Codemasters have done wonders to Formula 1 racing since taking over the licence in 2008. They’ve given fans the most authentic Formula experience on consoles and PCs in years when they released F1 2010. The 2011 season even made its way to Nintendo’s 3DS and Sony’s Playstation Vita. Last year’s F1 2013 was the series’ pinnacle, offering superb visuals, punishing difficulty and realism. Despite favorable reviews and fan feedback, Codemasters decided to reach outside their niche fanbase by emphasizing accessibility.
To die-hard fans, “accessibility” may be a dirty word, but newcomers are likely to appreciate the new changes. F1 2014 is technically two games in one. When played with a gamepad, it’s more akin to an arcade racer, but attaching a steering wheel transforms it into an entirely different beast. While lacking innovation and content (compared to its predecessor), F1 2014 is still a solid entry until a true next-gen sequel debuts in 2015.
"While lacking innovation and content, F1 2014 is still a solid entry until a true next-gen sequel debuts in 2015."
F1 enthusiasts hoping for a vast leap in graphics and gameplay are going to be disappointed. On the surface, F1 2014 differs little from its precursor. The overall presentation remains unchanged with small graphical improvements only observable when playing on a PC with max settings. Aside from season-specific liveries and tightened gamepad controls, F1 2014 plays and looks almost the same. Veterans aren’t going to be happy with Codemasters’ lack of commitment this season, but the fundamental driving mechanics are undeniably fantastic. The sensation of speed is unparalleled, and the AI still offers a commendable challenge.
The cars are snappier and more grounded because of this season’s new set of constraints, which probably lends to the more arcadey controls. Also, with manual KERS now gone due to new rule changes, DRS is the only tool players can use for a brief boost. Cars handle easier on wet surfaces and when taking corners, but it seems Codemasters has tweaked gamepad controls a bit too much. Even after removing all assists, the cars feel like they’re glued to the track.
"The cars are snappier and more grounded because of this season’s new set of constraints, which probably lends to the more arcadey controls."
Luckily, playing with a proper steering wheel adds back much of the series’ landmark realism, accentuating the sensation of sitting inside a real F1 car. It’s ironic then, that despite Codemasters’ attempt to appeal to a wider audience, the difficulty remains high. The smallest mistake can result in losing a race and the overall learning curve is geared towards patient and persistent gamers. The “Flashback” feature returns, allowing players to rewind a few seconds if they make a mistake, but it doesn’t make the racing any easier (just a little less frustrating). F1 2014 is a strangely polarizing experience.
F1 2014’s biggest crime is its omission of last year’s classic cars and tracks. They’re gone. 2013’s thorough tutorial that taught players driving basics has also been removed. Instead, players are tossed into a single Monza lap before embarking on their career. It’s baffling that the little things that made 2013 so immersive have been entirely stripped from this year’s entry. This streamlined approach extends further to the cutscenes. Victory clips repeat the same animations with the only difference being drivers’ uniforms. This makes the career mode stagnant, giving players little initiative to get excited about progressing.
"Formula 1 veterans should probably stick with F1 2013 until Codemasters releases a true successor, but gamers unfamiliar with the sport may find the revamped controls easier to master."
Visually, F1 2014 is a beautiful game on PC. On max settings, the cars and tracks look sharp with superb lighting and crisp textures. It’s not a drastic improvement over F1 2013, but there’s a general sense of refinement. Racing through rainy weather is particularly impressive, with raindrops obscuring vision when driving via the cockpit cam. Unfortunately, the rearview mirror displays everything in low resolution. Playing F1 2014 on a 1440p monitor makes the rearview mirror reflections look like a 16-bit mess. It would have been also nice to see further enhancements to the menu designs aside from just color changes.
F1 2014 looks great and plays great, but is ultimately a step back from last year’s fantastic entry. Realism has been sacrificed for the sake of accessibility (unless playing with a steering wheel) and the removal of classic cars and tracks, as well as the general copy and paste presentation, makes F1 2014 feel rushed and rehashed. But despite its problems and lack of innovation, F1 2014 is still a great racer. Formula 1 veterans should probably stick with F1 2013 until Codemasters releases a true successor, but gamers unfamiliar with the sport may find the revamped controls easier to master.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: PC