A Game About The Sport, Not The Driver
Hunt's antics would never, ever fly in today's world of squeaky-clean F1 drivers, though. Fellow Brit and McLaren driver Jenson Button, for example, is about as far removed from Hunt as one could get. It's the same with Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Riccardo and every other star of the F1 circus. They are, for all intents and purposes, exceptionally talented spokespeople driving very loud billboards.
Frankly, the only thing related to Formula One that has less personality than its drivers is the latest installment in Codemasters' racing video game series, F1 2014. We snagged a copy of the recently released title – probably the last major racing game to be offered on our trusty Xbox 360 (as well as the Playstation 3 and PC) – to see how the video game interpretation of the revolutionary 2014 F1 season translated.
- At the heart of any F1 game is its career mode. For 2014, Codemasters didn't exactly reinvent the wheel. You still join a team and take part in a season of practices, qualifying sessions and races at tracks across the globe, all the while battling your teammate for the number one driver position and taking part in the occasional bit of in-season research and development.
- The biggest change comes at the very beginning, though. In past F1 games, your choice of teams was mostly limited to backmarkers, like Caterham and Marussia. In F1 2014, you have your pick of every team on the grid, meaning that even as a rookie, you can take the place of the number two driver at a top-tier team, like Scuderia Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull Racing. In some ways, this is great for players that simply want to dive in and challenge for podium positions right away.
- This game's lack of personality is immediately apparent in season play. In past iterations of Codemasters' series, players had the chance to interact with the press, which had an impact on your virtual player's relationship with his team. It was a little thing, but added just enough of a role-playing element to make the game a bit more interesting.
- In F1 2014, there's nothing like that. Even if you win a race, your only reward is a generic cut scene showing you celebrating with the second place driver. It's the same if you take pole. Fail to meet one of your race objectives – which simply consist of finishing above X position – and you get another generic cut scene showing you and your disappointed team principal. There is no post-race press conference or podium celebration. It's simply the same recycled scene for each race.
- While this aspect of gameplay falls flat, the actual business of racing is a lot of fun. The AI racers are mostly on point, driving intelligently in most conditions. We had a hell of a fight with Nico Rosberg during a very wet race in Malaysia. Rather than a relentlessly paced opponent, virtual Rosberg made mistakes. He'd overshoot one corner in the wet, and we'd open the gap. We'd overshoot the next, and he'd be filing out mirrors. It was properly good fun, which is perhaps the highest praise we can pay to a racing title.
- It's difficult to tell how much like the real thing the cars of F1 2014 are, but we can report that, as is typical of this series of games, it's not a great starting point for newcomers to racing titles. The throttles of the turbocharged hybrid F1 cars are difficult to modulate, while turbo lag is a genuine issue. In addition to the lack of mechanical grip, it takes exceptionally judicious throttle inputs to exit a corner quickly. The steering is immediate and the handling twitchy, which is especially apparent on corners where your car is moving too slowly to generate suitable downforce.
- For 2014, Codemasters has fitted a wider suite of assist features, making the game more accessible. Standard items, like traction control and anti-lock braking can be adjusted, while braking assist and steering assist offer six different levels of backup, ranging from totally off to highly intrusive. There's even a Forza-like Rewind feature, should you bin it around a corner.
- Our only issue with the use of assists is that there's no incentive to turning them off. In the Forza Motorsports series, not using assists confers a monetary benefit for player. There is no such economy in F1 – just an experience system that, so far as we can tell, serves no discernible purpose.
- It's a good effort for a last-generation title. The cars are consistently gorgeous and the tracks, while lacking the obsessive detailing, texturing and lighting of fellow last-gen-title Gran Turismo 6, look quite good while on the move. This is doubly true when it's raining buckets, a Codemasters F1 series trademark.
- For some reason, though, Codemasters cut corners in small but obvious areas. The image provided by the rear view mirrors in the in-cockpit view look like something from a Sega Genesis, with pixelated, blocky and detail-less images. Other graphical shortcomings can be found in the pits. We ran the career mode with Lotus Renault, and on the wall of our garage was the British manufacturer's iconic logo. But it was grainy and pixelated, like it was added as an afterthought.
- Of all the headlines in the real-world F1 season, complaints over the sound of the new turbocharged V6 engines have been the longest lasting. They just don't sound good. If there's one thing F1 2014 realistically conveys, this is it. What is interesting, though, is how different the engines sound. The Ferrari mill is noticeably different than the Mercedes engine, which is in turn different than the Renault powerplant.
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