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Ever since its release in July, Codemasters' F1 2015 has drawn damning, widespread criticism from the media and fans alike. Now that the dust has settled, Justin Talent gives us his in-depth review.
A distinct lack of content, a vast array of bugs, issues and some bizarre decisions regarding the graphics all outshone the noted improvements to the handling model and artificial intelligence that F1 2015 provides. Codemasters have released patches aimed at removing as many of these issues as possible over the past few weeks, so today I'm here to present an in-depth review of the current state of F1 2015, one month on from release day.
Whenever I ask someone for their first reaction when playing F1 2015, most of the time I hear one thing: “What on earth is wrong with the graphics?”
There is without any doubt that F1 2015 on launch day was a solid lesson in how not to apply post-processing effects in racing games. The game was a blurry mess, with an over-abundance of poorly implemented depth of field effects and some of the worst motion blur I have ever witnessed in a modern video game. Combined with anti-aliasing methods that only increased the Vaseline-smeared visual quality F1 2015 provided, these graphical issues severely hurt first impressions of the game.
This situation was surprising, as Codemasters have touted new and improved graphics as a core feature of their new EGO engine powering F1 2015, due to the added power the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One provided compared to the older consoles. While the visual fluidity may have improved due to the debut of 60 frames per second game play on consoles, the visual quality has taken a nosedive due to the poor post-processing mentioned above.
However, Codemasters have addressed these concerns on PC through patching and one month on, the blurriness of the game has seen a slight but noticeable decrease. If used in conjunction with forcing depth of field and motion blur off in the game configuration files on the PC version, the previously unnoticeable visual improvements can be seen. Texture quality and lighting have seen substantial improvements, and the fantastic rain effects continue to impress, providing similar visual quality to the rain effects in Project CARS without anywhere near as much impact on the frame rate.
The visual image is still by no means perfect and further reductions to the blurriness are needed, though thankfully the community have stepped in to help with SweetFX implementations correcting many of the visual problems F1 2015 faces. It's a shame these sorts of visual mods are the limit to what the community can do with F1 2015, but I'll touch upon that later in the review.
Sound and Presentation
If there is one area that many fans can agree on as being a noted area of improvement from the previous games, it is the presentation of F1 2015. The menus are slick and easy to use and the in-game presentation mimics the worldwide TV coverage graphics, with pre-race commentary from popular F1 commentators being provided in many languages. David Croft and Anthony Davidson of Sky Sports F1 provide the English commentary, and while it's easy to tell when some of their lines are being read straight off a script, their inclusion is still beneficial to TV-inspired direction the game takes.
While the “live-the-life” presentation of the first few Codemasters F1 games is still absent in F1 2015, the race day atmosphere is lively, with media, grid girls and pit crew for all the drivers huddled up around their cars on the grid. Broadcast cameras have also made their series debut, providing camera angles directly lifted from TV coverage for replays and multiplayer spectator mode viewing. Sadly these replays cannot be saved for future viewing or sharing with other people, which would have been a nice feature to include considering how impressive they look this year.
Post-race podium celebrations have also made a welcome inclusion, though the lacking graphical quality of the driver models and the wooden animations make them look somewhat awkward and indicative of feature shoehorned into the game to please some fans.
Car sounds have also seen an improvement, but they are still not entirely indicative of how the modern F1 engines sound. While the throaty grumble of the V6 engines have been captured much better than in F1 2014, there is a noticeable lack of turbo noise, with the distinctive whine on downshifting in Mercedes powered cars in particular missing completely. This is still a better situation than the high-pitched over-abundance of turbo sounds in F1 2014, but additional work is still needed by Codemasters in this area for future games.
Physics and Handling
First things first, a disclaimer: these F1 games are not sims and will not likely ever be sims, so stop expecting these games to be sims. Yes, it's disappointing for many of us who want a properly hardcore F1 sim, but the long wait for one will need to continue for a while longer. With that being said, the new EGO engine behind F1 2015 has still provided the most enjoyable on track driving experience in all of Codemasters' F1 games so far. When running with no assists, these cars are challenging to drive, with the large amount of torque provided by the new power units making low speed cornering and acceleration very tough to master.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the cars grip very well at high speeds due to the large amounts of downforce F1 cars have, and are just plain enjoyable to drive when wheel to wheel with opponents. The electronic brake-by-wire system used in these cars is also modeled accurately, making lockups especially common under heavy braking. The tyres have seen an impressive overhaul. Driving style finally makes an impact on tyre temperatures and therefore tyre longevity, rather than tyre life being on a set timer as in the previous games. The tyre model still lacks features like flatspotting, graining and blistering, but the new tyres are far and apart an improvement on the previous F1 games.
To be honest, the only major difference I feel between the cars here and F1 cars in other sims lie solely in the accuracy of the suspension geometry. It is still way too easy to attack some high kerbs in F1 2015 without feeling any sort of difference in grip, and there is still a lack of feeling when the suspension is loaded in corners due to the car's weight shifting. Wet weather grip is still way too high as well, but this is likely to be a result of the game needing to make concessions to the actual grip levels in wet weather situations to allow more people to be able to control these cars.
Overall though, this new handling model by Codemasters definitely leans more towards sim than arcade, and it is refreshing to know that the more sim-oriented direction employed by Codemasters in Dirt Rally is evident in F1 2015 too. I find these cars more enjoyable to drive than the Formula A cars in Project CARS, and while the level of simulation may not rival the impressive work Reiza have achieved with the Formula Extreme in Stock Car Extreme, they are just as much fun to hurl around a track.
Sadly, the assists included in F1 2015 designed to make these cars easier to handle for less experienced players are incredibly unbalanced. Traction Control makes launching off the grid and driving through corners all a matter of mashing the throttle, and ABS makes late braking easily achievable with no penalty whatsoever. This is especially problematic both offline, where the AI seemingly make use of these assists no matter what settings you have, and online where no penalty is given to those running with assists on. It creates a similar situation to F1 2011 where assists also had major balancing issues. Hopefully this is corrected in future updates as this situation hurts all aspects of competitive racing in the game.
In addition, action occurring outside the track boundaries is a concern. Touching the grass while cornering still has little effect on speed and grip, and breaching track limits on Tilke-dromes with large asphalt run off areas like Abu Dhabi have exactly the same grip as the racing line on track, punishing mistakes even less than what actual F1 drivers are able to get away with.
Rules and Realism
Speaking of corner cutting, many aspects concerning realism are lacking in F1 2015. The penalty system is poorly implemented in qualifying and race sessions, with only the most obvious of corner cuts being detected. Minor cuts tend to only create warnings, even on qualifying laps where such cuts would warrant the lap to be invalidated in real life. The amount of warnings received hardly ever seem to add up to penalties in races either, making the system easily exploitable. The only game mode where the system works well is in time trial, with any off-track excursion punished with invalid laps, making the leniency in race situations all the more strange. The patches so far have done absolutely nothing to address these issues and without any doubt, the penalty system is a major concern at this time.
Damage modelling on the cars is also disappointing, with no bodywork outside of the front wing able to show visual damage. There will always be people, including Codemasters themselves, who lay this shortcoming at the feet of Formula One Management’s highly restrictive F1 game license, but the issues with the damage system aren't just visual. The front wings on these F1 cars can still take an absolute beating before obtaining damage, especially when making contact with other cars. While I understand that some people new to the F1 games may find realistic damage frustrating, they are the reason why restricting damage to visual only exists in this game and many others.
Car setups have been given a slight tweak in this iteration, with the ability to change differential settings, weight distribution and tyre pressures new to the series. Thankfully, unlike previous F1 games, magical glitch setups are yet to be found and the setup values do seem to accurately change handling characteristics on track. There is still an issue with some values still using an arbitrary 1-11 numbered system, namely in the aero and suspension settings, but on the most part there is nothing rather offensive about this setup system. Setups cannot be shared outside of the game, so relying on screenshots and videos for community setups will again be required for F1 2015.
Controllers, Wheels and Force Feedback
After years of coping with terribly uninformative force feedback in the previous F1 games, the new force feedback system in F1 2015 is a welcome improvement for wheel users. For the first time in any Codemasters F1 game, I have confidence about the grip levels of the tyres and I finally feel like I can attack corners and control moments of oversteer that were previously one way trips to the barriers.
Getting optimal force feedback settings for your wheel will need some tweaking though, as the default settings seem to follow a similar problem to Project CARS: they're terrible. However, unlike Project CARS, you won't need a masters degree in force feedback effects to obtain a solid feeling in your wheel. Fixing the force feedback in F1 2015 is simply a matter of raising the three force feedback values until you feel comfortable, with anywhere from 70% to 90% being the sweet spot for most wheels.
Gamepad controls, normally a strong point of this series, are again solidly implemented. And for those worried about a situation similar to F1 2014, where gamepad users had speed advantages over those on wheels due to secret assists making the cars easier to drive, this problem hasn't resurfaced in F1 2015.
However, many issues with wheels and controllers that surfaced at launch remain unfixed. Logitech G27 owners in particular will have a hard time enjoying this game, as the notorious G27 force feedback deadzone issue is on full display in this game with no comfortable way to reduce it. For anyone using a wheel or controller that isn't officially supported by the game, don't even bother. F1 2015 on unsupported controllers currently exhibits extremely bizarre issues, where steering, accelerating and braking all have huge deadzones which make the game virtually unplayable.
In fact, it seems as if the post-release updates have introduced more problems in this aspect than they have actually fixed. A recent patch introduced issues where all wheels and controllers would exhibit the same deadzone issues listed above, with the only way to fix them being to reconfigure your steering and pedal assignments in the game settings every time you started up the game. While this particular issue has since been fixed, it doesn't give much hope that Codemasters' poor track record with introducing new issues in patches designed to fix older problems has changed at all.
The AI in F1 2015 are without a doubt the best seen in any of the Codemasters F1 games. The AI drivers feel impressively natural and are more importantly fun to go wheel to wheel with. Compared with the timid nature of the AI in previous F1 games, where they were consistently too conservative under braking and would never defend moves from behind, the AI in F1 2015 are more aware of the presence of others cars and will attempt to defend their position aggressively instead of giving up the moment your car is in front. This not only happens in the presence of human-controlled cars, but even AI-only battles occur often. This also leads to an increased presence of crashes involving AI drivers, sometimes mixing up races to good effect.
Of course, like many things in F1 2015, these new AI are not perfect. They still tend to be slightly too slow in the opening few corners of a race, and they are sometimes slightly too aggressive when defending positions, though this isn't anywhere near as much an issue as it is in Project CARS. They also still like to agree to form “Trulli-Trains” randomly during practice and qualifying, which looks odd (seriously, have you ever seen queues of 10 cars nose to tail during any non-race F1 session?) and severely hurts their lap times in qualifying. On the contrary, they also seem to be way too quick compared to human-controlled drivers in straight lines during races, even when they are not in slipstream or not using DRS. This issue, combined with their use of assists, make the AI frustrating to drive against despite their improvements when battling wheel to wheel.
Somewhat infamously, AI intelligence while being lapped is a disaster, especially at tight tracks like Monaco and Singapore. This has led to dozens of hilarious videos showing off AI constantly smashing into walls and causing all sorts of ridiculous crashes whenever they are shown blue flags, and is an issue that is yet to be addressed in patches. There is so much potential with this AI that is a massive shame that these issues are undoing all the good work Codemasters have made in this area.
Online multiplayer is one of the greater disappointments in F1 2015. Multiplayer is a bug-infested, unplayable mess, and these are just about the kindest words one can muster when describing the problems this game has online.
Firstly, the new hopper system, inspired by the multiplayer system used in Forza Motorsport 5 on Xbox One, simply does not work for people outside of Europe. Searching for races in any of F1 2015's multiple hoppers turns up no results most of the time on the PC version. And with no way to gauge where people are searching for races in the menus and no ability to host custom races and list them in a custom race listing like in previous F1 games, finding a multiplayer race is not worth your time and effort. Even when changing region to Europe in Steam's setting, races are only seemingly found in the chaos that is sprint mode.
The situation on track in F1 2015's multiplayer is even worse. The first issue that plagues multiplayer is the netcode...or lack thereof really. Multiplayer de-sync issues, where a player is replaced by a slow AI driver at random despite still being connected to the race session, have been common in most multiplayer races since day one, with no real improvements made in any of the patches released since. There aren't many things more frustrating than thinking you have won a race easily yet upon loading the results screen, you see that you have in fact been racing ghosts for the entire race.
Ghosting itself seems to be a common problem in fact, as the cars, including your own, tend to do their best 'Casper' impressions at absolute random during online races for no rhyme or reason whatsoever. Of course, these sorts of things could be somewhat excused if the core of the netcode, keeping cars on track in their correct position and being involved in no odd contact, was functional. It couldn't be further from functional in F1 2015.
While issues with netcode are common in peer to peer based online modes, with Project CARS and Forza 5 both experiencing their own issues in races hosted P2P, the netcode in F1 2015 eclipses both of those for sheer stupidity. Codemasters have regressed from the improvements made in the past few games and gone back to the random, jumping madness that was online in F1 2010 and 2011. Running any sort of organised race in the game is bound to end in a flurry of disappointment and anger.
In a slightly more positive note, the solid track quality from the previous Codemasters F1 games has continued in F1 2015. They all visually look the part, with the notable stand outs being the night time races. There is a definite increase in the visual quality of trackside objects and crowds that are shamefully hidden by some of the image quality problems I mentioned earlier.
The only criticism I can have is that the tracks generally lack detail on the track surface. Many tracks that are bumpy, namely street circuits, feel flat and lifeless. A lack of laser-scanned circuits may have a role to play in this, but in reality I think this can be attributed more to the force feedback system still not quite detecting road surface changes properly. Despite all this, the tracks are still fun to drive on and missing these minute details are highly unlikely to impact your enjoyment of the game.
Content & Modding
F1 2015 suffers from a severe lack of content, and sadly none of the updates have worked to fix this issue. Game modes like the pre-season Young Driver Test, the Season Challenge mode and the scenario-based Champions and Time Attack modes have all seen the cutting room floor in F1 2015, with absolutely nothing to replace them. With multiplayer still being an unplayable mess and the AI continually being frustrating to race against in single player modes like the two full season championship modes, the only aspect of F1 2015 that is currently bug-free is time trial.
On the contrary to just about everything else in F1 2015, time trials in F1 2015 are very well implemented. The game automatically downloads ghosts from drivers higher up on the leaderboard than you and allows you to use their setup for the session to discover if it improves your lap times. However, it is a major indictment on the quality of the game when the only mode worth playing in a racing game is one where you essentially hotlap on your own in optimum conditions.
In an effort to combat these concerns Codemasters have included the full 2014 F1 season as bonus content, including all the cars, drivers and tracks from that season. Sadly this inclusion feels like an afterthought compared to the effort put into F1 2013's classic content, and it doesn't make up for any of the issues experienced in the 2015 side of the game either.
Even previously established on track features like the safety car have been removed from F1 2015, meaning a large degree of strategy in races are gone with it. The safety car may have been terribly bug ridden in the previous F1 games, but considering that the AI tend to be involved in more incidents in this year's game, the inclusion of the safety car would have made single player races significantly more dynamic and fun to be involved with.
For PC players, don't expect community mods to help with this situation either. With a new file system being implemented in F1 2015 that is designed to protect previously adjustable files, the game is virtually impossible to modify. Even custom car and helmet skins, a large area that drove the F1 modding scene for many years, are not able to be implemented in F1 2015 at all.
The situation facing F1 2015 is very similar now to what it was on launch day. When significant issues affect the majority of game modes available, from the frustrating single player experience, and limited variety of game modes available to the absolute nightmare that is online multiplayer, just what is the point of playing F1 2015? There is none, simple as that.
It is a massive shame it's in the situation that it's currently in, as the improvements to the handling model and the AI logic in the game are made useless by the multitude of issues surrounding them. Codemasters have essentially taken one step forward, and then ten steps back due to the general lack of polish this game exhibits.
More patches are on horizon for F1 2015, as Codemasters have committed to support the game until the end of the current F1 season. In reality though, can Codemasters overturn their poor history of successful patches and fix what is essentially a broken game at its very core? Call me cynical, but I highly doubt it.