F1 2016 is the most immersive Formula 1 game to date and has made a big leap forward with new and old features coming together to form an all-star release for Codemasters' franchise.
Ever since Codemasters first bought the rights to make official Formula 1 games back in 2008, the company has been the main creator of these niche racing video game titles. It all started with F1 2009 and through the years it is fair to say some games were better than others. This year's release, F1 2016, blows away all previous editions, staying true to its promise - delivering the most realistic and feature-full game yet.
F1 games are not the kind you would expect to spring any big surprises, since the basics always involve some specific cars racing other specific cars on specific circuits of the glamorous Formula 1 world. That being said, F1 2016 manages to merge these basics brilliantly with some new features, also bringing back enhanced versions of ones that were present in previous games of the franchise.
Starting out with the obvious, the game offers the official 11 cars that one can race on the 22 different circuits of the Formula 1 2016 season. This includes the new arrival of the Haas and the brand-new Baku street circuit, which has been well received by the community. There is not much else to say about the cars and circuits themselves. The engine sounds have been slightly refined to match the real ones more and some tracks have been slightly altered for the same reasons, successfully.
When jumping in game, the main interface the user must use feels very much like the one in previous titles, which is not a bad thing at all. Options can be easily found and tweaked, and the different game modes available are also easy to select using the main menu. F1 2016 puts you in the racesuit of one of the current Formula 1 drivers in Championship Season mode, offers standard Quick Races, Time Trials and a Multiplayer mode that you can test yourself in alongside other racers online.
Alongside (I should really say On top of) all of these stands a greatly refined career mode that has been desperately missing from F1 2015. Over a 10 season-long period, racers can now enjoy the life of a Formula 1 driver after creating their own avatar and choosing which team to start for. The career mode also has some new features that will make Formula 1 fans jump with joy.
Practice sessions now come with various practice programs that one can run just like in real life. These include track acclimatization and tire management stints that can earn you points, which lead to the next big thing - research and development. With the help of the points gathered by clearing objectives the team sets in practice sessions as well as qualifying and races, one can invest in upgrades that enhance the performance of the car in different areas.
Finally, jumping in a Manor and taking it all the way to the top can be achieved through something more than just plain race pace - one can actually upgrade the car to become even faster than the feared Mercedes. However, it's not easy and it takes time and patience, because other teams will come with upgrades of their own during the seasons. Overall, thanks to the actual Formula 1 regulation changes (more tires and strategy options) and the new features, the career mode for F1 2016 is vastly improved and more enjoyable than ever.
If you're only into racing fast and want to skip the organizational part of the game (which would be a pity since it is very well done and has plenty of elements to enjoy), F1 2016 also comes with other goodies. Race starts have just become more immersive with two new features to improve them - formation laps and manual starts. What better way to gain an edge over your rivals than warming up your tires properly on the formation lap and then blasting off the line with reactions that leave others stuck in first gear? Drivers on the grid have different reaction times each race, which means starts will be interesting and much more important than before.
Safety Cars and the Virtual Safety Car system are now also back in the game and contribute further to the realism level it offers. F1 2016 comes with the usual in-game settings the franchise has treated us with up until now too, so there is enjoyment out there for all kinds of racers. Whether you are a newcomer to the scene of racing games or a die-hard Formula 1 fanatic, there are options out there suitable for everyone.
The AI drivers seem to have been tweaked a little bit, their movement and behavior on track more realistic, and Codemasters has also added a new option for the brave - ultimate AI difficulty, which is even harder than the still existing legend. Furthermore, there is now a simulation damage option in the game settings that allows the most amount of damage to be taken by a car on impact - try racing on Monaco in the wet with this option on.
Pro Career is the ultimate Formula 1 driving test available in the game - a career mode where all assists are turned off, the difficulty is set to ultimate and there is no HUD whatsoever. Max Verstappen or Lewis Hamilton could find it interesting.
Having not spoken about any negative parts of the game, you might wonder if this game is perfect. It isn't. There are some things that still need to be polished, like some sessions where one AI driver sets an impossible time on the board (think 6s around Melbourne), or messages that don't show up properly on the HUD. Having gone through all the good bits by now, these ones pale in comparison and hopefully they will be addressed soon.
The career span could have been greater than 10 seasons and the progression element is not felt fully because the same drivers will drive for the same teams each season, but licencing elements have made Codemasters unable to implement any kind of changes to this system - new drivers coming into the scene, teams withdrawing from F1, and so on. Maybe after Bernie.
All in all, racing on different circuits in different cars felt good and as real as it can get by today's standards. The graphics the game offers look as crisp as ever - Codemasters also added a feature that will hold your wheel to the car when crashing using tethers instead of it bouncing around the track -, the menus are fluid and loading times are, at least in my experience, greatly reduced compared to last year's title. Oh, and did I mention you can actually talk with your engineer using your microphone?
F1 2016 has made a very positive leap from the games the franchise released in the past. At 50€, it is definitely worth buying if you think you might invest time in it. With a career mode that is better than ever and updated race features, Codemasters have answered many issues the gaming community had with its Formula 1 games.
That being said, the bar will be set very high in the future and it will be interesting what can F1 2017 come up with next.
Rating: 8/10; 4*
PC version of F1 2016 was tested for this review.