F1 2016 review: The best Formula 1 game since F1 97

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As I line up my Mercedes-AMG W07 next to my teammate’s, I know a good start will be crucial. I hold in the clutch, increase the revs, and then, as the lights go out, I release the clutch and control my getaway. I cover off the inside, get on the brakes hard and shed speed, shifting from 5th to 2nd.

I straighten the car up and get on the throttle hard. Too much gas and I could lose the car entirely; too little and I’ll hand several km/h to the opposition. As I flick up the gears, it seems my exit was good enough, and I snake up Eau Rouge fighting the downforce while trying to wrestle the car onto the ultimate racing line. This is what it’s like to race Spa in F1 2016, the best Formula 1 game in ages.

For the past two years, Codemasters has been a lot like McLaren-Honda, promising us a winner only to give us a backmarker on race day. It’s taken a while and several false starts to get here, but this time Codemasters has brought this glamorous sport to life, giving us the game we’ve all been waiting for.

F1 2016 game review: Modes

Codemasters job hasn’t been easy. F1 2016 is the only game that has the licence for this year’s Formula q championship – and in some ways that’s a gift and a curse. Where games such as Project Cars and Assetto Corsa can offer you a multitude of cars from different years and different manufacturers – including some retro F1 cars – F1 2016 is limited to using this year’s lineup of 11 cars and 22 drivers. To make up for that limitation, F1 2016 fills its starting grid with a myriad of different modes to fill in the gaps.

Take the game’s career mode, for instance. It’s the longest and most immersive yet, and after creating your driver, it throws you into the F1 paddock. You have an agent, contracts to sign and targets to beat, and during practice sessions you’ll be asked to carry out setup work for race day. What’s more, you can either start in pole position or choose to work your way up through the field and earn a drive with the big teams.

There’s also a Multiplayer mode, along with Time Trials, Championship Season and Quick Race. The result? You can dip in for something longer, something shorter or just barrel around Monaco in Time Trial mode trying to set the perfect lap. As you’d expect from a game in 2016, the latter also comes with leaderboards, so you can try to beat other player’s times from across the world. While their ghosts are enabled by default, you can disable them if they get too distracting.

F1 2016 game review: Gameplay

There are two areas where F1 2016 really sets the pace, and the first is in the handling. For the first time ever, F1 cars feel like the 900hp rockets they are, and with all driving assists off, putting together a good lap is surprisingly challenging. The car might feel as though it’s on rails in the fast corners, but slower bends can be a handful.

When playing with a wheel and pedals, you’ll also need to play close attention to your throttle control, balancing it through the corners and feeling for grip through the steering wheel. Give too much gas and you’ll start to feel the car wanting to swap ends – although at least you can control the slide if you have a wheel.

Without assists, it’s still possible to drive with a controller – even in the wet – but it’s not that fun, and pretty hard to push, so you’re probably best to leave traction control on when playing with a pad. The game’s still great fun with traction control and assisted braking on, so casual racers shouldn’t find the controls too intimidating. F1 2016 was never going to have the feel of a hardcore racing sim, but, with the right settings, it comes closer than you’d expect.

Graphics-wise, F1 2016 on the PS4 looks good, but not spectacular. Cars are modelled in clean, accurate detail, and wet-weather racing looks fantastic. However, it doesn’t seem to have moved on a lot from last year’s game, and it just seems to be missing that extra edge when you compare it to titles such as Driveclub, GT Sport and even Project Cars. Still, when you throw in the game’s great broadcast-style presentation, and voice-overs from David Croft and Anthony Davidson, it’s often easy to forget you’re playing a game.

F1 2016 game review: New features

Instead, it’s the little things that really make F1 2016 excel. Races now include a formation lap for instance, and it really makes you feel like a contemporary Formula 1 driver, even if it has little to no bearing on your actual race. Warming your brakes, controlling the throttle and practising your start might sound like simply going through the motions, but they add a touch of realism that changes the entire complexion of the game.

In the same way, the game’s manual starts add another layer of procedure that makes for greater depth and realism. It might be a mundane procedure for a proper F1 driver, but the feeling of holding in a paddle and controlling my start with a wheel was much more satisfying than I was expecting, giving gamers and F1 fans alike an insight into the job of their dreams.

Finally, the inclusion of a Safety Car adds even more fidelity to the game, and can have a huge impact on races. A lead you’ve spent ages trying to build can evaporate in an instant, while a race you’ve given up on can suddenly seem very much in reach. It’s this sort of turnaround that makes some F1 races the stuff of legend, and you’ll still be excited about the plot twist even when the Safety Car destroys your chances of taking first place. Trust me.

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