After the career mode was omitted from last year's F1 outing, the main question for F1 2016 has been what Codemasters have done to avoid disappointing fans a second time around. Career mode is important, after all, as the multiplayer portion of these games simply has too many collisions which somewhat spoils the fun if your an enthusiast who aspires to realism.
When we played the campaign we decided to team up with Lewis Hamilton from the Mercedes team. You start behind a desk before being approached by a woman assigned to be your agent and manager. She provides information in meetings, but it soon becomes clear that the information just as easily could have been given in pop-up boxes. At least pop-ups would have been easier to ignore. The presentation looks good though, and just for the fun of it we started over later with a different team to see if other people would take their place. Unfortunately this wasn't the case and only the team livery is altered.
Something that did change with the new team, however, was the expectations you had to meet if you're to be considered a success. In the less ambitious teams the demands aren't quite as steep and management are happy as long as you come in 12th or better. If you're further up the food chain they start expecting brilliance, mostly due to all the upgrades you get. In a standard racing game fashion you collect points from all the races you complete, which can be used on more powerful engines and other upgrades. It's a very familiar structure, but it works.
That being said, from a personal perspective, we found ourselves yearning for a proper warm-up to the Formula 1 big league. Ideally we would have wanted to start off with something smaller, such as go-kart racing or Formula 3000, as this is normally the starting point for Formula 1 racer drivers and it would have made for a more comprehensive and authentic career progression. Although no doubt some people would have hated this, the game has a so-called Pro Career Mode in addition to the regular career, and those who would prefer jumping straight in with the big names could simply have opted for that option. We understand why it wasn't in there, but we'd have liked it nonetheless. Something for next year perhaps?
Other additions to F1 2016 include Safety Cars (SC) and Virtual Safety Cars (VSC), as well as warm-up laps. The warm-up laps were fun initially, and doing a lap to settle in tires and brakes felt like a genuine part of the F1 experience. Later, though, it became a bit tedious, but luckily there's an option to disable them. Similarly the safety cars were fun to begin with, but it quickly came to the point where the focus on safety came at the expense of the fun. Granted this is a racing simulator and safety cars are needed after accidents in real life, but this is not the part of the sport you buy the game for.
The most essential element is of course the driving physics, and that's also the area where Codemasters' work shines the brightest, as they really do know how to make a solid racing game. The team has put in a lot of effort since last year's game in terms of making the tires feel more responsive to the tarmac underneath, and the difference between a dry track and rainy conditions are as huge as in real life. Experience of playing rally games will surely come in handy once the skies opens up to flood the road ahead of you.
As far as the graphics go, Codemasters' hands have been somewhat tied. There's little nature to be seen around the world's Formula 1 tracks which means the same rings true for the game. Even so we suspect the developers haven't spent as much time as they could have on the surroundings, as they seemed emptier and less vibrant than necessary. This makes them in contrast to the cars, and all the action that plays out closer to the camera is expertly and beautifully crafted. In the end though, nobody plays racing games for the graphics, they play them to drive cars. Fast.
As long as the sun is out F1 2016 lets you do precisely that, and everything flows very well. Even when the speedometer is breaking 300 kmph the frame-rate remains smooth and solid on the PS4. The sounds are ace as well, and matching those that flow out of the speakers whenever you watch real Formula 1 on TV. Should you be unlucky enough to have to race in the rain, the game engine doesn't perform quite as well. In the wet you notice that frame-rate drops are more common, and if one hits at the worst possible time the consequences can be dire.
As far as multiplayer goes there were few players about ahead of launch but we did manage to squeeze in a few races. Most of them ended with us burnt out at the side of the road, and in F1 2016 everyone must wait until the full heat has finished before moving on. Realistic? Yes, but still rather annoying.
All in all F1 2016 is still a very good racing game, and thanks to the new additions appearing this year it's a great simulation of the sport. It's a vast improvement over last year's game, in no small part due to fact that the career mode is back, hopefully on a permanent basis this time. They could certainly have done even more with it, but it works pretty well, and it's essential for the full, true Formula 1 experience. There's a lot of depth to the campaign, perhaps even a bit too much in some places (although you can adjust this to suit your particular tastes), but enthusiasts will find plenty to sink their teeth into in this year's iteration.
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