NEED TO KNOW
What is it?
Another yearly update to Codemaster’s officially licensed F1 series.
Play it on: i7 2.67 GHz CPU, 4GB RAM, GeForce GT 640
Reviewed on: i7 2600K CPU 5.00 GHZ, 4GB GeForce GTX 680 GPU, 8GB RAM
Alternatively: F1 2013
Release: Oct 17 2014
Link: Official site
Multiplayer: Local or online
By Phil Iwaniuk.
Autumn of 2008: Ferrari and McLaren are locked in a championship battle that will go right down to the wire. While other teams cease development of their current car and instead look ahead to next season and its significant rule changes, these two teams are forced to bring package updates to every remaining race of this season in a bid to secure the driver’s championship for Massa or Hamilton. 2009 rolls in, and both teams are floundering while the likes of Brawn GP and its blown rear diffuser blitz past.
F1 2014 is very much the floundering old guard in what I’m only now revealing as an indulgent opening analogy. Earlier in the year its developer Codemasters announced it was working on two F1 titles—one for old-gen consoles and PC, and a later revamped game for newer hardware. The obvious conclusion to jump to is that F1 2014’s limited by its concessions to dusty old consoles, and that like the leaden Ferrari and McLaren of ’09 it hasn’t been given the time or resources to make meaningful changes. This game’s very first job, then, is to allay your concerns that it’s little more than a dancing monkey to hold your attention until the proper game is ready.
On the back of F1 2014’s box under ‘new features,’ there may as well be a picture of a man shrugging apologetically. Classic cars and tracks, which debuted last year, have disappeared into the ether. In place of the young driver test, which previously began your journey into career mode via a few quick tutorials and challenges, there’s now a single lap of Monza and some brusque congratulations for completing it before you’re chucked into a strikingly familiar main menu.
There is one genuinely new feature, actually: you can now start a career driving for any team, rather than having to work your way up through the slower teams as in previous editions. Like the bafflingly offhand Monza intro, it’s designed with accessibility in mind. Those without the time or inclination to spend two seasons sucking exhausts in a Sauber can now hop right in a Mercedes and win everything right away. But where does that leave those of us who do have the inclination to ascend the ranks? Those of us who made sure we got all the gold medals in F1 2013’s young driver test to better our chances of a Ferrari seat in years to come?
Well, we could just select a minnow team ourselves of course, but it’d feel a bit hollow knowing Toto Wolff and Christian Horner were just as happy for you to sign on the dotted line for them. Think back to F1 2010, with its interactive press conferences and emphasis on ‘being the driver.’ Codemasters has made an about-turn on that creative direction and that leaves F1 2014 without a sense of career progression. There’s little incentive to play the game for over an hour, because everything’s handed to you on a plate.
As if it even needs mentioning, all the cars and tracks from the current season are present and correct (albeit with a modified version of the hooch-promoting Williams livery). So in the name of authenticity, cars do sound like 200mph vacuum cleaners now and a Mercedes one-two is as assured as day turning to night. They also feel underpowered, which is of course accurate if underwhelming to actually play. Tires are more robust, as in the real sport. Austria and Russia are present and correct on the calendar. Essentially the things you do—and should—take for granted in any annualised sports franchise are here, smiling politely.
The underlying machinery of the game too is working well, as it has been for four years now. AI drivers are just fighty enough to present challenge but not injustice or frustration, adopting defensive lines when appropriate and occasionally making ‘human’ errors. The handling, although ostensibly tweaked for easier pad control, feels very much as it has for a couple of years. Still a bit too forgiving for the hardcore to get on with, still lacking the detailed force feedback of serious racing sims for wheel users, still lively enough for everyone else. Scenario and Season Challenge modes work exactly as they have previously, offering a quick fix of racing and condensed career mode respectively.
These were among the lynchpins that made last year’s F1 outing a real pleasure. So if they were good before, and they’re unchanged now, why is F1 2014 such a disappointing game? It’s the fact that these lynchpins represent the game’s entirety now, not the underlying parts of a complete package. Never before has Codemasters delivered something so closely resembling a free download from a community modding site.
One question remains; one ray of hope. If F1 2014 is the lacklustre McLaren MP4-24 from 2009, hamstrung by a need to focus on yesterday’s hardware, will the next Codemasters F1 game be akin to the Brawn BGP-001, light years ahead of its competition? We can but hope.