We test-drive this year's edition of the racing simulation from Codemasters.
Codemasters has a lot to fix. Last year's Formula 1 racing game F1 2014 was - despite the full retail pricing -hardly a full-fledged game. There were features missing and hardly any alterations over the previous year's edition. Most fans continued to perceive F1 2012 being the best overall best F1 game. Still.
Now F1 2015 is destined to fix it. The game's due out in June, very early in the year and right in the middle of the ongoing 2015 season. Fortunately due to a focus on just PC, PS4 and Xbox One, it's had a slightly longer production time, which should be beneficial to the quality and amount of content.
We tested the game at the Frankfurt leg of Level Up, and were privileged to race around with the Renault RB10 on the Shanghai track - though it was the 2014 car and still with Sebastian Vettel. The reason for this is that while the latest season, complete with latest cars and team compositions will be in the final game, the 2014 season will also be fully available. There will also be live updates of the 2015 season to keep the game current with real-world events.
We've only played the PC version, which is the most impressive graphically. However it's also the one in which the change to the new Ego engine is the least significant or noticeable. This is, however, due to the fact that F1 2013 and F1 2014 already looked pretty fantastic on a good PC. Now PS4 and Xbox One players may also be blessed with significantly improved graphics. We've not seen them live though, so this assessment is conjecture for the time being.
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Driving feedback can be adapted to your individual skill level and the availability of a steering wheel. As before, there is a fairly heavy arcade side of the game, which will allow the many mainstream fans of the series to get started. Activate the professional mode and you'll be introduced to an intense driving experience with realistic racing cars.
It's an unforgiving experience. Each gear error, each wrong curb costs you vital seconds. Each slipstream must be fully exploited. With driver assists disabled, the RB 10's tail slips away with any severe acceleration. You shouldn't misuse the brakes, and when it rains, things only get worse. You might want to use the rewind feature to erase your mistake, but then, no true sim fan would...
The drive quality is supposed to be greatly improved in the final game compared to F1 2014. Over 20 detailed improvements relate to to the engine and transmission, aerodynamics, fuel tank, force feedback and the suspension. The largely important tyre physics are also completely redone to better represent the F1 driving characteristics.
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However, most of these details in the demo were disabled, so it is difficult to assess how good and relevant these changes really are. Moreover, we only got to experience the demo with a controller, which is the worst experience for a simulation fan. There's even a separate Pro mode in place specifically for simulation enthusiasts.
Speaking of rain: weather can be adjusted or randomised. During the rain, races look very impressive, and the road surfaces look fantastic. The rain really emphasis the difference in the driving perspectives. Flicking to the cockpit view made for an awesome experience. Unfortunately the Shanghai route is visually boring at night due to its permanent and complete illumination, so we couldn't get a feel for how the game's handling shadows and sun glare effects. The tire smoke, however, needs some adjustments still.
We have to assume the same great quality is apparent in the audio. Unfortunately our demo pod didn't have a headset to allow us to really test this side of things. We could, at least, admire the fabulous heat effects coming from the muffler.
The Artificial Intelligence offers up to 15 competitors. The further their skills are tweaked, the more uncompromising they drive, keeping to the racing line and destroying yours with aggressive overtaking or risky driving. Keep to standard difficulty, and you'll leave them in your rear mirror on the first lap and never be bothered by them again. Pump up the difficulty and any mistake is bad. There'll also be an online mode so you can take to the track with real-life Vettel wannabes.
There will be a full-fledged career mode, at least it seems so, which allows us to build own own teams. We may tinker with a dedicated F1 identity, select chassis and engines, then go compete with the established teams. It could be the killer feature for fans, though we hold out hope they also bring back the classic mode from F1 2013, which was neither confirmed nor denied.
Cute gimmicks are not forgotten: with Kinect or the PlayStation Camera's voice chat we can interact with the pit crew and discuss strategies.
In fact, the entire presentation is built fairly close to the TV experience, so you're getting a real F1 racing weekend vibe.