The big question to be posed to the latest in a line of yearly, iterative games is always "what's new?" People won't drop fifty quid for a game that makes the odd cosmetic change or just swaps old rosters for new. We like progression, we like to envisage some sort of movement forwards in the quest to create the most authentic, awesome representation of a sport or pastime, as if there's a perfect goal to be reached that yearly series creep closer to each year.
Of course, when a new batch of consoles have been released, but you're still tethered to the old bunch, I would imagine that keeping up, let alone trying to improve in meaningful fashion, can seem like a Sisyphean task. Unfortunately, in a year where games are shinier and sparkier than in previous ones, you have to make some strides in terms of gameplay.
Sadly, F1 2014 doesn't really do that. In fact, in many ways it does the exact opposite.
The Classic cars and modes of last year's game gone, to be replaced by... erm... a lack of alternative content. The Young Driver Test is out as well, although this has actually been replaced by a single flying lap of Monza to determine what difficulty setting the game should start you off at. You can shift all of the assists, of course, to tailor the game to your liking, but touting one Italian lap as some sort of new features sort of shows the depths of desperation to find something new in this version.
There is, however, a new difficulty mode called "Very Easy", and indeed it does rather seem as though Codemasters' intention with this particular game is to try and make what has traditionally been a rather niche proposition into something more accessible. I can only assume that the changes to Career Mode have been implemented with an eye towards accessibility too. In previous years, you'd have started out at a team like Marussia or Caterham, gradually working your way up to the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari and Red Bull. This year, you can sign with anyone straight off of the bat, which rather stifles the long-term overarching sense of progression that sim fans could sink themselves into. It's less of a career mode now because you can basically just have it all right from the start, a disconcerting step back in the hopes of garnering a broader audience.
One can't really begrudge Codemasters that, but this version feels very much like a stopgap -- the unloved last-gen sibling left behind while the newer version gets all of the shinier upgrades. The studio have already said that they're busy at work on a truly next-gen version, rendering this game obsolete before it's even out. That it's taken steps back in terms of content and depth from last year's version while basically leaving the remaining modes, interface, and season-sensitive detailing largely untouched is sad indeed.
The current cars have changed, of course, the roaring V8s are out and the quieter V6s are in, and they look and sound deeply authentic, of course. You really have to listen to the engine when you switch to manual gear shifting, which is something you'll really want to do. It should be noted that this isn't a bad game on the track, in the same way that last year's game isn't a bad game if you pick it up today. F1 2014 is boosted by having Codemasters' years of experience and progressive iteration in terms of handling models. These new cars are feisty, and turning off the assists makes for truly nail-biting, absolutely thrilling races that require intense focus, aggressive control, and nerves of steel. The cars at the back end of the grid are a little temperamental and actually rather tricky to drive, but when you get up to the likes of the Mercedes W05, the added downforce allows you to really feel the track beneath you.
Sadly that's only true if you're playing on a wheel. Racing using the Dualshock 4 (via a PC) was an utterly hideous experience, bereft of connection and feeling. I found the entire gamepad experience to be a rather muted affair -- it's easier, certainly, and no doubt will prove the more popular option online -- but if you're looking for any kind of excitement out of this game, you're going to need a wheel for it. It all feels a bit too heavy on the gamepad, like the wheels are slicked with treacle, and even with all of the assists negated, it felt like a number of them were still on.
Codemasters have rung all of the necessary changes in terms of driving personnel and the tracklist for this year's season -- hello again Red Bull Ring, and good to see you Sochi Autodrom -- but that's about it. DRS is in, of course, but there’s no option to manually override the new computer-controlled ERS, which makes overtaking something of a pot luck affair at times. The dialogue in the pit lane is almost identical to last year's, the graphics have received no real discernible upgrades, and although you can dip into the Proving Grounds challenges and Season Challenge mode for some specific events designed to test your mettleback, the removal of last year's Classic content and the lack of anything to replace it is really rather frustrating given this game's full price tag.
It's quite clear that this last-gen collection was meant to be a consolation prize to release alongside the (now delayed) new-gen game, and us such was perhaps never really meant to have it's time in the sun all on its own. But here we are. Frankly, if you've got last year's game and/or are happy to wait a few months to see if Codemasters can deliver a truly new-gen experience in the new year, I wouldn't bother with this.
- Authentic replication of new cars' sights and sounds
- Behind a racing wheel, it's still a thrillingly deep driving experience on the track
- Greater accessibility for newcomers
- A decent variety of game modes...
- ...Though fewer than last year's game
- The new "tutorial" is a joke
- Career mode struggles to sustain interest
- Huge amount of recycled content from last year's game
- Plays awfully on a gamepad
The Short Version: Bereft of a new-gen equivalent, F1 2014 is a stopgap game thrust into the spotlight that takes last year's version, strips back the Classic content, and adds in this year's cars. With the right setup, you can still get a pretty thrilling ride out of it, but to be honest you're best ignoring this hasty knockoff and investigating next year's effort instead.
4 - POOR: There's something wrong here. Games that attain a 4 might not be unplayable, but they will generally tend towards shameless mediocrity and a visible lack of development. Here we'll probably find rushed film tie-ins, skeletal games prepped for further monetisation, and copycat shovelware, devoid of charm, with only the hint of the trend it attempted to plagiarise saving it from damnation. That said, a sudden drop in price might just shift the balance enough to warrant a purchase, if only for padding one's Gamerscore.
Platforms: PC (reviewed) | PS3 | Xbox 360
Developers: Codemasters Racing
Publishers: Bandai Namco