s David Croft and Anthony Davidson often provide detail about the racing environment that affects you as a driver including things like tyre wear, track temperature and weather conditions.
Price & Availability
The official F1 2016 game is out today on Xbox One, PS4 and PC via Stream. It’s available at all your normal retailers on and offline as well as digital download and is available for A$89.00.
There’s no doubt in my mind, this is the best version of the long running F1 franchise. The career mode can be a grind, but elements like manual starts, harder difficulty, vehicle upgrades and multiplayer, will have you coming back for more.
If you get a chance to play the game, I strongly suggest you jump into the Singapore circuit, its absolutely stunning and the visual differences in the surrounding environment is so substantial it’s hard to keep your eyes on the prize.
If you’re a casual racing fan, you’ll be happy with F1 2016, if you’re a hardcore racer and fan of Formula 1, then this is an absolute must have.