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Sports licenses are very, very expensive. Like, they're so expensive it's basically impossible to find out how much EA Sports pays the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and FIFA to use its property. Then there are the deals with the players' unions, third-party sponsors, and basically a bunch of other groups. In short, putting out a sports game costs a lot of money before any development work is even done.

In order to make back that big investment, developers are eager to pump out a new title each year. Often, these are lightly tweaked versions of last year's game, which in the case of Codemasters' Formula One series, means updated cars, track lists, and driver rosters. That's why we reviewed F1 2012 and F1 2014, but skipped F1 2013. We're making an exception for the latest installment in the series, though, which is not only moving to the latest generation of gaming consoles, but is offering an all-new game engine in the process.

Gaming Notes

  • As one might expect, the move to the Xbox One and Playstation 4 has been a boon for F1 2015's graphics. The new title's tracks and cars look far superior to last year's installment. Reflections and light play much more naturally across the cars, especially if you're running in the cockpit view. In the exterior camera – which weirdly snaps to an offset view, making it almost unusable during a race – heat radiates and shimmers off the exhaust, and if you run without the traction control and get goofy, you'll experience some of the best-looking tire smoke to ever grace a racing title.
  • The frame rate appears to be up relative to last year's title too, although it's still decidedly below the 60-frame-per-second gold standard that today's blockbusters aim for.
  • There are a few graphical glitches, though. There's an annoying screen tearing effect in some turns, although since it's usually far above the driver's line of sight, it's easy enough to ignore. More annoying is a strange glitch in the shading. On a very regular basis, we noticed jagged shadows that almost ripple across the bodywork. It was most obvious while using the in-cockpit view, so if you're the sort that prefers to see more of the car, you might not experience it too much.
  • F1 2015 takes advantage of the latest generation of the EGO game engine, an updated version of what's used in F1 2013 and 2014. Where we complained about the accessibility of last year's titles, the cars in F1 2015 are noticeably more forgiving. They're still very sharp and gittery, and the steering has a kind of on-off character, especially at low speeds. In general, the racers feel easier to pick up and play, especially if you leave the anti-lock brakes and traction control on. While we complained of the touchy throttles and lack of mechanical grip in last year's title, both areas have been improved for 2015. Grip dissipates in a more linear fashion, and while there's still turbo lag, the throttle feels easier to manipulate in most conditions.
  • Our praise for the AI continues here in 2015, although there were a couple of weird behaviors. In particular, computer players have a nasty habit of maintaining their racing line while you're on a flying lap. There's no cognizance towards faster vehicles during practice or qualifying sessions. On multiple occasions, we crossed the start-finish line at speed, was on our approach to the first corner, and had a car from the pits pull right out in front of us and take the racing line. That said, behavior during the races themselves is engaging and makes for a truly entertaining racing experience, particularly at the higher difficulty levels.
  • That's not to say Codemasters has addressed all of our complaints from last year's game. F1 2015 is still frustratingly one-dimensional. In other big-name sports games, you spend the time between events working your rosters or playbooks, sending scouts to check out new talent, and managing a budget, or you can play an immersive career mode, picking out your player's gear and interacting with the press. In short, these features exist to add variety and in turn, keep gamers hooked. F1 2015 has nothing like this. Even last year's basic career mode has been purged, in favor of a championship mode. There's also a Pro Championship mode, which so far as we can tell is identical to the standard game, except the difficulty is locked on its hardest setting, the assists are permanently shut off, and you're limited to an information-free in-cockpit camera. There are also multiplayer, one-race, and time trial modes, and you can also switch the game's team, car, track, and driver rosters to reflect the 2014 season (for some reason).

In many ways, Codemasters' single-minded focus on racing means F1 2015 stays truer to the sport it's based on than other sports games. This is a title that's about the racing and nothing more. While that approach is commendable for its purity, as EA Sports has shown, making the annualized release schedule work isn't just about controlling star athletes on a big stage – it's about immersing them in the atmosphere that surrounds the NFL, FIFA, or NHL. Until Codemasters can bring that fuller, more enveloping gaming experience to its F1 titles, the series remains difficult to recommend, whether for fans of the sport or racing games in general. F1 2015 hit stores in the US on Tuesday, June 21.

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