After some unfortunate delays, Codemasters finally wheels out its debut F1 game for the current generation of consoles. Fans who have stayed with the series in its many iterations on the PlayStation 3 can now at last spin around Silverstone with the teams and drivers of the new season along with their new machines. What can you expect from this latest licensed outing?
Well, for Codemasters, it seems to be a chance for a fresh start, and a fresh approach. Its previous F1 games, which began with F1 2009 on the PlayStation Portable, grew year on year adding more features, immersing you deeper and deeper into the sport. The career mode had you start as a newbie, climbing up the ranks, eventually competing with the big boys and signing with a better team. Off the racetrack you got involved in TV interviews, and tinkering in the paddock. As the versions of the series advanced, the developer added extras to draw fans back, such as the classic cars and tracks introduced in F1 2013.
However, many of these features have been trimmed away. What we have in F1 2015 is almost a reboot; it does away with many of the modes you may have enjoyed in previous games, as well as smaller things, like the safety car. Sure, it would have been nice to have the aforementioned career mode and classic cars, and we think that some players may be disappointed in the lack of options, but what is included is still worth your time.
When you start up the game, you'll see that it includes both the 2015 and 2014 seasons, effectively giving you two versions of Championship Season to play through. Championship Season is essentially the career mode here – the main difference being that you now take part as the F1 driver of your choice, so you can finally steer Marussia to victory as Will Stevens.
This is the meat and potatoes of F1 2015, and is an exciting, enthralling way to play. You pick your team and driver, then how long your weekends will be, determining how much time you spend in practice and qualifying, and how lengthy the races themselves will be. Of course, you can go whole-hog, with full qualifying and 50-odd lap main events, or, if you're pushed for time, you can opt for 15-minute practice, one-shot qualifying, and 25% race distance.
As you'd expect, it's on the track where the game really comes into its own. Codemasters has got the fundamentals nailed down – the driving itself feels fantastic on a DualShock 4. The handling was always good in previous versions, but it feels like a big step up here – it's incredibly tactile, and very satisfying when it all clicks into place. There are a number of assists that you can flick on or off, depending on the level of challenge you like, too. For the simulation-seekers among you, rest assured that playing with no assists and manual gears makes for some high-skill, high-challenge racing. However, whether assists are on or off, F1 2015 feels great to play on any level.
A neat feature that we rather like is the addition of engineer chatter. He'll give you advice and tips over the team radio which, in a nice touch, plays through your controller's speaker. It genuinely does aid you while you're racing – your engineer will tell you when you need to pit to change your tyres, or that your brakes are cooling so that you need to brake hard into the next few corners. It enhances the sense that you're competing in a grand event, and adds a level of micro management that's very welcome.
Outside of completing the 2015 (or '14) season, you have Pro Season, Quick Race, Time Trial, and Multiplayer. It's a slim picking of options on the face of it, especially when Pro Season is essentially Championship Season on the very hard difficulty setting. Split screen multiplayer would have been nice, but if you don't have a bunch of friends who are into their F1, perhaps it's not a great loss. Going into online multiplayer, you have several options depending on your skill level, with Beginner, Standard, and Hardcore races – or the ability to set up custom events. Like the rest of the package, it's a standard affair.
Single Events offer you more or less what you would expect, allowing you the freedom to choose any track and whether you want to include practice, qualifying, or simply jump straight into a three-lap sprint. Time Trial is, well, time trials, and has you repeating laps over and over to improve upon your best time. These modes are good if you fancy a quick spin, but they're also suitable for die-hard fans who really want to learn the intricacies of the tracks.
Graphically the game is decent, with its main strength being a mostly stable 60 frames-per-second. The game can look very impressive at times, particularly at night or when it's raining, but overall it's not as detailed as the likes of DriveClub or Project CARS. Animations and the models of the pit crew are looking a little dated here, and could definitely do with a spruce up for the inevitable F1 2016. Mainly, the game does look very clean, however, and it's presented in a television broadcast style that fans of the sport will appreciate.
Unfortunately, the sound isn't quite there. Perhaps we've been spoiled by DriveClub's excellent audio mix, but the engine notes aren't as exciting as they could be. Something else to note here is that, presumably for authenticity's sake, Codemasters has decided to make it so that the team radio occasionally crackles and hiccups, but in reality, this simply means that you might miss what was said to you. Thankfully it doesn't happen all the time, but it can be frustrating when it does.
Ultimately, F1 2015 feels pretty lightweight in terms of content, and if you place it side by side with F1 2014, it's clear as day that what we have is little more than the bare-bones basics. In isolation, though, this year's instalment is still a decent game and worthy of any fan's attention. It feels like a good starting position for the series' run on current consoles, and 2016's iteration will hopefully be a little more fleshed out. For now, though, we have a very faithful recreation of the sport with superb handling and a reasonable step up in the graphics department. It's just a bit of a shame that there's not more to it.