Almost 20 years ago a talented team of developers at Psygnosis released an officially licensed Formula 1 game for the PlayStation that proved to be arguably the defining console F1 game of the era – Formula 1 ‘97.
It was not the most realistic, the best-looking or the most feature-laden F1 game of the time, but with a highly satisfying analogue handling model, great accessibility, a plethora of customisation options to make the experience as casual or challenging as players desired and true TV-style presentation, F1 ‘97 offered an authentic racing experience that was truly unrivalled.
Despite a number of solid console Formula 1 releases since then, from the EA games of the early 2000s to Studio Liverpool’s PlayStation-exclusive series and now Codemasters’s modern franchise, there has not been a game since that has quite reached the same level of immersion and encapsulated the spirit that Formula 1 ‘97 provided all those years ago.
That is, possibly, until F1 2016.
More freedom for the player
Despite leaping into the current generation of hardware with F1 2015 which boasted arguably the best on-track action the series has ever seen, the lack of key features and modes made last year’s title feel a lot like a prototype. Like so many real F1 teams, Codemasters’ development focus had firmly been on next year.
With F1 2016 releasing today, however, it’s apparent that the Birmingham-based developers have spent the last two years wisely, producing what is clearly their best game since taking on the official Formula 1 license in 2009.
Of course, the headline feature for this season is the much anticipated return of career mode, which has been entirely rebuilt from the ground-up. Players have the freedom to choose their racing number, edit a number of templates to create their own personalised helmet design and select whichever team they want to race for from the start of their career, as well as which team mate they want to compete alongside.
Encompassing ten full seasons, a deep but accessible research and development system forms the backbone of the new career mode. Good performances on track earn resource points. Collect enough points and you will be able to upgrade your car in one of five areas – including aerodynamics and fuel efficiency. All upgrades will impact on your car’s performance on track and carry over between seasons – meaning it is possible for take a back-marking team like Manor or Sauber to championship contention, should you drive well enough to earn a lot of resource points.
New practice programmes provide some fun ways to earn resource points during the build up to a grand prix in the form of three mini games. The track acclimitisation programme offers points for successfully hitting braking, apex and corner exit points, with faster corner speeds rewarding greater points. A tyre management programme gives you points for meeting target lap times without putting too much strain on the tyres and can be genuinely useful for helping you to improve your driving techniques. Finally, a qualifying simulation programme allows you to practice your hot laps to a target laptime to help dial in your set up and prepare for the real deal.
With AI teams also developing their cars over the course of career mode, the field is constantly in flux with the potential for Mercedes to be caught and passed by Red Bull or Ferrari while the player slowly builds up their own team to mount a challenge for the titles in an upcoming season. For those who want the ultimate challenge, the Pro Career mode also returns from last year to allow players to experience career mode in the most unforgiving and realistic way possible.
On track there is a subtle but significant difference to the handling model this year. Whereas in 2015, when cars were forgiving at the limit of grip, F1 2016’s cars feel considerably more weighty and can no longer be balanced effortlessly when they break traction. It’s something that will likely affect controller players more than wheel users, as the decreased steering sensitivity in the game makes navigating fast chicanes and sweepers more difficult than last year’s game.
The cars are also more challenging without driving assists, especially when driving without traction control. Too much throttle on the exit of a fast corner and you’ll either find yourself struggling to save a tank-slapper as you fight the car’s lateral momentum, or losing control entirely and sliding directly into the barrier.
And hitting the barriers – or, indeed, anything – is especially punishing this season with the addition of the new ‘simulation’ damage model. Perhaps more than any other new gameplay feature, this has the potential to add the most to the immersion factor as it will transform how players approach a race weekend.
With simulation damage, any significant contact to the wheels is likely to see them break off and cause an instant retirement to a session. Seeing a minor driving error that would have gone relatively unpunished in previous instalments result in a race-ending crash is a welcome sight for hardcore racers and will force players to adopt a new, more reserved approach to battling the AI, as the risk factor involved in making daredevil moves is now much greater than ever before. Those wanting a more forgiving experience still have the previous options of ‘full’, ‘reduced’ or no damage.
Difficulty has always been a key point of contention with the Codemasters series for fans and this year it will something that will catch out a lot of players initially, both newcomers and established veterans alike. Players now have seven difficulty settings to choose from with the addition of the ‘ultimate’ AI level.
Every AI difficulty setting feels as though it has been made slightly quicker than last year. Whereas Legend AI had provided the perfect level of challenge for me in F1 2015, I was unable to match Pascal Wehrlein around Melbourne on Legend in career mode after an hour and a half of playing with setups, while the tyre management development programme was virtually impossible for me to complete successfully.
Racing in the wet is more challenging too, with such little grip available on full wet tyres in heavy rain conditions that it makes you more sympathetic to those drivers who bemoan having to drive in ‘undriveable’ wet track conditions in the real world.
The Safety Car returns
Codemasters have also provided players with a number of highly-requested features this time around. This year sees the welcome return of the Safety Car as well as the introduction of the Virtual Safety Car system. Both appear to work well, with the features helping to add an extra dimension of risk and reward to longer distance races that was missing from last year’s game. And with the simulation damage model, players should see more appearances by the Safety Cars than in the games of the previous generation of consoled.
The formation lap also makes an appearance for the first time in the Codemasters series and the developers have thankfully given players full control over their car for the lap, minus lining up on the grid. What some may consider a minor addition to the game actually goes a long way to building the immersion and excitement before a big career mode race, as well as providing players a chance to practice the new manual start feature.
As the five red lights illuminate, players hold down the gear up button to activate the clutch and balance the throttle in a sweet spot before releasing the clutch to launch off the grid. It’s a simple but effective system that takes out a lot of the randomness of starts that was present in previous games and means quick reactions can see players get a jump on AI rivals or other human racers in multiplayer.
And multiplayer sees a significant improvement for 2016 also. The introduction of full 22 car grids for the first time and the online championship save feature means that co-op championship returns in spirit this year, while league racers will find the ability to save and resume championships especially useful for organised online championships.
Codemasters’ best yet
Presentation wise, the game is virtually identical with last year, retaining the same front-end user interface, menu music, pre-race cinematics and post-race podium scenes as 2015. Engine sounds are relatively unchanged from last year, although ambient noise from other cars seems to have been boosted slightly. Graphics are once again impressive, with the game retaining the same smooth frame-rate as 2015 on PS4, albeit with some frame drops and mild screen tearing during some of the career mode cinematics.
Another welcome new element to the gameplay is the time of day editor that allows players the opportunity to choose the lighting conditions in which the race weekend sessions take place. You can choose to race on any track in sunrise, morning, midday, afternoon and sunset conditions which can go some way to changing the atmosphere and feel of the 21 circuits. While you are unable to run night races anywhere other than Bahrain, Singapore and Abu Dhabi, you do have the option to race those circuits in day conditions. Running around the Marina Bay circuit in broad daylight is quite an enjoyable novelty.
There are a number of little details that help add so much to the overall experience. Jeff the engineer returns and has a lot more information to provide to players during races, from whether or not to switch to race strategy plan ‘b’ or what your current live championship position is – vital for those title-deciding races.
Players can now edit camera settings, adjust steering sensitivity and linearity on pads, plan out an entire race weekend and determine what weather changes will occur during which sessions and how long in. You can choose what tyre compound nominations you want for each full race weekend from three presets ranging from a preference for more softer tyres to a preference for harder ones.
On the track, you now receive live data on your car, allowing far more accurate and precise awareness of your tyre life and engine and brake temperatures. A time delta allows you to to tell in real time whether you are quicker or slower than your benchmark best laptime in a session, while there is also the option to have manual control of pit entry, where it is your responsibility to make sure you slow to the pit speed limit before crossing the pit entry line. Codemasters have even included the option for receiving an audible ‘bleep’ to indicate when to shift gears, just like the real drivers do.
As full of content as F1 2016 is, there is still some room for improvement. There is no scenario mode or classic cars or tracks that we enjoyed in F1 2013. The opponent AI is strong for the most part and even prone to mistakes and believable collisions amongst each other during races, but I did experience a ‘traffic jam’ crash at Baku’s notorious turn eight that resulted in at least five AI cars being disqualified. Disappointingly, there’s still no way to save replays to watch full races back from different angles at a later date.
When you find a balance of all the gameplay options that you like, there is an awful lot of fun to have in F1 2016. From quick, casual thrills to getting lost in career mode running full distance races, wincing every time you get close to a barrier or rival, there is a level of immersion here that very, very few Formula 1 games have ever been able to achieve.
It goes without saying that to enjoy the on-track experience to the maximum, a quality wheel is essential. But no matter what you’re looking for from a Formula 1 game, you are very likely to find something to enjoy from what is undoubtedly a game worthy of the price of admission and Codemasters’ best F1 outing to date.
F1 Fanatic rating
- Buy F1 2016 Limited Edition for PlayStation 4
- Buy F1 2016 Limited Edition for Xbox One
- Buy F1 2016 Limited Edition for PC
Formats: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Price: £34.99 (PC), £41.99 (PS4), £44.99 (Xbox One)
Win F1 2016 by Codemasters
Want to be one of the first to win a copy of F1 2016 for the platform of your choice? You’ve got nine chances to win by making your predictions for the remaining races of the year. Find out more here:
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- “Lucky!”: Official Bernie Ecclestone documentary reviewed
- “WRC Generations” review: Is this the richest rallying experience yet?
- “Stewart”: feature-length documentary reviewed
51 comments on “F1 2016 by Codemasters reviewed”
Stephen Jones (@aus_steve)
19th August 2016, 14:39
Willllllll I love your work
19th August 2016, 23:02
hey! doe somebody feels like the cars are just too slow? in 2015 i could drive a 1,24 around australia and now you can barely drive an 1,27 lap while in real life hamilton did a 1,23…
20th August 2016, 0:25
That’s because you’re not Lewis Hamilton ;)
20th August 2016, 0:37
even in the online leaderboards the best is a 1,25 and i didn’t become worse over night…
21st August 2016, 17:30
Lewis Hamilton aint on the leaderboards either.
19th August 2016, 15:13
So, will this rejuvenate the F1 games online championships?
20th August 2016, 16:11
It did to our Belgian league.
Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
19th August 2016, 15:18
It really looks like this is shaping up to be the best to date. I’m a complete liability without traction control already anyway so no harm there. Looking forward to the new formation lap / manual starts in particular.
I just hope the AI will take a dive down the inside for a change, that’s been my bugbear with Codies for years.
19th August 2016, 16:11
Played it this morning. I got completly immersed in the career mode by the second practice session, nearly late to work because of it. Cant wait to do Australian gp tonight!
19th August 2016, 16:14
Bought the game today (PC). First impressions after 30 minutes of testing at SPA:
-Handling model overall is good.
-Barely drivable without traction control in low gears. Using TC @ medium for now.
-Gear ratios (not adjustable) are far too short. Constantly reving into a limit in 8th gear.
-Very high PC hardware requirements for the delivered visuals. GRID looks better running on the same PC.
-Menu smooth, quick & intuitive
-Decent steering wheel setup at default settings.
-Not a lot of advanced steering wheel & Force feedback options.
19th August 2016, 16:20
Also, Codemasters take on track limits is a bit annoying. One wheel outside of any white line gets instantly penalized. Not much kerb-riding is allowed. Hopefully the penalty system gets some tuning.
19th August 2016, 16:30
@me4me – well it sounds like they are slowly making the game more and more realistic. Perhaps they can add realistic F1 rules next year where they are randomly applied on some corners and not on others…
21st August 2016, 10:14
If only the FIA took the same clear stance on that @me4me!
21st August 2016, 15:30
I heard a rumor that they’re working on a random rule generation engine for F1 2017
20th August 2016, 18:25
@me4me, with regards to not being able to change the gear ratios, that is realistic given that gear ratios are fixed in real life as well.
19th August 2016, 16:28
Hmm, sounds like this might be the first f1 game I’ll play after good old Grand Prix 2!
19th August 2016, 20:18
yay! i’m glad to know I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed crammond’s offerings. the handling model on those games is still the best of any f1 game though!
19th August 2016, 17:27
What other racing games do you like? How does this compare to full on sims like Assetto Corza and rFactor? Do the cars still line up on the start or do they go for passes?
19th August 2016, 20:20
physics and handling wise, it’s nowhere near AC or rfactor or iracing, it’s not even near forza, and forza is simcade at best. still a long way to go for codies to get handling right
20th August 2016, 16:13
Then again Codemasters operate on not even half the budget of Forza. BUT it’s handling is certainly near Forza if you ask me.
Arnold Triyudho Wardono (@ernietheracefan)
19th August 2016, 18:38
Is that alright if I’m still preferred F1 Challenge 99-02 & Grand Prix 2..?
19th August 2016, 20:22
of course it is! I still play Grand Prix 3 now and again, one of the best f1 games ever! that ‘grand prix’ series had the best physics and handling model in an f1 game to date
Jonny Edwards (@racectrl)
21st August 2016, 10:43
What’s the mod scene like? Can you update it to this years cars? I can’t remember the last time i played an F1 game, which is sad considering it’s my favourite sport. Last time was probably on rfactor some 10 years ago. Grand Prix 2 was were it all started for me though. A game that was well ahead of its time.
19th August 2016, 19:05
Thanks for the review, Will.
I’m about to take the plunge with Codemasters F1 and perhaps some other racing sims. Can Will and other make some recommendation and comments re: which wheel to buy?
Craig Woollard (@craig-o)
19th August 2016, 21:32
The Logitech G29 is pretty good but it’s quite expensive. It does seem to be on offer fairly frequently though. Works well with F1 2016, rFactor and the rest.
19th August 2016, 20:23
Thanks for the review!! I’ll have to check it out.
My favorite F1 game is STILL the PS3 2006 F1 Championship Edition.
20th August 2016, 17:57
mine too. TC off, and Barcelona.
19th August 2016, 21:42
I won’t be playing the game because…. I am a grown man that’s why.
19th August 2016, 21:46
You will spend your time doing serious people things like reading newspapers and making the harumph sound. Right?
19th August 2016, 22:40
And commenting on a game review you are too adult to play, I guess @mike :)
20th August 2016, 16:08
;) @bosyber @mike
19th August 2016, 22:16
Would love to try it out. Thanks for the review.
19th August 2016, 22:23
Oh, oh, good god I didn’t realize I’d written that much.
20th August 2016, 0:13
Having finally got home after what seemed like the longest work shift ever.. And getting my hands on the game after being delivered this morning. I can honestly say the steps made on F1 2016 compared to 2015 are huge. It’s a whole flight of stairs!
The game play is outstanding compared to the previous. And the career mode is much more in depth than I anticipated! I was still half expecting to jump in a manor and bag pole position with ease but that’s not the case! There are admittedly a few bits that could still improve but the improvements that have been made far exceeds the improvements that still could be made.
Anyway I’ve only played it for a couple of hours, but I can already tell, this is going to be the F1 game we’ve been waiting a very long time for!
20th August 2016, 8:20
As a huge Crammond fan… initial reactions after 5-6 hrs play very good. Researching wheels begins…
20th August 2016, 8:49
Can someone who’s played this be so kind as to let me know if this has a 2 player mode? You know, where you can play with a mate in the same actual room. They got rid of it last year so I didn’t buy it which is so annoying. Cheers.
20th August 2016, 13:16
Nope, no splitscreen. But I could not play it if it was. It’s allready hard enough on 1 big screen to drive… 😉
20th August 2016, 13:55
No – sadly not. It’s a really good game though so far.
20th August 2016, 9:31
Just bought F1 2013. Still not feeling these new hybrid engine noises I need a car that screams.
20th August 2016, 14:25
Great review however Bizarre Creations made Formula 1 ‘97!
20th August 2016, 16:57
Aww, Kieth (rightly) didn’t like my super long comment.
Short version: It’s great but buggy as an ants nest. Various graphical bugs, VSC delta is small and to the right so it’s hard to see and drive. Starts are great, but ai is too passive particularly on the first lap (expert) where all the cars form a line after the first two corners and start in a tight pack for the first lap. the times you have to hit in practice to get the research are harder than what you need to race at to do well, which is weird. The strategy both in race and in terms of car development is absolutely amazing. And customization is back including coloring in a helmet (about 20 styles to pick from). only problem using my wheel is that it gives you feed back for XBox controls.
That’s the short version. Best of the series by quite a way, but I don’t want people thinking that just because it’s the best yet, it’s bug/problem free, (it’s not).
20th August 2016, 22:51
It’s not bug free but in all honesty, I can’t remember the last game I played that was before a hefty patch is released. It’s very good for an unpatched game though. Lots are almost unplayable!
One issue I’ve discovered is if you are a lap down (I tried legendary AI!) and a safey car comes out, it tells you to catch up to the pack even though you are right behind the car in front.
23rd August 2016, 1:23
The difference is most games have at least a solid year of patches and fixes ahead. Codies, in fairness given the time frame for the game, don’t spend nearly that long. If the major bugs are fixed it’ll be a massive change for them.
20th August 2016, 21:15
I love F1 ’97, but I still have a special place in my heart for the earlier Formula 1 (based on 1995 season), just ‘cos it did most of all the great stuff F1 ’97 did – including the perfectly-pitched TV presentation style – except just a bit earlier.
21st August 2016, 12:04
Im long it so far. Best handling and best AI by far in the codemasters F1 franchise.
The 10yr career with developing the the car and thus having teams change tiers adds diversity and with the tyre wear/qualy-pace programs for practice you actually feel like practice is worth doing. With the return of the paddock,talking to team people, agent, seeing arrivebene and neweyn etc walk around and an improved rivalry system that Im having a blast this weekend.
The manual clutch makes for diverse an fun starts and the manual pit – limiter, altough hard as naïef to get right is really rewarding.
The customizable time of day/weather and improved wet wether driving, the SC/VSCand all the above they’ve just added so much and surprisingly it’s just really al been taken in the right direction imho because they can now improve and add depth to al these features in coming years. Now, if only FOM would alow drivers changing teams, adding GP2 and classic cars/tracks with the real liveries and legend drivers you can play in career with…
They’ve been lazy by keeping the the samen music/menus, some repeat animations from previews years and the drivers could and should have looked much better and more alive with todays consoles. But thats stuff that can be polished and not the core game itself.
Even if you have played previous itterations and didn’t particularly like them I think this game is worth getting for sure.
22nd August 2016, 2:05
I’ve definitely got no real complaints so far. Out standing game. AI is aggresive from the green lights and not stupid either. Only bad moment I’ve had was receiving a 5 second stop go for weaving/illegal blocking…this was me keeping my tyres warm during a safety car.
22nd August 2016, 7:43
Need some advice here. Mostly, people are comparing this with older F1 games. I haven’t played any F1 game so far. Should I go ahead and buy this? Is it worth? I have a PS4.
22nd August 2016, 11:34
Ok got this game since friday, have been playing it for a solid 30 hours now. I can honestly say, this game is beyond awesome. Would recommend 11/10
24th August 2016, 19:30
I’m definitely going to have to buy a PS4 now, just for this game. Put it on the tv stand and not play it because I”m a grown man.
29th August 2016, 22:32
It was imperative that the safety car returned for longer races because if you had an ‘off’ then without it against advanced AI there was no way back and you may as well press the reset button. However two things are missing in this review:
1) Is the AI behavior more realistic? 2015 overshot the aggression in the sense that if you were too slow and on the racing line they would shunt you off the track which in the real world just wouldn’t (and couldn’t without inflicting self damage) happen – to the point that sometimes made the game unplayable
2) What is the force feedback like? I use a Thrustmaster T300RS wheel on PS4 and the FFB in F1 2015 was abysmally weak in comparison to something like Project Cars.
17th November 2016, 7:35
Why is it that the AI crash into you and you get a warning or penalty for crashing into someone? The penalty system is erractic and not realistic. The game is great though.
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