The Ground Floor
Let me first tell you about my perspective. I love racing games. So much so that I set myself up with the Mad Catz Pro Force Feedback racing wheel. I chose this for a couple reasons. Firstly, since I'm a huge Forza fan, I decided that the Xbox one would be my racing console of choice. And secondly, simply because the wheel looks and feels awesome.
The downside to picking the Xbox as the my racing console is that it consistently performs slightly worse than the PC and PS4 equivalents of most games. This does weigh pretty heavily in my review, because this is the lens through which I am experiencing the game.
In terms of F1, I am a huge fan, so naturally I was eager for this next-gen iteration to come out. I had the game pre-ordered, and in my hands on day 1. The reasons for me being so excited about this release was that it was hailed as a ground-up rewrite for the next-generation of consoles. They touted that it would be 60fps, 1080p, and feature all of the current 2015 season's content. Whilst this is technically true, there are some major caveats that do hamper the experience, which I will get into later.
And while we are laying the ground work for this review, It should also be known that since this is a rewrite of the game engine, and a debut onto new consoles, the game should be viewed as a foundation on which to build. Similar to Forza 5 where the content was thin because of the re-construction of the game, we can hope that features, content additions, and more come when the next iteration of the game releases next year.
One of the big reasons to get this game is the licensed content. If you are a fan of Formula 1 like myself, you will love being able to play as the actual drivers for the actual teams. Also, all of the season's circuits are available. These are all great things. You even get all of the 2014 season's content as well, though that is little more than surface deep, and there's no real reason to play this mode unless you want to race in Germany, or you want to be Alonso in a Ferrari uniform.
The game content on the other hand is quite slim. Gone are the career modes of previous years. All you really get is a Championship Season, a Pro Mode (which is just the championship season with all assists locked), Quick Race, and Time Trial. That is enough to keep a hardcore F1 fan interested for awhile, but the career mode did seem pretty central to the experience before, so seeing it omitted was a sad sight.
There are weather effects like rain here which does add a really fun challenge. Night is also present, but only for tracks which have night races as a feature. This probably makes sense since F1 cars have no lighting systems, so racing all tracks at night doesn't really make a whole lot of sense.
The act of driving the cars is a lot of fun in this game. It doesn't try to be a fully accurate simulator, and errs on the arcade side. This ends up being a good thing in my opinion, because the game is more playable and approachable, rather than being too difficult and off-putting. I know it's popular amongst these types of games to strive for ultimate realism, but I believe that mindset can ultimately create games that are just plain frustrating above all else.
For example, I compared F1 at Monaco to Project CARS' Azure circuit (the same track, just un-licensed). In F1 I was able to easily find my groove and pace. In Project CARS however, I rammed the walls and lost tires countless times. I know that with more practice and patience I would figure out the cars better, but it just goes to show you how different approaches can play out in the real world.
It might just be my opinion, but I think the AI here is the best in any racing game I've played. They adhere to the driving line (as an F1 driver should do) but they respect your position on the track. And you can make them pretty tough to beat in the settings. These are the cornerstones of a good racing AI, and it checks all of those boxes.
Even though I have a lot of good things to say about this game, don't think for a second that it's not without issues - of which there are many. The community has been very vocal about the game's stability and feature list since it's release. I will sum up what I believe to be the critical issues that I care about.
- Framerate/Screen Tearing - This is prevalent and unrelenting in almost all areas of the game. Through my research, I have found out that this is largely an xbox-only issue, and is caused by either poor graphical coding, or limitations of the console. They either haven't optimized the game properly to run on the xbox, or they are just demanding too much of the console, and it's having a hard time keeping up. On almost all tracks, horizontal tearing occurs, and the framerate drops while rendering a lot on the screen (going around sharp corners, or being on a track that's visually dense).
- Safety car & Yellow Flags - There are no safety cars. This doesn't accurately represent what should happen when on-track problems arise. There is a lot that happens when a safety car comes out, which does have a huge impact in the overall results of the race. For example, all gaps between the cars close, which has huge implications for when the car goes away. Not having a safety car does hinder the experience in a big way. In terms of yellow flags, when one is out you are not supposed to pass another car. I've been passed repeatedly when a flag is out by the AI, which doesn't make any sense at all, and has a detrimental impact on the overall race
- Content - As I mentioned earlier, the lack of content from previous iterations of F1 do hinder the experience. I really appreciated past career modes, classic content, and challenges that teach you how to be a better driver. I wish those were included, and I can only hope they will be there in future releases.
The game is far from perfect, but it does offer a lot of fun for fans of Formula 1. The depth of content isn't there, graphical issues are still being worked out, and the rules surrounding yellow flags and safety cars are bizarre. What is left after that is a really fun sim-cade that allows you to sit down and have a ton of fun racing as the drivers you love in the places you love. So for that, it isn't half bad, and definitely worth your consideration.