F1 2016 Review: Codemasters, This Is More Like It [Xbox One]
The Formula One license and Codemasters have generally enjoyed a happy marriage since they wed in 2009; F1 2010 set the tone on everything Codies wanted F1 gaming to be about, which was more than just jumping in pretend racecars and crashing them over and over again. The emphasis was on immersing oneself in the world of being an F1 driver; car development, inter-team rivalries, and casual conversations with an attractive European lady claiming to be your agent. Couple this with an excellent sim-cade handling model and neat gameplay features such as the now-common 'Flashback' which enabled you to vanquish that spectacular race-ending wipeout at Eau Rouge into another dimension like it never happened, and the formula (one) was a slam-dunk winner of Steph Curry proportions.
Since then the games were largely unchanged until F1 2013 hit a creative peak through liberal use of 1980s/90s F1 cars which drove like barely tamed ballistic missiles. Then the new console generation seemed to catch Codemasters out, and focus shifted towards F1 2015, touted as a bold reinvention of the franchise for the new 1080p 60fps age. Unfortunately, what we got was an incredible core game engine...with no actual videogame attached to it.
For a game built on a strong career mode and online play so popular it had spawned multiple e-sports leagues, F1 2015 having utterly broken online play and no career mode at all on launch was a big smack in the face for the fanbase. And given that the series had spawned a passionate gaming Youtuber community, said fanbase had very vocal figureheads to voice their criticism.
Codemasters knew they had to get F1 2016 right. They directly courted the community, inviting major Youtubers to HQ itself - a shrewd move given the influence they had over Codies' audience - and we saw previously scathing commentators become gushing hype-mongers. A strange U-turn you might think, and only the release of the game itself would tell us if they had merely become paid shills or were harping from the heart.
First question: is the safety car back? Yes. The lack of safety car in F1 2015 became a running joke of just how chronically malnourished that game was, so it was telling how Codemasters put this front and centre in the trailers.
Second question: are the good bits from F1 2015 back? Yes, with some mild polish on the handling and graphics engines; both of which were already exceptional in F1 2015. The game is visually stunning on Xbox One, and races fly by at a stable 60FPS even in English summer weather - that is, heavy rain and fog - whilst the combination of fluid sim-cade handling and aggressive but competent AI mean the races themselves are as fun as they've ever been.
Third question: is career mode back?
Yup - in a big way
This is possibly the most immersive career mode in the franchise so far. The real-world elements are back; the career menu involves the player-character sitting around in the VIP lounge on your laptop, fielding phone calls from your agent and making idle small-talk with real-world team principals and bigwigs. Inspiration has been taken from Milestone's MotoGP series in the form of an upgrade system where laps in preliminary sessions are used to earn credits for car development, but with the added twist of specific mini-games for each practice session focusing on raw speed, tyre conservation, strategy, and more. In my first race in Career Mode, it took me 45 minutes to even reach qualifying; but I wasn't bored.
Having a consistent goal to work towards - sliders show where the performance of your car stacks up against your rivals - should ensure boredom remains sat in the grandstands whilst you pound out laps. This is the first career mode I can see myself ploughing through for multiple seasons since F1 2010.
That sound you heard on release day was the sigh of relief emitted by the F1 Youtuber community, knowing that they wouldn't have to grind out umpteen Pro Season repeats and 'DRIVE TILL THE TYRES EXPLODE' videos to get them CPM dollars.
There are still flaws; the game courts the hardcore audience (read; Tiametmarduk) with an 'Ultimate' difficulty level, yet it's still infuriatingly easy to get lost between difficulty levels. On Expert level, races descended into me swerving back and forth to defend position like Max Verstappen necking Absinthe, yet dropping down to Hard led to me qualifying on pole by over a second and winning my first career race for the Haas F1 Team. That's the equivalent of beating Real Madrid 3-0 with AFC Wimbledon in your first career mode match on FIFA. A Project CARS-style sliding scale would probably work far better.
Outside of Career Mode, there's still not a huge amount of gameplay features outside of returning modes from 2015, and Pro Season/Pro Career (regular game modes with all difficulty options cranked beyond 11) still feel fairly redundant. Granted, all energy was focused on Career Mode this time around, and that strategy has paid off; a return of old favourites such as Scenario Mode wouldn't go amiss, however. I'm not a huge online player, but early reports (and lack of pitchfork-wielding hate mobs) seem to suggest it is at least functional on launch this time around.
I don't remember a time that Codemasters went into a new F1 game release with this much pressure on their shoulders; and for the most part, it was justified. Fortunately, F1 2016 is overall an excellent return to form that deletes the bad memories of 2015 more effectively than Broken Matt Hardy. Unlike real Formula One, Codemasters listened to the fans - and as a result have produced one of the finest F1 games in their history.
Copy purchased by myself for the Xbox One.