With the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game not due for release until sometime next year, it seems we’ve been presented with either a stopgap for the anticipating fans, or a taste of what to look forward to in the upcoming months.
In striving for the annual release model, it’s often tricky for developers to create and implement new concepts and ideas on top of refining existing ones. Never has that been more obvious than the release of F1 2014. Granted, not a huge amount changes in its real life counterpart, save for the videogame friendly KERS system; and of course the yearly roster updates, both in terms of vehicles, tracks and drivers.
Either way, new to the franchise this year, is the inclusion of a new track, the Russian Sochi Autodrom, alongside returning favourites, Hockenheimring and the Red Bull Ring, at the unfortunate expense of the Indian GP track. Bahrain gets a little night time treatment to more closely represent the true schedule too. Aside from the track and driver arrangements, the cars themselves have also gone through a few alterations to comply with F1 going green and all. In place of the whiny scream of yesteryear, you’ll alternatively be listening to the hybrid’s turbo whistle instead.
Aside from the mostly aesthetic changes on offer, the tyre wear model has been graciously revamped too. No longer will you limp round the track a few laps before pitting whilst trying to disregard the AI’s unfathomable skill at driving full pace on ruined tyres. It’s not only more forgiving, providing you stick to the pit schedule, but also there are more auditory cues to help you know when you’re pushing the limits.
The driving model is still great too; even if it seems a little heavier and proves more difficult to spin the back end out. However, being introduced to the game is an exercise in bewilderment. In standing of the excellent, if not somewhat slowly paced nature of last year’s Young Driver Test, is something much more unsuitable to a ‘simulation’ game. This time around, you are given one lap to perform your best, bearing in mind that this could well be some people’s first racing game, and upon completion, the game offers a set of difficulty options based upon your performance. To be honest, you’d be better off ignoring its advice and setting the options to your own preference.
The AI still succumbs to various tropes of the genre, with its unrelenting grip of the racing line, its inability to block you, its reluctance to take chances and of course, in stark contrast to real life, the finishing rate of each driver. They’ll very rarely make mistakes which warrant summoning the safety car.
Another immersion breaking feature is, once again, the limitations of the career mode. Having a five year cycle simply isn’t enough time for the true aficionados to feel like they’re working their way up through the ranks. Especially when you get offered a Mercedes as a starting car. Getting the difficulty settings correct is paramount, too easy and that projected target of finishing 15th is something you can more than attain by the first bend. Too hard and you’ll quickly become frustrated in only a way that a racing game can provide.
In terms of modes, F1 2014 feels a little barren and stagnated, even when compared to last year’s edition. The career mode is potentially too short, even when taking into account the option of seven or twelve race seasons. It also feels a tad distant and a little cold too, with only generic emails, race calendars and tuning options to sift through. Aside from the career mode, there’s the usual time trial variants, challenges and multiplayer (both split-screen and online) to sink some time into. Unfortunately, the powers that be, have dropped the excellent Classic mode from last year’s iteration, somehow granting even less content than before. Provided you can get into a like-minded group where smashing into other players isn’t the sole reason for playing the game, the online multiplayer should hold your attention for some time however.
The largest flaw(s) in F1 2014 reside in its familiarity however; where everything feels copy and pasted from last year’s release. Your pit boss has seemingly learnt nothing in a year as his dialog remains largely unchanged, the menus feel archaic, crash damage is underwhelming and the graphics are no discernible amount better than before.
The wheel to wheel racing is still great; cutting tenths of seconds off lap times is still mesmerizingly addictive and taking corners at insane speeds is always going to be gratifying. It’s a shame then that F1 2014 not only doesn’t improve upon its predecessor, but instead manages to take a step back in terms of content. If you’re the type who looks forwards to each year’s offering, then I’m afraid you could well be sorely disappointed; perhaps it would be better to wait for the PS4 and Xbox One’s versions, provided they add more content and features that is.