As the F1 season nears its climax, Codemasters once again provide fans with a chance to jump into the virtual cockpit and challenge the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel with the latest entry in the F1 franchise. Does this come up on the podium smelling of champagne?
Game: F1 2014
Developer: Codemasters Birmingham
Reviewed on: PC
From the get-go, F1 2014 sets out its stall by throwing you into one of the redesigned speed machines of the most recent season and dumps you into a hot lap to establish the difficulty curve on the game. The immediate thing that stands out is the fidelity of the car design, down to the lightning-quick finger twitches as your driver changes gears via the paddles on the steering wheel. Unfortunately, the rest just feels a little bit flat. Reviewing this alongside DriveClub has been a blessing and a curse, as they’ve enhanced each others’ flaws and highlights. Whilst F1 2014 is edging toward the feeling of getting involved in a Formula 1 season, the design roots in the Xbox 360/PS3 era feels like it’s holding the series back. I’m playing the game on a PC that’s arguably more powerful than my PS4, and yet the game feels somewhat muted. Crowds are static, environments are almost clinically clean and sterile, and the only noticeable degradation on things is when you hit the gravel and a bit flies up & sticks in your tyre. It’s a nitpick, yes, but when we’re seeing the new consoles stretch their legs and push PC hardware in new and exciting ways to outpace Sony and Microsoft’s efforts, F1 2014 looks “nice” but no better. It’s most obvious in the ‘in garage’ sections, with character models and faces being the same as they’ve been for the last few years yet again (including one engineer who looks bizarrely like Steve Ballmer).
However, it’s not all bad. In fact, the majority of F1 2014 feels great. Turning off all of the driver assists and setting things to the hardest difficulty settings gives you an immediate and startling insight to the insane world of motorsport drivers, and also results in some hilarious missteps and immediate pitstops as chunks of the car come flying off in all directions. Paring it back down a bit to a more manageable level makes it much more accessible, and to their credit, Codemasters have included a new “Very easy” mode, which lets you post reasonable results with little effort, ideal for younger players who want to get involved.
It does feel immensely satisfying when you get things right though. Hitting the apex of a corner and coming out of it ahead of your rival as you edge into first is thrilling, and the sense of speed is, by and large, nailed.
All of the game modes from previous years are involved, the Season Challenge mode being a personal favourite. If you haven’t played it, it basically allows you to get involved with a team fairly low down and work your way up through the ranks in a single season. It’s fantasy F1 at its finest, and tests you beyond your limits if you decide to get too ambitious. You set a rival, and if you beat them over 3 races, you get the chance to take their position on the team. It’s addictive as hell as you try to dethrone the likes of Vettel from his throne atop the Red Bull kingdom. The full season mode allows you to pick up a career with any of the teams on the roster, and the goals will be set accordingly. Multiplayer makes a return, with split screen or online (and LAN on the PC) options available.
Much has been made about the new cars by Codemasters. If I’m true to my instincts, I can’t feel a massive difference in the game from last year’s installment, but it’s been a while since I fired it up. The replacement of KERS with ERS definitely opens up a lot more overtaking opportunities, but that’s about the limit of the new features. The inclusion of the two new tracks from Russia and Austria’s returning Spielberg circuit certainly help flesh out the roster and keep things accurate, but that’s about all. If you’re not an F1 die-hard and picked up last year’s game, there’s probably not an enormous amount to justify splashing the cash at this point.
Honestly, there isn’t a huge amount more to say about F1 2014. It’s more of the familiar Formula 1 gameplay with a couple of added tweaks, but ultimately it’s not a reinvention of the series. The biggest disappointment for me is that the game has clearly been developed for the lowest powered machines available on the market, and only had cosmetic improvements pushed on the PC. I can’t speak for the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions at this time, but it definitely feels like a “last gen game running on high settings” than a new experience. Averting your gaze from the impeccably modeled exterior of whichever car you’ve gone with to the flat and lifeless surroundings definitely has the power to detract from things at times. Here’s hoping the next-gen version releasing next year brings the improvements to make it a worthy upgrade. Right now, however, it feels a bit like the sport itself in the Schumacher era; reliable but a bit predictable, and ultimately similar to the season before with not much new to show for it.