As the 2014 Formula One racing season comes to a close with the events in Brazil and Abu Dhabi, Codemasters has released its annual entry in the F1 franchise: “F1 2014.” So what’s new? The naturally aspirated, ear-piercing V-8 monsters are no more, giving way to quieter, turbocharged V-6s. Plus, there are two new tracks, including the Sochi Autodrome. That’s about it.
But let’s begin on a positive note. “F1 2014” carries over a lot of good things -- it has all the official tracks and drivers, dynamic track and weather conditions, and lots of tuning options that make a discernible difference in your car’s personality.
Even on a gamepad, the cars are accessible and easy to drive. Newcomers and casual fans can turn on all the game’s assists to help them learn track layouts, softening at least some of the learning curve. The Flashback feature has returned, letting you turn back the clock and right a wrong move. But, for those so inclined, all the game’s assists can be switched off.
Much of the previous game’s ambient sound design returns, although this year’s engines -- the new mandated turbo V-6s -- are noticeably quieter and less evocative: If you ask me, the V-12 era dominated by Ayrton Senna is still the best for pure aural enjoyment, but the V-8s last year were fantastic, too. Nonetheless, Codemasters has done a good job replicating the soundtrack in-game.
Unfortunately, cracks in the new facade appear quickly.
Although the rain effects are brilliant, the rest of the game doesn’t look so hot. When you’re on track the motion blur hides the problems, but climbing into the car in the garage shows you all you need to see at a glance. Textures are choppy, screen tearing is everywhere, frame rate fluctuates way too often, and track environments don’t feel real; it doesn’t look any better than last year’s installment, which didn't look great to begin with.
Aside from the carryover career and challenge modes, you’re really not getting much content here. In fact, some of last year’s features are gone, including historical races with legendary F1 cars and drivers.
Speaking of drivers -- you still can’t customize your driver past some basic biography information. No matter who you actually are or who you’d like to be, cutscenes still show you as a generic white guy with no voice pumping his fists. The professionals in the game are nothing more than names -- their likenesses aren’t really there. Lewis Hamilton's McLaren livery may be correct, but his face isn't shown in the races. These things kill any immersion you might have gotten on the track.
Although the races themselves can leave a lot to be desired. You’re not always rewarded for driving properly, especially at the beginning of races when the AI has no clue what to do. The game often feels too easy -- I tried the hardest challenge in the game ("The Flying Finn," as Kimi Raikkonen) using high-grip "Option" tires in the rain to win a race at Suzuka (site of the Japanese Gran Prix) from the back of the pack. My final margin of victory was half a minute, and all I had to do was stay on track long enough for the field to pit.
“F1 2014” constantly reminds you that it isn’t a true simulator, no matter how hard you want it to be.
It’s a big year for the franchise, yet “F1 2014” doesn’t bring that much to the table. It should have been an add-on DLC pack for last year’s game, to hold us over until the current-gen version releases. There’s no real reason to buy it over the 2013 or even 2012 versions, unless you absolutely have to hear the new engines.
“F1 2014” was released in North America Oct. 21. Our copy was a PlayStation 3 version.
As a bonus, here’s an in-game flying lap of the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, site of the 2014 Brazil Gran Prix: