F1 2016 review (PC)

When we reviewed last year’s F1 2015, we commented on Codemasters’ bold move to head towards a new engine for their F1 racing franchise, but also noticed that it was a fairly bare bones release. Will F1 2016 set things right and capitalize on last year’s groundwork?

Visually, not much has changed – but this wasn’t needed either. Codemasters’ F1 2016 is, especially on PC, gorgeous to look at – as was last year’s version. There are a few new things to see that make this year’s game in line with the real season that’s going on now though, such as the inclusion of a new track (Baku, in Azerbaijan) and the addition of a new team. In short, the annual update that you might expect from your typical sports game is here. There’s more though, and heavy emphasis has been placed on the game’s new career mode.

In career mode, you get to play through a ten year period of F1 racing – which is a lengthy affair when you consider that each season has about 20 races, and each race has a number of sessions – from warm-up to qualifying to the actual race. Of course the previous game also had a season mode that allowed you to play through a season, so how is the new career mode any different from doing that 10 times in a row?

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The main difference is that, in career mode, your main focus will be on your driver, who you will get to see grow from a prospect to (hopefully) a world champion. You can start out by signing with a big team right away, but they’ll have higher expectations of you than a smaller team would. Signing with a smaller team is actually a more fun and rewarding experience as well, because it offers more diversity over the span of a 10 year career.

This is because career mode mirrors the real sport quite well. Each driver has the ambition to win races and championships, but in the end there are really only two main roads to success. Anyone following the actual sport in the past few decades will tell you there are always only two or three teams that are real contenders for any particular season – and sometimes even fewer. With two drivers per team, that really narrows the field.

So F1 2016 offers two ways to break through and compete for the championship: you either stay with your team and wait for improvements for your car to become available, or you have your agent negotiate a deal with a better team. In other words: will you stick with the team that gave you your big break, allowing them to grow alongside you, or will you ditch them for a fast way to the top? I’m over-simplifying, but it’s some of the real life drama of the sport that takes place off the race track which has now been included in Codemasters’ game.

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Another element that has been enhanced is race strategy – which is often how races (or placements) are decided. When do you take your pit stops? How many? How will you handle a possible safety car situation? Formula 1 racing is never just about who steers best at incredibly high speeds, but has a strategic element as well.

Codemasters has indeed delivered on the promise that F1 2015 gave us, and F1 2016 is a vastly better game. It’s not perfect, because cars don’t seem to run into too much trouble and collisions hardly ever happen as well – a large part of the real-life drama that’s missing here. In the game, most cars will indeed finish the race – not the case in real life, as any fan will tell you. Still – it’s a huge leap forward and we can only hope that next year will bring even more realism and drama to the franchise.

Score: 8.2/10

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