October 15, 2014
F1 2014 begins with an evaluation test, a single lap romp around Monza. Here your abilities are judged, broken down and used to determine a difficulty level appropriate for your skill behind the wheel. Said difficulty level alters the realism, driving assists and the quality of your opposition, impacting enormously the experience you're going have.
And herein lies one of F1 2014 major failings, it just doesn't go into enough depth to satisfy those of us that are either nerdy, telemetry-studying race fans, or are long term veterans of this series desperate for it to take that next step towards realism. Suggesting a difficulty level after having completed only a single lap, in a game claiming to be a simulation, is borderline madness and makes you question what people think of as 'realistic' nowadays.
On my lap I braked too late going into a corner and bounced off the side of the barrier, losing enough time to ruin my lap. I was suggested 'medium' difficulty. So incredible is the steering, braking and acceleration, medium difficulty feels like you're racing on rails in a nuclear-powered locomotive. Understandably, in such a vehicle, the opposition are loathe to try and overtake you, presumably in fear of being flattened. More likely is that the 'medium' AI is told to give you every possible chance to win the race.
There's nothing wrong with this mixture of settings, they're there for players with little experience of racing games and/or those looking for something decidedly less stressful than actually driving an F1 car. What is wrong is that such settings are promoted to players with experience based on the results of a single lap. Yes, you can change the difficulty without issue, but when a game includes a 'feature' designed to make your experience as positive as possible you expect it to work. Every time.
With the bulk of the assists off, and the AI awarded twice as many brain cells, F1 2014 becomes a far more interesting and engaging experience. The turbocharged engines that are new this year require greater patience on the throttle, with any overzealousness through the exit of a corner punished. This year the rear wheels are desperate to slide out and send you sideways, either into a runoff area or against an opponent, and it takes a few races to work out how best to manage them.
Their nervousness can make overtaking a challenge, late braking and early acceleration needing slightly more finesse than in previous seasons. It's easy to get so caught up in correctly positioning your car in order to take the racing line away from a rival that you leave yourself in a compromising situation when it comes to accelerating away and securing the place.
Driving the cars might have changed, but not enough to catch out veterans for any more than 10 or 15 laps. If you're looking at F1 2014, with its inclusion of the turbocharged engines, as a means to serious test your racing skills then you're going to be disappointed. Performance is modelled in a way that replicates more closely the cars of this season, but not so much that a complete rethink of approach is necessary. If you're good at the previous game, you'll near-instantly be good at this one.
The changes just don't go deep enough, a fact that rings true for the wrappings that coat the racing itself. Career mode has a streamlining option to shorten the season to fewer races, allowing you to complete it in less time. That's all well and good, great for those with minimal free time and patience, but there's no equivalent option for players that want a deeper career experience than they had last season. Again, for a game that calls itself a simulation, a lot of effort seems to have gone into condensing key components rather than deepening them.
Scenario mode is back and offers more variety than it has previously, but there's little depth to be found in a mode in which total track time generally equates to a few minutes per session. All of the usual online modes return, which is where the long term appeal is going to come from (so long as you can find a group prepared to race cleanly), and it's nice to see split screen supported. Damningly, the entertaining F1 Classics mode has disappeared without a trace.
There's not all that much wrong with F1 2014, there's just not that much to it either. Certainly, when compared to previous outings, it's clear that little progress has been made. With Codemasters due to release F1 2015 on next-gen consoles last year, it doesn't take much outside of the box thinking to decipher where efforts are being focused.
The Trophies are entirely acceptable. Nothing more. Earned for participating in the various game modes, winning races, securing championships and competing online, most of them can be gained by simply playing through the game in a 'normal' way. There's nothing wrong with that, and to a degree it's nice to see a game refrain from novelty inclusions.
If you're a fanatical fan of the sport then you're probably going to pick up a copy of F1 2014 no matter what, and you'll certainly have fun with it. Anyone expecting a dramatic tune up from the previous game will be left wanting, though.
It's nice to hear the turbocharged engines emit their low growl, as opposed to the classic high pitched whine, but radio messages and voice over work in general is entirely bland.
Considering the age of the hardware, Codemasters has managed to do a decent job with the car models and environments.
Tweaked handling model provides food for thought over the first couple of races, but before long you'll have mastered it.
A lack of new game modes reduces the overall appeal, while the evaluation test is a poor replacement for the Young Drivers Test.
Predictable but wide ranging. If nothing else the trophies represent a good way to experience everything on offer.
Like the hardware it's running on, the F1 series is showing its age and seems to be running out of ideas. Fingers crossed that 2015's next-gen edition is the upgrade it needs to be.