F1 2016 Review

By Andrew Ogley, 4 months ago
Last year’s F1 title from Codemasters was the first to grace the Xbox One. With a new engine, improvement of the graphics and the AI, and additional content for the previous 2014 season, it should have been a blistering debut on the console. However, the removal of the career mode and a few other points led to a lukewarm reception and left fans generally disappointed. This year’s installment promises to be different. Career mode returns and there’s a new formation lap, a virtual safety car, and a lot more besides. A year further on, has Codemasters managed to deliver the experience that the fans wanted with the all new F1 2016? They most certainly have.

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At first glance, everything seems vaguely familiar. The UI is similar although the background has a lighter look over last year’s dark version and looks a little cleaner for it. The menus still scroll along the bottom, displaying the familiar modes that include the returning Championship, Quick Race, Time Trial, and Multiplayer. Most importantly, it now also contains the fan favourite career mode. All of the modes reflect the track and team changes for this year, too. The extended calendar of 21 circuits includes the return of the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim and the European Grand Prix, this year at the all new street circuit at Baku, Azerbaijan. Additionally, the grid now consists of 22 cars, including the new Haas F1 team. The constructors list includes the returning Renault, and purple lined Ultrasoft tyres are available too. In short, the title is as up-to-date as it could be (other than Haryanto’s recent demotion, but you can’t blame them for that).

In Championship mode, players select their favourite team and driver and then take part in the various practice sessions, qualifying and races across the season. While most will choose the Mercedes Silver Arrows with Hamilton or Rosberg, those who are looking for a little extra challenge can choose one of the lower tier teams. To be fair, it doesn’t matter too much as tweaking the AI settings – from very easy through to ultimate - and selecting various levels of assists – ABS, TCS and automatic gears – means that the difficulty level can be adapted to all levels of drivers and giving all teams a fair chance of winning.

F1 2016 - Silverstone

This highly adaptable accessibility and playability also carries over to the Career Mode. Players create their own drivers and embark on a virtual racing career over the course of 10 seasons. At the start, the player will be able to drive for one of the teams across the three tiers. Asking for a seat at Tier 1 teams like Mercedes will mean some imposing goals and targets for a rookie driver with the expectation that they will deliver the title in one to two years. Those in tier 3, like Manor, will be a lot more patient with regards to progress.

Once the season begins, the player is expected to participate in the various practice rounds, qualifiers and races, but here is an additional goal. Every session can potentially earn the player points that can then be spent by the research and development team on improving various car components. It’s a thinly veiled XP/ Skill Tree mechanism but it works extremely well. Mini-games, such as the track acclimatisation, has the player hitting virtual gates accurately and at speed on the circuit. All of the mini-games add points and your team will be able to construct a better car; it's such a simple mechanism but it is compelling enough to keep players driving through practice rounds. It’s possible to opt out, but given that the other teams are developing their cars too, you’ll only drop further behind.

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The career mode becomes very engaging as it is quite cleanly and simply implemented. There are no faux social media accounts telling you how well you’ve driven or how much love your fans have for you. There are no fake emails, either. You have an engineer who will inform you about the state of the car upgrades and an agent who will speak to you about contracts, leave you voice mails about your goals for a particular session, and inform you of any rivalries that you have gained over the course of the campaign. Those rivalries also provide a chance to improve the points in your career by beating them in qualifying, finishing, and on various sector speeds. Accumulate enough points to eventually beat your rival and a new one will appear some time later. It adds a little extra spice to the races throughout the season.

The AI has been refined and the other drivers are less likely to ram you and bring your race to premature end, showing that Codemasters has listened to the criticism from last year. The driving experience also remains as good as ever. Like everything else this year, it seems to have been tweaked and improved despite using the same engine. Graphically it never did look like a Forza title, but the sheer sense of speed and the thrill of the race is second to none. Physics and handling are excellent and the response is equally as good whether through a controller or FFB steering wheel.

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This becomes even more apparent during wet weather racing where tyre choice becomes fundamentally important. In that moment when you decide to switch between tyre types, you feel the difference in the handling and your lap times change accordingly. It makes tyre and pit strategy an essential part of longer races and a calculated gamble. Fortunately your pit team will offer you an alternative tyre strategy if they think that you need it. Additionally, in the pits you can change your own car setup if the various defaults don’t suit your driving style. In longer races you can take advantage of in-car setup changes such as shifting the brake-bias or enriching the fuel mixture. It all adds to the complexity of the racing experience.

The audio embellishes the whole experience, too. From the noise, it’s clear that you’re in the middle of the world’s loudest sport. Engines roar around you and you can even hear opponents on different areas of the circuit. The only gripe is that it can occasionally drown out the pit radio, but that can be fine-tuned using the audio settings. The rather well implemented voice control also returns, allowing the player to request information from the pits and, with a nod to a certain incident earlier this season, the player can also remind the pits not to chatter during cornering.

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For those looking towards an even deeper and immersive experience, both Career and Championship mode can be played in the Pro setting that removes most of the HUD, locks the player into first person cockpit view, turns off all of the assists and sets the AI at the ultimate level. If that’s not enough, all of the practice sessions, qualifying and racing is done in real time and for the full duration, meaning a full 78 laps at Monaco. It is clearly something that is meant for the hardcore racers only. For those wanting something shorter, there is Quick Race mode that provides the same races but over five laps. There is also the Time-Trial mode that enables players to simply hot lap, aiming to beat rivals and get as high as they can on global leaderboards.

Those who feel like a further challenge can go online in the Multiplayer. This is accessible to all levels as beginners can join the Rookie class where the cars are equally powered and collisions are turned off. It’s a great way to get started before moving up to the remaining two classes, which are for increasingly advanced drivers. Technically, the multiplayer works well with players being able to select an available team and driver before competing in a number of races throughout an online season. Players can easily drop in and out of the games and the grid can consist of 22 online drivers. Regardless of the class, the races are intense affairs and are technically competent and seemingly lag free.

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Unfortunately, it’s not all good news as there are still some minor glitches. During the start of one flying lap, the game dropped me straight into a barrier. After a failed attempt at matchmaking, the searching message remained on the screen even though I went back to single-player. When racing there is also occasional screen-tearing, although this is mostly off in the distance and is barely noticeable. For the most part, these are all small things and don’t detract too heavily from the overall feel of the game. Theres also a feeling that the new additions are not quite realised fully, even though they all add to the immersion. For example, the formation lap helps to build the tension, but the screen goes black and transitions to the start of the race just as you are waiting for the start lights. If that could be done seamlessly then it would be so much better.

Achievement-wise, the title is relatively straightforward with the game's 49 achievements being spread across the different game modes and several can be gained through driving naturally. There are multiplayer achievements that may take some time to unlock, of course, and completing a Pro race will be tough on some players, but all-in-all it is a fair list.

Summary

F1 2016 clearly shows that Codemasters are heading back towards the finest installments of the franchise. The addition of the Career mode brings an engaging and compelling longevity and replayability to the title that was sorely missed last year and there is plenty of content to keep fans busy for the remainder of the season. The team has kept the title accessible and playable for all driver levels regardless of the hardware used. The game is an exhilarating driving experience both online and offline, with great physics, nice visuals, and some nice little additions to deepen the immersion and the feeling of involvement that captures the pageantry and showmanship of the sport.
4 / 5
Positives
  • Career mode gives longevity and replayability to the title
  • Massively accessible and playable to all levels of drivers
  • Compelling, engrossing and immersive racing experience
  • Involves the player in more strategic decisions
Negatives
  • A few minor glitches
  • Occasional screen tears during racing
Ethics Statement
The review spent just over 23 hours playing through the various modes, chasing a career and doing his best to get Toro Rosso to the next tier of racing greatness. 21 Achievements from the 49 were unlocked. The download code was provided by the publisher for the sake of the review.
Andrew Ogley
Written by Andrew Ogley
Andrew has been writing for TA since 2011 covering news, reviews and the occasional editorials and features. One of the grumpy old men of the team, his mid-life crisis has currently manifested itself in the form of an addiction to sim-racing - not being able to afford the real life car of his dreams. When not spending hours burning simulated rubber, he still likes to run around, shoot stuff and blow things up - in the virtual world only of course.