When it comes to third party racing games, no company has dominated the last generation of hardware like Codemasters. Their high-class work has made every DiRT and GRiD game a worthwhile buy. The F1 series’ annual nature has hurt it a bit though, as it hasn’t seen as many radical changes from game to game and thus feels a bit more skippable than it should. However, the series has thrived on having a rock-solid foundation with which Codemasters can add content to annually. Last year’s entry gave players a look through the history of F1 racing with a wide variety of feud reeneactments. F1 2014 does away with that gimmick and puts the focus squarely on the track.
The career mode has veered away from last year’s history-spanning setup and moved towards a more Forza Motorstyle-style setup. Like that series, you can either do a pre-set playlist of races, race with a focus on a particular manufacturer’s cars, or dip into a large set of series that can be weaved in and out of at any time. This is a wonderful system since there’s little filler as a result. Racing is the absolute focus here and beyond some scenes where your team is either elated or disappointed with a result, there aren’t any cutscenes bogging things down. One of the coolest cinematography moves done both here and in basic races is having your character enter the car in a first-person view. It adds another layer of realism to things and absorbs you into the experience that much more.
No career mode is going to be fun if the core racing action isn’t, and luckily, it is here. The F1 games have always controlled smoothly, but even with the iffy PS3 pad, I had no trouble at all getting around the course. Some of this could be due to the developers focusing on the new 2014-model F1 cars, but either way, they delivered a far more fun racing experience than before. The series was hurt a bit last year by feeling clinical. Racing was too technical and it was too easy to be penalized for things. Now, you still can’t cut corners, but you’re less likely to be penalized for lightly going over the line in a tough turn. This blend of technical racing with a touch of forgiveness makes for a more fun time overall.
Of course, if you make a huge mistake, you can still rewind time back to when you didn’t make that one big race-altering mistake. A simple press of the Select/Back button opens up the rewind area, and then you can just move back until right before you flew off-course. It’s a bit tricky to figure out the timing given the frequent camera shifts, but you can come fairly close to where you were with ease — you just may not get exactly where you want to be quickly. It’s a shame the feature is a bit clunky because Codemasters pioneered the flashback concept, and it’s a shame to see it poorly-done. Still, after endless amounts of frustration due to Driveclub not having a flashback feature, I’ve grown to appreciate every game that includes it. Online play doesn’t allow for flashbacks, so you’ll need to be on-point there. Speaking of which, you can do a co-op career or just individual races if you’d like and the experience is lag-free throughout.
Visually, F1 2014 is an honest-to-God stunner given its last-gen technology. Much like GRiD 2, the pre-race sweeps of the track are some of the most beautiful in gaming. They could’ve just phoned those in or omitted them and I doubt many would notice — but they do add a lot to the presentation. You get a far better feel for the environment and the track you’re racing on, and that allows each track to stand out more. With so many games out there just throwing you into race after race, there’s no time to breathe in them. This game gives you that time and shows you how much care went into the world too. Character models look far better now than they did before, with beefier models and far more facial details. In that sense, the game rivals the current-gen version of Forza Horizon 2, which still suffers from doll-esque character models. Paint jobs are stunning and radiate off the cars. This is one of the shiniest racers out there, but stands out as well due to impressive rain effects. Rain is something that very few games have done right. This features a realistic accumulation of water on your windshield and it adds a sense of panic when using the first-person camera since your view is obstructed. This works perfectly though since it forces you to race more conservatively and not rush things.
F1 2014 doesn’t deliver much with its soundtrack, but does place a strong emphasis on sound design as a whole. You’ll hear rain bead down and build up, while the engines roar beneath you and around you. Each camera view you can choose from has its own engine intensity as well — so if you opt for a first-person viewpoint, you’ll get a much louder engine roar both from your own car and those around you. During crowded corner sections, this really gets your adrenaline pumping. The in-menu music does that as a well, with an emphasis on rock, but also blending in some pop music to create an intense, but somewhat relaxed mood.
F1 2014 plays to its strengths and doesn’t get bogged down with clutter. While classic F1 races can’t be recreated this year, the career mode is a far more diverse and enjoyable experience. The racing action is more intense than ever before, leading this to be one of most enjoyable F1 games ever created. For a series that has been hampered by annual installments, this one makes significant changes in all the right ways. It plays like a dream and will remind you of just how good a last-generation game can look thanks to its impressive car modeling and environments — even the usually-iffy character models impress here. Be sure to pick up F1 2014 if you’re a lapsed fan of the franchise. It does everything right and eliminates the clutter that has hurt past entries in the series.
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 3