It’s shaping up to be a spectacular year for racing game fans. Kicking off the season is F1 2016 which released on August 19th to a devoted fanbase. Hit The Pass racing experts Greg Sewart and Dr. Ken Parker – both fans of the series already – dove into the title this week. Here’s what they had to say.
While its mainstream appeal may not reach the heights of other racing video games, the F1 series has a long and mostly excellent track record. As many games do, its initial foray into a new console generation was a bit difficult; while many praised its mechanics, last year's F1 2015 left some fans wanting due to a lack of depth in modes and options. Has this year's new title successfully built on last year's game? If so, how?
The short answer is yes. Right from the start, the return of career mode gives 2016 back the depth lost in the previous game. If you want to take Rosberg’s seat and prove that it’s possible to beat Hamilton to the Drivers’ Championship, you can do that. If you want to help develop the perennially back-of-the-grid Manor team to a mid-pack success story, you can do that too.
But for me, it’s not the sweeping changes that raise this game above last year’s installment. It’s the little things. The updated HUD offers way more useful information than it did before, including giving you a real-time estimate of how many laps you can run on your remaining fuel in your current mixture. Or the tutorials and trials in career mode that make practice sessions so much more useful.
One improvement in particular has me most excited. Formula 1 racing is pretty much a science at this point. Assuming a driver performs to the limit of the car and the tires, engineers can pretty much predict exactly how long each lap should take during a race. But with the addition of the new start rules in the 2016 season, how you get off the line when the red lights go out is super-important again. And F1 2016 replicates this very nicely with the new manual start. No longer can you just sit there with your foot on the gas, safe in the knowledge that you’ll get a perfect start. Now, your start depends on releasing the clutch at the precise moment the lights go dark. Get it right, and you’ll get a great start. Get it wrong and suffer a slow getaway or even a false start. I love the risk/reward factor this adds.
Dr. Ken Parker
Last year, I thought that F1 2015 was the best on-track racing experience available (at least on consoles).
The good news is that F1 2016 continues to be an amazing on-track experience.
The better new for F1 fans like me is that it embraces the miniature that makes this form of racing unique.
As Greg mentioned there are a ton of ways that the game brings an unprecedented realism to the experience. They’ve got manual starts, formation laps where you can warm your tyres, blue flags, and tyre compounds that make a real difference to lap times.
With 2016 they’ve added a 10 year career mode that allows you to create a driver and start racing for your choice of teams.
What I really like though is the way that they incentive participating in the practice sessions before the race. By completing challenges such as maintaining a perfect line or avoiding cooking your tyres over several laps in practice you can gradually unlock upgrades for your car.
These upgrades only seem to make very incremental improvements to your car (which maintains the realism) and gives you a reason to play through the full race weekend.
Let's talk fundamentals - the driving. What is it that the F1 series does so well overall, and where does F1 2016 build on that (assuming it does)?
Yes. The practice challenges are not only a great way to learn the track, but the tire management challenge in particular feels like it’s helped me address my biggest driving issue in last year’s game. I chewed through tires like no one else on the track back then. I feel like this year’s tutorial is helping me smooth out my laps.
Like Dr. Ken said, the on-track driving experience feels largely the same when you get down to the basics, which is a good thing since F1 2015 already felt great. It feels like the whole thing’s been tweaked ever so slightly. Especially when it comes to getting on the throttle. Even with traction control on, being aggressive on the gas coming out of a turn (especially if you catch a kurb) the rear end will try to come around on you pretty dramatically. This updated handling model really shows itself when driving in the rain.
The braking feels better this year as well. Using the on-track guide as a benchmark, I find that you can brake a bit later than last year’s game and still have a fast turn. That could just be me getting a bit better at the game, though.
Essentially, though, F1 2016 handles pretty much like last year’s game. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Dr. Ken Parker
I know what you mean Greg but it almost feels like a disservice to say the game just feels like last year. If you haven’t played 2015, it captures the speed and handling of F1 cars brilliantly. Along with Dirt Rally, Codemasters has really nailed its last few entries in a great return to form.
Yet, what I think is fantastic about F1 though is that it is a racing game. That might sound odd but games like Forza (which I also love) aren’t racing games. They are driving games in which you race. In Forza, racing is in many ways secondary to collecting cars. In F1 2016, it is all about the racing.
The game is best in long stints involving races with 20 to 60 laps. This is simply wouldn’t be fun in a game like Forza but F1 you need to have longer races to get the most out of the simulation and especially tire strategy. Sure, you can do 5 lap races but that would be like playing Madden with 2 minute quarters – you get an experience but your missing out.
Managing your tire choices is critical and F1 2016 gives you control on the fly by being able to communicate with your engineer during the race. Relaying messages from a list using the controller such as ‘pit this lap’ or enquiring about the strategy of a competitor requires some finger gymnastics but on Xbox One you can opt to bark your commands using the Kinect.
It seems like F1 caters strongly to its core audience, which I think we all agree is where it needs to be. What, if anything, does it do to perhaps be a little more intriguing to, say, someone like me who LOVES racing games (or, to Dr. Ken's point, driving games in which you race) but doesn't know the first thing about F1. And, perhaps more importantly, should F1 even try to do something like that?
Dr. Ken Parker
The game provides a series of tutorial videos which cover some of the intricacies of the sport such as the Drag Reduction System and Manual Starts.
Much like Madden, NHL, or the MLB the Show, F1 2016 takes an approach of presenting the sport as faithfully as possible.
This approach means that the player gets many of the tools to understand and appreciate the sport.
Where the game could do a better job is telling the story of the sport. F1 is about the personalities, their back stories and rivalries from the inter-team rivalry between the brash, petulant but brilliant Lewis Hamilton and the quiet Nordic/German Rosberg; the former champions Alonso and Button trying to stay competitive in the uncompetitive McLaren; and the wonder kid Max Verstappen who competed in his first F1 race at 17 years old and won his first race at 18.
Telling the story of the subplots of the sport is tricky and it is something that I’ve yet to see a sports game tackle.
F1 2016 already caters to a more casual crowd. The spread of difficulty settings and the ability to customize every race weekend – shorter practice sessions, no practice sessions, one-shot qualifying, etc – make this a very easy game to slip into even if you don’t have passion for the sport.
Dr. Ken is right as usual. The most compelling part of the sport is the personalities. Back in 1994 Sega tried something interesting in their Sega CD game, Formula 1: Beyond the Limit. They presented the player with a series of challenges based on the previous season, putting them in the shoes of any number of personalities and giving them the chance to partake in some of the greatest drives of the season, or to change history by being successful where the actual drivers failed. The NASCAR Heat and Thunder series continued this in the early 2000s, adding interviews from actual drivers which set up each challenge.
This wouldn’t be hard to do. Put the player in Nico Rosberg’s car with worn tires and five laps to go at the Red Bull Ring during the 2016 season. Your job is to hold off a hard-charging Lewis Hamilton, it’s his fresh tires vs your quickly dwindling lead and worn rubber. Can you win? Can you do it without crashing into your teammate?
Or perhaps you are Daniel Ricciardo and your dominant lead at Monaco has just fallen victim to a botched pit stop. Can you chase down that Mercedes in the distance and earn the win that is rightfully yours?
Bite-sized chunks of game play like this which convey the personalities and unpredictability of the sport would go a long way toward bringing in and holding a more casual crowd.
What - if anything - does F1 2016 accomplish that will help it maintain its place in your rotation for the next few months? With so many racing games and other AAA titles vying for your attention over the next 2-3 months, do you foresee F1 being a game you'll be spending time with in October?
Dr. Ken Parker
Forza Horizon 3, set in my backyard Down Under, looms as a massive game that will return driving games to the mainstream.
The combination of F1 and FH3 mean that even for a racing fan like myself the arrival of the supersim Assetto Corsa to consoles will be overlooked.
Like other sports games, I expect I’ll complete a least one season in F1 2016 (21 Grand Prix) but my intense interest will decline from there.
More social features would help to combat this. For example, a feature where I get a message when a friend sets a lap time faster than mine should be compulsory in racing games.
That last idea is a great one. Someone get Codemasters on the horn and make it happen.
I’m crazy so I’ll likely be pecking away at F1 2016 for the full year leading up to the release of its sequel. I expect it to sit alongside Forza Horizon 3, NASCAR Heat and DriveClub VR as part of my regular rotation this year. It’s going to be a great year for racing fans.
Any final thoughts and/or things you want to mention that we didn't?
I love how much more control F1 2016 gives me. I love how much I can customize my experience. And I love the return of career mode. While the game still has some on-track issues – a mid-pack collision during the first turn of a Grand Prix can bring half the field to a standstill while the AI sorts out what to do – there’s just too much to love here to dwell on the negatives.
Dr. Ken Parker
F1 2016 is a fitting representation of the sport. It has its frustrations; on some tracks the AI difficulty spikes and drops and qualifying and practice the AI can cut you off seemingly without penalty but as a racing experience it can be enthralling.
Few games can make running in 15th an enjoyable experience but F1 2016 managed to do just that as I chased down my team-mate only to nearly give it up when I had to yield to Rosberg lapping the field. This intense micro-story is typical of F1 2016.
Even though we don't typically score reviews here at HTP, I'll put you both on the spot - what do you give F1 2016? Use any scoring metric you like!
Dr. Ken Parker
If pushed for a score, I’d give it 8 Alain Prosts out of 10 Aryton Senna.
I can’t come up with a better scale than Dr. Ken. Call mine 9/10 Sennas.