F1 2014 PC As We Play

Yearly updates are the normal way sports based games like to play the field. We lap them up every new season simply because we are so in love with the given sport that it makes sense to us.

Racing in F1 is as exciting and at times, as boring, as you want it to be, because it all depends on your point of view as to whether F1 is as exhilarating to watch as it is to play. I personally enjoy watching every race and love the way the drivers all misbehave or some scandal occurs as the season progresses.

Formula 1 sees to it every year that there are some new rules to fox the teams and us with; in an attempt to make the races fairer, perhaps more efficient and environmentally friendly and for the race goer hopefully more exciting to watch. In some cases a yearly update perhaps as DLC would be cool enough, but Codemasters like to give us a full game to showcase and why not?

There have been some major change to this years competition, perhaps most notably is the engine size, now1.6 litre turbos rather than the massive 2.6 litre engines from last year; causing some die-hard Formula 1 fans to moan that the cars were not loud enough. There has been some tinkering with the weight, size and height forcing teams to design their cars differently from last year. Amongst a number of other changes to there is one sticky one that many people are at odds over. The last race of the season, this year in Abu Dhabi, will see the driver and constructor points awarded for that race, doubled, a tad controversial.

Traditionally, Formula 1 games can be frightfully hard to play and certainly if you favour arcade racers; all the micromanagement that’s needed to set the gear ratios, ride height, aerodynamics and fluffy dice position before you even set foot into the car can be somewhat overwhelming. It’s not like racing; it’s more akin to a maths test.

f1_2014 alonso

Sweeping in-game shots of many of the tracks appear in the opening video, calmly and gently luring you into the game. Introducing the cars slowly, calmly. Then the action kicks off and its full-on head to head racing action.

From the first screen everything appears normal and expected. Codemasters have many years experience in creating and producing race games, so it is of no surprise that it looks familiar and friendly. A limited number of options are presented to you initially once you have created your F1 2014 save game and player profile.

Now one of my favourite new features available in F1 2014 is the Evaluation test. I really recommend you go through this initial test, it doesn’t take long to complete. Why should you do it? Well, you race around the Melbourne track in a one-lap race-condition race and then lines you up with the right difficulty level to suit your skill level.

Sure you can skip the evaluation test if you really want to and set difficulty manually via the options screens, but it is a simple method of making sure you pitch yourself at a level that will test you, but not make it so hard that the main game lacks fun and enjoyment. I think it’s a brilliant idea and perhaps all racing games should do this to make more sense of the “easy, medium, hard” levelling options they usually present you with. If you want to re-run the test you can from under the Career option in the main screen.

Having completed my evaluation test, I navigate my way through five main options. Grand Prix, Career, Multiplayer, Proving Grounds and My F1.

Those familiar with other F1 games from Codemasters will know that the first port of call should be the My F1 menu option. Here you can tweak your graphics and sound options before you start out. Along with the system and driving options, the My F1 section allows you to see your driver statistics from your career player profile and alter any specific details of your career that you might like to change too. You can sign up to racenet from here too, so to take your racing career online and race against other people.

Grand Prix is effectively arcade mode, allowing you to pick up and play the game immediately. Pick a team, pick a driver, set your preferred race settings, which include options for difficulty, weather, race distance and participation level. Participation level allows you to choose just how involved you want to be, choose here from quick race or the more intense “long weekend – Full Qualifying” options. If you’re in a hurry that’s fine, you can just click continue, pick a track to race on and off you go!

f1_2014 rain

Loading up the track takes about thirty seconds if you include the sweeping views giving you an indication of where you are. Appearing in your car, the familiar Codemasters F1 in-car menu experience welcomes you. Sat in the cockpit of the F1, the information screen in front of you gives you all the important data you need, what tyres you have on, weather conditions how many cars there are on track currently and most importantly, your position.

Engineering options to the right allow you to change your car setup or change the difficulty. As with other versions of Codemasters F1 on PC, if you wish to alter the graphics and other system options, you have to exit out to the main menu and do that from the My F1/Settings option and lose your progress if you hadn’t set them before.

F1 games have always been where I have turned to for cutting-edge graphics that showcase my machine, whether that be PC or on a console.  With all options on their highest setting, F1 2014 runs smoothly at 1080p and 60 frames a second with rare issue. On the whole it looks very nice, F1 2014 is pretty, but it cheats.

f1_2014 engineer

Textures can feel rather flat and track sides can seem a little too mono-tone for my liking. Even with anti-aliasing on its maximum setting, around some shadows and some surfaces are particularly jagged. Reflections are of your direct surroundings, adding a good degree of realism. But when you are stationary, everything is undeniably flat, simple looking textures, lacking shadows and lacking any depth of field.

It is clear that Codemasters’ choice to focus the design of F1 2014 for the last generation, i.e. PS3 and Xbox 360, has negatively impacted what should be the ultimate graphical version available of F1 2014, for the PC. F1 2014 is no slouch, but one will notice it is not pushing the boundaries of realism, any more than say F1 2013 did. It wont be my first choice to show off my PCs graphical capabilities.

Proving Grounds enables the customary Time Attack and Time Trial options but also brings you a Scenario Mode; pitting you against the track and other AI opponents in a series of trials and tests to achieve certain conditions by race end.  The Scenario Mode is a welcome distraction from the typical F1 race game and gives you a feeling of progression in the form of obtaining medals for your achievements.

Something I’ve found a little questionable in race games in recent years and I’m sure the racing game purest will agree, is the inclusion of “flashback”; the ability to stop the race and rewind it a number of seconds, giving you the ability to correct a mistake or to approach a corner differently. Flashback is here for you in F1 2014 and you can set the number you allow yourself from 1 to unlimited. I found myself using it rarely in-game, feeling dirty when I did; but you can switch it off in the options if you so wish too by setting it to zero.

The feeling of racing is solid, mistakes are less severely punished than previous versions it feels. While race gameplay and AI of the drivers seems all very well balanced and managed; it didn’t appear that any of the cars on the track behave any differently from each other. All drivers go about their business and appear to race with the intention of winning. I’d probably be hard pushed to notice if say Alonso, Button or Hamilton have been modelled on their personal driving styles but I couldn’t differentiate anything from the other 21 cars on the track other than team colours and helmet.

Multiplayer is not something I’ve really had chance to play with so far and can’t really give you a good idea of its quality, I think a separate as we play is required to do it justice.  I’ve played locally in split screen, but there are LAN and online options here. The online game allows you to invite friends who are available via Steam, in my case, to join you, or you can find a race session someone else is hosting and race against the world from there. You will need to set up a Codemasters Racenet account from the My F1 screen to enable the online options to work properly.

f1_2014 career

F1 2014 doesn’t really feel a huge change from F1 2013 and Codemasters’ cutting-edge career simulation (that I believe first graced our screens in F1 2010) has been cut back a little too far. This limits the potential of immersion into your virtual race career that you could feel. I had expected this feature to be pushed into the higher-realism stakes and extend on attempted features in previous versions, such as pre/post race interviews with the press. Even the prepared footage of the post-race “excitement” feels a little lack-lustre and almost not worth adding in.

F1 Drivers image and likeness are not there while you are in-game, everyone keeps their helmets on after a race and you never feel you’ve just beaten Nico or Alonso, you’ve just beaten someone else in a helmet. In fact when you win there is no real proper celebration at all. Sure there’s the getting out of the car and chest bumping, hand shaking, high-fiving, but there are no trophies and more worryingly there’s not a champagne bottle in sight.

One thing I felt was inexcusable and believe me this is a very small, almost pathetic gripe; when you create a new driver, you pick their name, nick name, nationality and even their helmet and play in the personalised career mode. When you win or come in place, you will see your avatar get out of the cockpit and the name of the driver whom you replaced in the team is emblazoned on your suit, rather than your own. Fabulous, thanks Codemasters for making me feel I wasn’t involved at all in the race.

The Good

  • Fast and fluid racing
  • Good set of extra modes and challenges available
  • The all-new evaluation mode
  • Flat tyre, crawling to pits, winning the race!

The Bad

  • AI for all drivers seem the same
  • Graphics are a little too “last-gen”
  • Feeling of immersion can be broken with avoidable problems, for example: names on suits.
  • Repeated use of the same post-race animations
  • Codemasters only have license to use static photos, drivers never take off their helmets post-race
  • Crash physics is aimed at the arcade racer
  • No trophies for the trophy cabinet
  • No champagne.

Final Analysis

Codemasters have done it so well for years that I can’t help feel F1 2014 feels like a tweak from previous versions to include the 2014 F1 cars and rules. Sure there are some new things, but F1 2014 never really builds your excitement up from racing your first race. While there is the rivals system to focus your race on something other than first place, the immersion and excitement is limited to the actual racing and an email style story progression based on your personal performance. While this may be this way to try and keep both camps of arcade racer and racing purest happy; It is my opinion that Codemasters needed to expand and fine tune the career mode to make you feel more connected to your avatar.  With the inclusion of interactions with elements other than just the F1 race car, the execution needs to evolve to separate the F1 game franchise from other race games. F1 2014 is a great F1 racer, with lots of great features, great in-race action, but let down by the limited career and driver interaction outside of the race car, driver likeness license issues (I assume) preventing driver faces being used in-game and the graphics are now old-hat.

 

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