It's been a while since I played a Formula One game that I thoroughly enjoyed, flashback to the PS1's days, the aptly titled "Formula 1" by Bizarre Creations, what an incredible game. Having dabbled on and off with F1 2015 last year, I wasn't too overly impressed with it. But this year's version, well, where do I start? - Takes a deep breath...
Let's just try to forget about last year’s iteration. F1 2016 is here to correct all the wrongs, or just about. All the teams and tracks have been updated with the 2016 roster. It’s also quite obvious that Mercedes is in control, as they’ve been for the last few years, and just about everything is presented beautifully. If you’re a F1 fan who does not miss a practice, qualification, and race then this game is right up your street.
It’s hard to load up F1 2016 and not stare with a cheeky grin at career mode, as it's been sorely missed. It’s here that you’ll find most of the new bits and upgraded parts (you can take that literally or figuratively). You’ll enter your name and surname, choose your helmet, car number, look-alike and then the team you prefer to sign up with.
The teams are divided into three tiers. Select Renault, Sauber or Manor and it’ll be much easier to match the team expectations. They’ll deal with lower positions in qualifying and in the race that allows you to get away with some mistakes. Go higher up the chain to Force India, Toro Rosso, McLaren or Haas and it’ll be tougher, but still possible. Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams and Red Bull have high expectations and demand you perform, or else.
At the F1 lounge, you really do feel like you belong to a team. It’s here, in front of your laptop, that you’ll manage your career when you’re not out on the track. You’ll get to follow see, how impressed your team is with you, and if you’re beating your rival via some easy-to-understand graphs. Your engineer and PR relations person will often chit-chat with you, or tell you to check your phone for important voice messages. By competing in weekend events (practice, qualifying, and race) you’ll earn points.
For practice sessions, you’ll be introduced to the practice program. Think of it as little tests set by the team to push your car (and skills) as far as possible in their efforts to help you get as much telemetry out the car as possible. The track acclimatization assists you in learning the track layout, racing line, and braking points. Every time you pass a checkpoint it’ll either turn red, green or purple, with purple being the perfect checkpoint.
Tire management teaches you how to deal with tire degradation. You’ll also be asked to perfect the qualifying pace and other team objectives, such as nailing fast sectors or testing your dsr. So why do all this? It’s here where you’ll gain all the extra points to buy the upgrade parts you’re after. Once you have those upgrades fitted, you’ll feel that improvement instantly.
For racing games and especially of a title of this genre, the handling of each and every vehicle is very important, it either immerses you or it breaks it. Post the Formula 1 days on the PS1 was the fact that the F1 cars all felt so stiff. For a vehicle that’s supposed to be so agile and the pinnacle of motorsport, it really never excited me as much as it should have. In F1 2016, they’ve tweaked the handling so much that I had to return to the 2015 version just to check if I wasn't imagining it all.
The cars in F1 2016 are a dream to drive. The twitchy feel of F1 2015 is nowhere to be found. Every apex and fight with another rival will remind you that you really are in control. The controls are exceptionally smooth and all the other bits, such as tapping the LB button and managing your own pit manually, has never made me feel as connected to the world of F1 as this experience has - wow, just wow, my racing senses have very much been kicked into the highest gear again.
Just like real life, if you’ve seen it on TV then expect it to be in the game. In the garage, you’ll deal with other issues such as your tire selection as it could very well affect the outcome of the race. The tire wear percentage is something you actually keep an eye on. There are preset car settings for tracks that require more downforce or maximum speed, and if you’re not satisfied with that you can play with the various settings. Adjust your aerodynamics, transmission, suspension geometry, suspension, brakes, tires (the tire pressure in this case), weight distribution and fuel load. Once you’ve done all that, and got the perfect setting for a particular track, you can save your preferred setup to use in any other race, including the multiplayer.
Once you are on the track, you’ll find that your rivals are perfectly matched to your specific skill level. For difficulty settings, I jumped straight into hard, if you need more of a challenge you can increase it to expert, legend or ultimate. Ultimate is of course only for die-hard F1 sim fans. There’s also a mode purely just for those who love punishment – pro career. It plays out exactly the same as the normal career mode, but you race against ultimate driver AI, with no assists and the weekend is the full weekend as you would experience in the real world. If a race takes two hours in real life then expect to be out on the road for two hours on race day. There’s also championship season mode where you can race as any one of your favorite 2016 drivers and mimic their success throughout a season.
Wet weather racing is also much improved from 2015, the vehicle, when on wets or intermediates, does struggle and slip and slide all over the show, but if it’s raining cats and dogs there should be some aquaplaning moments that’s absent. Visually, the game is a sight to behold, from the animation of the driver’s hands steering the wheel, the pit crew gesturing and doing their stuff, to the immaculately detailed and realistic TV broadcast-styled replays, it's just spectacular.
In multiplayer, you’ll race up to 21 other drivers and you’ll have to deal with accidents that could cause the safety car or virtual safety car to be deployed. Your team might change its strategy mid-race, that’ll have you frantically responding while trying to keep a cool head and avoiding a rival passing you as your tires have taken a hit - it's intense, breathtaking and exciting, it's exactly what F1 is all about!
Reviewed on PS4 by Minty Fresh