Let’s take a break from the on-track action in Formula One and look at the virtual world of Formula One. Codemasters is the current licence holder for the Formula One video game series. The racing game specialists have held the rights to F1 since the 2009 season and while gamers have been happy, not much has changed over the last six years. Last year, satisfaction bottomed out with a barebones effort in F1 2015.
In their second year on the PS4 and Xbox One, Codemasters has to deliver a far superior experience before fans give up on them. They recently released a survey looking for feedback on previous games and ideas for upcoming ones and have brought in prominent members of the community for a private beta test. However, it’s still worth giving them some more longform feedback.
Play as Yourself
One of the appealing things about many racing games and Codemasters’ previous F1 efforts was that you could play as yourself as you went from rookie to driving god. F1 2015 didn’t let you do that for some reason. Rather than being able to play as yourself, you could play as one of the drivers on the grid but it detached from the sense of ownership you had over your accomplishments.
I assume that the reason was because rather than the parc ferme celebrations with your helmet on as in previous games, the post-race was the podium champagne spraying ceremony (which seemed to have two animations for the celebration so good variety there) so you can actually see the driver. Shouldn’t a very rudimentary character creator cover off that issue?
For F1 2016, Codies needs to bring back character creation. Let you drive as yourself again. This means your engineer saying your name, the game letting you pick your own helmet and letting us choose our number. Since F1 is about driver branding with lifetime numbers, that should carry into the game.
Last year, the number of game modes were basically pared down single season mode along with quick race, time trial and multiplayer. No, pro season mode doesn’t count since that’s just season mode with no assists and on the hardest difficulty. Make pro a difficulty for F1 2016 if Pro Season Mode is still going to be a thing. The disappointing thing about F1 2015 is that Codemasters had two seasons’ worth of a game in there with the option to run the 2014 season and couldn’t even be bothered to do a half-hearted career mode.
There are three game modes that were mainstays of the Codies F1 series that disappeared last year. The first is the Young Drivers’ Test. If you wanted to get acquainted with F1, this was the training mode to help you get up to speed. Depending on how detailed with the F1 experience that Codemasters wants to get, it won’t just be newcomers to the series that will want to use it.
Season Challenge was a nice arcade version of the season. The season was compressed to ten races. While the goal was to win the championship, the real fight was in trying to out race your chosen rival while driving in inferior equipment. You would start at the bottom end of the grid, pick a rival and try to beat him in the next two of three races to take his ride. The idea was to beat your rivals and win the championship while making up the performance gap.
It seems like the easiest game mode of all to implement. For those people who don’t have a lot of time on their hand, the season is cut in half, there’s no practice, qualifying is a single-lap shootout and your setup is from the five default setups. These are all options there. They just have to program in the switching of drivers during a shortened season. I guess that was too much work compared to turning off assists.
The last piece is Career Mode. The five-season career that saw you work your way from a backmarker in order to win the World Drivers’ Championship. You could talk with the press, develop the car and move teams between seasons en route to a title. Most racing games have some sort of career mode. F1 2015 didn’t.
The biggest piece missing is this mode. This would work perfectly with bringing back custom drivers. Given how deserted (or fragmented) the multiplayer was, you need that single player component to bring players back. The return of a career mode brings players back for the long haul rather than just a 21-race season.
This isn’t to say that Codies couldn’t try to stretch out that career mode a little more. With the 2016 season, they’ll have three seasons of F1 programmed into the Ego Engine 4.0 and the aero formula is changing for the 2017 season. Three seasons does not a career make but it a three-season mini-career would be a perfect addition to the game and seems oh so easy to add to F1 2016.
One of the reasons that people loved F1 2013 is because of the historic content that was included. Nobody even complained that it was effectively launch day DLC. You could spend more money to get two more tracks and several more historic cars from the 80s and 90s.
While sports games don’t have a lot of DLC, they do have a lot of content that doesn’t necessarily tie to the season they’re simulating. Sports games will have teams from other leagues or historic teams and players. That might be a little hard to wedge into F1 without going the Classic Pack route that F1 2013 did.
What Codies can do is consider is the feeder series to F1. The drivers of tomorrow are coming from GP2, GP3 and Formula V8 3.5. Other people have suggested the integration of those feeder series into the game to flesh out the career mode a bit more. It’s not like there would be a lot of extra effort required aside from the physics and rules sets. After all, GP2 and GP3 only run with F1 and Formula V8 would require three new tracks (Jerez, Paul Ricard and Aragon).
The integration of the feeder series would also catch the F1 series up to many NASCAR games. Under EA and Papyrus, the NASCAR games would often have the Busch/Nationwide/Xfinity Series and the Truck Series as their own game modes and in career mode, often with their own unique tracks too. There’s a bigger difference in the physics between the F1 and GP2 than Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series cars.
I keep mentioning tracks and that’s certainly where Codies can improve. There are plenty of options to increase the track offerings for F1 2016 from circuits recently removed from the calendar (such as the Nurburgring or Istanbul) to historic tracks (Mosport and Zandvoort, for example) to history versions of modern track (including Silverstone’s Bridge Circuit and the classic Hockenheim). While you can’t just plunk classic cars and drivers into an F1 game alongside current ones, you can do that with tracks.
If there’s one thing that I’ve never been able to get a handle on in Codemasters games, it’s multiplayer. Past experiences with the likes of the Grid series have seen those games be abandoned online from the start.
While the F1 series still has a PC multiplayer scene on weekend evenings (European times), the rest of the time, it’s pretty deserted. You could make the argument that this is a result of the game being some six months past release. The counterargument is that the season is almost here and surely that would coincide with an increase in interest in racing again.
I think attention has to turn to the hopper system that has fragmented the player base, such that it is. There are four hoppers for beginner sprint, five-lap sprint, 25% “endurance” races with one-shot qualifying and featured game mode which is the same as the endurance races but at the same track that F1 is at. Since the end of the season, the featured race has been the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. There may be more hoppers than that since there are arrows indicating there may be more options but they aren’t available on PC or just at the moment.
Perhaps it’s best that Codies scale back on the number of hoppers. Hoppers are a good idea. They’re effectively what we already see in first-person shooters. However, F1 doesn’t have the same player base, at least not on PC. I think that the Endurance hopper should be eliminated along with the Beginner Sprint. When you look at the big F1 gaming YouTubers, their most popular series are three-lap sprint races. So let’s keep that and the featured race but don’t give up on it for four months like they have in F1 2015.
Just as a general point, it would be nice if there was some consistency in the penalties awarded to drivers for reckless driving and corner cutting. Beyond that, consistency in ghosting is the priority. Getting blown up because another car wasn’t driving so much as lagging down the road 200 metres at a time and getting blown up when he magically lags in front of you isn’t fun. If the game thinks he’s stopped on a straight, why isn’t he ghosted?
Last year’s game saw the removal of the safety car and red flags. While we don’t often see red flags, the safety car made several appearances last year. It never did in the game, nor did the new virtual safety car. The aforementioned Codemasters survey actually asked if we wanted that back in the game. To borrow EA Sports’s old slogan, if it’s in the game, it’s in the game.
The Codies survey asked if we’d like more in terms of a victory lap or celebrations. Well, since F1 drivers are busy trying to pick up marbles for the post-race weighbridge, there isn’t much point to that. What would be a nice addition is more than two podium animations for the drivers.
2016 Rules Changes
We’ve already seen Codies add in stricter penalties, especially for exceeding track limits, in F1 2015 so we know those rules will be in F1 2016. Elimination qualifying should be easier to implement in a video game than real-life. With their experience adding elimination-style races in the Grid series, Codies shouldn’t have any problem adding Elimination qualifying to F1 2016.
That leaves the tyre rules. Codemasters has a lot of work to do to tweak the tyre rules to fit abbreviated weekends. After all, we don’t have three free practice sessions for Pirelli to take back six set of tyres back. And that’s not to say that everyone will want to run with Elimination Qualifying when you have options for the single-session and single-lap qualifying in F1 2015.
Obviously, a Formula One video game can’t be a one-to-one recreation of the sport. However, the challenge of the new tyre rules is being able to plan tyre strategy and usage over the course of the weekend. If you’re only using four sets of tyres (at most) before the race, that leaves nine sets for the race in F1 2016. We’ll see if Codies is capable of finding that middle ground between crippling realism and fun for a video game.
Also, it would be nice if Codies let us pick our tyre allocations for each weekend. Giving us the rumoured FIA default of three of the hardest compound, three of the softest and four of the middle compound just isn’t that fun. Look at Lewis Hamilton who didn’t even select the hardest compound tyre for this weekend but was allocated it by Pirelli. I want to be able to do that.
Can F1 2016 Be a Return to Form?
Everyone that plays these games wants the answer to be “yes.” After all, Codemasters did great things with Grid Autosport and Dirt Rally before and after F1 2015 came out. The potential for greatness still exists in Birmingham. They just need to tap into it and that’s obviously something that didn’t happen in getting F1 2015 out the door.
While it’s not unusual for sports franchises to mysteriously lose a number of features at the change of generations that are re-introduced over the next few years, it doesn’t make sense. If Codies can reintroduce those core features from earlier games in this year’s game, they can pull their review scores out of the 60% range. Adding more content beyond the core 2016 Formula One might even get the game back to its previous high scores in the 80s.
Given that we know how good Codemasters can be, it would be foolish to suggest that they can’t salvage the F1 series. This year, they need to prove that they still can.