You’re in second, the safety car has come in this lap and there’s nothing except you, the track and your opponent from you lifting that winner’s trophy, then spraying champagne at the end of the race. The 90 seconds of tight street circuit, the most well known and challenging race of your first season, and if you can stay out of the wall maybe, just maybe, you’ll have the chance you’ve always dreamt of.
In 2009 Codemasters took their history of creating excellent racing games and focused all that energy into what would become F1 2009: The first proper, full blooded, Formula One game that wannabe racers had seen in a long time. The driving was tight, the wheel to wheel racing frantic and the extras that supported your time in the cockpit felt like excellent flair and fleshed out around the edges – something the franchise had always struggled with before. You felt like a Formula 1 driver. You felt part of a team as you stepped into your trailer.
It’s disappointing then, that a lot of this has been removed from the latest edition of the game, and you’re as far removed from the life and soul of Formula One as you could be. You begin a career and you no longer have a young driver’s test, where you’re welcomed and able to prove your ability. Rather than this, you are thrust into a single lap challenge (Basically a time trial) to show what you can do and then able to select a team to drive for, with difficulty ratings dependant on your selected team. The game has lost some of its soul in removing the fringe aesthetics of the game. Instead you’re faced with bland menus and the game has very little personality outside the cockpit.
Inside the cockpit the game is as solid as ever. You’re faced with full race weekends, where each session brings its own challenges; during practise you’ll want to achieve a research goal to aid you down the line in improving your team and qualifying. This will have you trying to get the highest position possible. During the race you’ll be fighting against the 21 other drivers, jockeying for position while, ultimately racing your own race and pleading other drivers not to plough into you on the first corner after the start.
The driving feels as tight as it ever has, you’re going to spend a lot of time hitting the hour long practise to improve your times and master that tricky third section. You have the usual handful of assists to provide you with the support you’ll need when starting out your journey, but the real challenge comes when you’re sat back, all assists off and ready to race. Of course, this will also provide you with the most frustration in the game. For example; if you’ve just raced a 50 lap race and overshoot Monaco’s Mirabeau (one of F1’s most famous corners) and have to limp back to the pits to change the front wing you left all over the track. The lack of available ERS (Energy Recovery System) on the cars feel like it takes away some of the stress from the racing but also takes away from the immersion and one of the things you have control over to aid your race winning strategy (Although Codemasters say this is now applied automatically rather than manual as it was in previous iterations).
The game lets you know when you have messed up and punishes you for it, but the feedback and tight controls make things very clear – you’re the one responsible: You messed up and now you’re going to have to fight to get back in the race, just like a real racing driver.
Along with the career mode you’ve got all the usual modes, such as time trials and challenges where you’ll be the underdog in a number of scenarios. The online Multi-player is solid when you want to get together with a load of people and run a full F1 race. The additional stress of other drivers on the track other than AI, which can be adjusted to suit your skill level, adds an entire new dimension to racing.
F1 2014 feels like a holding year for the franchise. The lack of total immersion and focus on creating a simple, tight, racing game that only appears on last gen (Xbox 360, PS3 and for arguments sake, I will include PC) has me hoping this franchise is waiting for a big comeback on next-gen next year. F1 2014 comes late in the Formula One calendar so is going to suffer by not being out in conjunction with the hype of the F1 season opener, but at its core is still a solid racing experience that will appeal to core fans of the series and of Formula One. Unfortunately the sterile feel to the menus will fail to impress people new to the series. A disappointing entry to an excellent franchise, that I’m hoping will give the development team time to bounce back and excel in future iterations.