The awesome guys over at Codemasters hooked us up with an early copy of F1 2016, so it fell upon Charlie Eustice to go through the arduous task of playing video games for this review. Here’s what he thought of F1 2016.

Immersion.

That seems to be the buzzword of late that defines whether a game lives or dies. Figuratively speaking of course; you can’t kill a game. Still, it’s an important facet of video games these days. Does F1 2016 deliver?

Absolutely.

For many, the main gripe with F1 2015 was the lack of personalisation in the game. The main game mode; Championship Season, allowed you to take control of one of the 20 drivers from the season, and participate in the 19 races on the calendar. That was it – no upgrades for the cars, no front end menu, and worst of all, no ability to insert yourself into the game, which for the majority of us playing the game who are unable to drive a real race car on a regular basis, is an absolute must.

“F1 2016 makes practice not only rewarding, but enjoyable, which is a triumph in itself…”

This time you truly are in control of your driver, which you can make an avatar of yourself. The driver customisation isn’t quite at the level of the Sims or FIFA, but you can at least change between a few pre-set options of ‘bloke with bad facial hair’, which suits me down to the ground.

A nice touch is that you can choose your own three-letter name abbreviation, driver number, and helmet. I went for a blank helmet, and was then able to change the hue, saturation and brightness of it to have a gaudy orange lid poking out of my car. I initially wanted to be driver number 47, but that pesky Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne nicked it. I almost plumped for 69 because that’s how mature I am, but instead inverted 47 to make 74. Job’s a gooden.

Team selection is simplified; gone is the training from previous games which would let you determine which non-front-runner team you can pick – instead, you can pick a tier 1 (Merc, RBR, Ferrari, Willams) tier 2 (FI, STR, McL, Haas) or tier 3 (Sauber, Renault, Manor) team, which all have their own expectations with regards to championships and the like.

I nearly picked Renault purely out of respect for yellow-ness. Image courtesy of Codemasters
I nearly picked Renault purely out of respect for yellow-ness. Image courtesy of Codemasters

I opted for Manor because DAT PAINT SCHEME and also because I love the idea of developing a car from a relatively un-driveable tractor into a bona fide world beater. And that’s not a jab at Manor, a team I have great respect and admiration for, just an observation of the in-game performance of the MRT car.

(The other reason was because I was terrified of disappointing the bigwigs at the top teams with shoddy driving, but enough on that.)

Codies really have thought very hard about the little things. While there isn’t exactly an astonishing number of game modes, career mode absolutely shines, giving you several game modes within each practice sessions. In games of old, I would opt for the ‘short practice’ session option, giving you one thirty-minute session instead of three sixty-minute ones. On this game, I take part in every single session, and there are many reasons for this, but the biggest is R&D.

You get resource points for fulfilling objectives and game modes in practice, and these drastically alter how good the car is. There’s circuit acclimatisation (hit all the markers on corners the track to score points), tyre wear (balance speed with smoothness), qualifying pace (nail those sectors) and then a few separate objectives like reaching a certain speed, or deploying DRS.

It’s up to you how much practice you want to get through, but the more you do, the more at home you’ll feel on each track, and the better the car will get.

YES. F1 2016 makes practice – consistently the most boring part of F1 games – not only rewarding, but enjoyable. That’s an enormous success!

You can toggle the length of practice – anywhere between 90-30 minutes, and you can have the full three, or just one if you want. When it’s all completed, you can spend your resource points on different parts of the car (these take a while to get made and sent to the car, just like real life) and then it’s off to qualifying. Again, I used to go for the shortest option possible in the past because I wanted to get through it to the race as soon as I could.

Image courtesy of Codemasters
Image courtesy of Codemasters

Now though, Qualifying is a full-blown affair for me. For the Australian Grand Prix I was still learning the feel of the car, and after setting a decent Q1 time, I found myself down in 20th place. I went out for one last lap, and in the DYING embers of the session, eclipsed team mate Pascal Wehrlein to place 16th and move into the next session. Needless to say, I yelped with joy and punched the air, and managed to finish 11th in Q2. The engineer’s jubilant chatter on the radio thereafter reflected that of a real life Manor car getting onto Row 6 of the grid. Again, brilliant depth.

I finished in 8th place after a race-long scrap with Esteban Gutierrez and received the same jubilant celebrations on the radio, but it’s a novelty that clearly wore off for the team. During the next round in Bahrain I qualified 8th, and after some serious fuel management, I managed to win the race (Bahrain is the track I’m best at, and I may need to up the difficulty from Hard) but the radio message was very matter-of-fact: “Well done mate, that’s P1.”

Maybe they got bored of winning or something. Anyway, outside of the races themselves you have a team area; a sort of art-deco minimalist motorhome where you can sit at a desk, look around, and use the laptop, which serves as the main hub of the career. There’s also a supporting cast of team personnel like the engineer and the PR agent who get you acquainted with vital areas of the team and car.

The PR agent (who goes by the name of Emma) acts as a sort of giver-of-information in the way that emails did in previous games. She sort of talks at you rather than letting you interact (as does Chris the engineer) which does make it feel a little less personal, but she serves a purpose.

The other issue with previous games was the lack of game modes. This issue has been primarily addressed with the re-introduction of a personalised career mode, but the lack of something akin to ‘Time attack’ and ‘Champions Mode’ from 2012, or ‘Scenario Mode’ from 2013 still tells.

Stalwart game modes of Championship Season, Time Trial and Multiplayer are still there, and unlike in 2015, the corner cutting penalties are consistent. Break the rules; your lap time gets invalidated. For now though, there is plenty to be getting on with in the career mode.

Codemasters F1 2016 game
Hockenheim returns to the game proper. Image courtesy of Codemasters

I play with a controller and no assists, and last year the game felt tailored towards the more casual racers on controllers, because while there are a good portion of wheel racers in the community, they are in the minority. This year, controller gameplay is significantly harder, with on-throttle traction standing on a razor’s edge between torque and spinning out. I learned this the hard way very early on in Australia, with the kerbs of turn 1 spitting me out as I accelerated down towards turn 3.

It’s a steeper learning curve this year, but even if it does take you a few tries to get it right, the return of the Safety Car will help you get back on target… Or at least let your competitors get past your crumpled wreckage.

It’s actually significantly harder to bring out the Safety Car than you might imagine, with the VSC coming out far more often. Other excellent new features include the manual start procedure, which lets you set the clutch bite-point, and though a bit of a formality, the inclusion of the formation lap is a nice touch, although it doesn’t make an awful lot of difference to your performance.

Multiplayer’s ‘hopper’ issues have been eradicated too with a streamlined service and not too many difficulty splits, with Custom Lobby, Rookie, Sprint and Endurance on offer, providing levels for just about everyone.

In hindsight, F1 2015 fell slightly short because much like F1 itself it was over complicated with unnecessary tweaks, but fundamentally the driving was fun and enjoyable. The 2016 game builds on this with a stunningly-detailed career mode and a great supporting cast.

The core of the game is not drastically different, but as is often the case, it’s the little things that make a big change, and I can see myself playing it for a long time coming. I’m gonna head back to my Xbox now!


Bottom line

Should you buy it? You betcha.

Best bit? Career mode is more in depth than anything I imagined.

Still needs work? Game mode variety still a little sparse, but career makes up for it.

Does the McLaren sound grumbly off-throttle? GRRRRWWWWWWRHHHH!

When is it out? Today ye merry folk! Friday 19 August, go!

How much does it cost? £40.

Do say: Practice (has been made) perfect!

Don’t say: Scenario mode, where you at?

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