Another year has passed, and as expected, another official Formula 1 game from developer Codemasters has left the garage and headed out onto the track to try and beat its previous best effort. The launch is surprisingly early in the year for the franchise, with a September–October release window having been traditional for some time now.
Last year’s title was rightly criticised for being little more than a new coat of paint, so the team in Birmingham has started from scratch with a brand new game engine, and has made a slew of changes to the game’s feature set.
The first thing that’s immediately noticeable when starting the game is the lack of a career mode. It’s completely gone, and its replacement is a simple year-long championship, wherein the player is given the option to choose between the 2014 and 2015 seasons. For those who enjoyed progressing through multiple seasons and working their way up to the better teams, there is sadly nothing on offer anymore.
There is also a new ‘Pro’ championship mode available, but this is simply the aforementioned championship series with all assists forced off and the AI set to the hardest difficulty. Why this is even included is beyond me – the same effect can already be achieved by customising the difficulty settings at the start. It is padding of the main menu and nothing more.
The staples of Quick Race and Time Trial dutifully put in an appearance, but already the game has had a massive chunk taken out, and to top it off, there has been no return of the classic cars or circuits that appeared in the 2013 release. What’s here really is just the bare basics of a Formula 1 racing game and nothing more.
There is a new feature in commentary at the commencement and closure of each race, which is presented in the style of a sports TV broadcast. While providing many interesting facts, it also tends to remove immersion rather than increase it, thanks to some stilted dialogue delivery.
The chatter from the race engineer has also been overhauled, and this is an improvement for the most part, with useful data such as fuel load and tyre wear now relayed both more frequently and accurately.
The new EGO 4.0 engine that has been the talking point of this game leading up to release has certainly made a noticeable impact, though not always for the better. The graphics have a slight edge over last year’s game, but are average compared to those of other racing titles. In anything other than sunny conditions, poor lighting and shadow effects give the game a bland and dull look. The cars themselves are spectacular as always, and most of the tracks look excellent, but low resolution textures off track are extremely noticeable during the faux TV coverage.
What is a real buzzkill, though, is that the game does not run smoothly at all. There’s occasional stuttering, and worse. In a few rare occurrences, my screen froze for seconds at a time before my car was teleported 50 meters down the track and deposited nose-first into a guard rail. This is incredibly frustrating in a game that requires such a high level of commitment for extended races, and so I highly recommend you do not disable the flashback system during long races until this issue is patched.
The new physics engine is certainly better than that in F1 2014. Each car’s reaction to undulations and bumps in the road surface transfer through to the DualShock or wheel in a far more believable manner. Turning off the assists enhances this even further, with traction control having the most impact.
When the traction control is removed, it now feels as if the ferocious power of the engine really is being channelled down to two small contact patches on the rear tyres, and anything other than the most precise throttle and steering applications when exiting a corner will cause instant wheelspin. Driving with no assists in the wet will push even the most skilled of drivers to the limit.
Driver AI has also seen an update, and this has improved its reaction to the player much of the time, though interactions when passing can be both bizarre and haphazard. While the AI’s bumbling antics are humorous to watch from behind, it can also be annoying to try and make a move while cars are unnecessarily swerving back and forth across the track.
The penalty system is as hit-and-miss as ever, and it is still a lottery who will receive the infraction when contact is made. This is just as bad in the multiplayer, and can lead to frustration when you are penalised for the reckless actions of another player. Additionally, the corner cutting penalties have been relaxed a bit too much on some circuits, and consequently some cheeky shortcuts can now be taken on particular corners.
What little of the online multiplayer I was able to sample seemed to be both fast and exciting on track, if mostly unchanged from years gone by. Unfortunately the matchmaking is terribly slow, and with no player counters for any of the playlists, there is no way to see where the online population is currently racing, or if anyone is even online at all.
When it’s working as intended and you’re screaming down the front straight at 280 kilometres an hour or weaving through the slippery chicanes in the rain, F1 2015 provides the best racing experience in the series yet. Sadly, a long list of features are missing in action, and some nasty performance bugs steal victory away from the updated game engine. Unless you’re a die-hard fan of the sport and absolutely must play each new season’s championship, then this game is probably best skipped in favour of the inevitable follow up in 2016.