PlayStation 4
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Game Info:

F1 2016
Published by: Codemasters
Developed by: Codemasters Birmingham
Release Date: August 19, 2016
Available on: PlayStation 4, XBox One, Windows, iOS, Android, tvOS
Genre: Racing
Number of Players: 1+
ESRB Rating: E
Price: $39.00
(Amazon Affiliate Link)

Do you love racing games where you can just hold the accelerator button down and madly steer and drift around tight turns?  Do you get a kick out of shoving other racers off  the course and causing spectacular accidents?  Do you hate having to deal with the fine details of your car's performance? If so, then you'd be better off playing Burnout.  F1 2016, on the other hand, is practically a racing simulator, in which the player takes on the role of an F1 race car driver and joins one of the international racing teams.  It is the eighth and latest release for the F1 series of racing games.  Like many other sports games, it includes real-life teams with real-life people under license from F1 Management.  

To be honest, when I first sat down to play this game I was expecting an up-to-date version of Pole Position.  I was shockingly, massively, comically wrong to have had that expectation.  

First, F1 2016 isn't just a simple racing game.  The only thing it has in common with a game like Pole Position is that yes, you're controlling an open wheel race car on a race track.  That's where the similarities end.  F1 2016 is much more like a racing simulator with a learning curve so steep you almost need climbing gear or a rocket pack to get up over it.  Driving an F1 race car is not easy, especially when it's not enough to get the car safely across the finish line.  You also need to obey F1 racing rules.  

Second, if you don't know the official rules for F1 racing you'll take a lot of penalties during the race and will probably get a black flag (ejected from the race) as a result.  (Ask me how I know.)  Contact with other cars, cutting corners too sharply, ignoring a blue flag, etc. are all ways to draw penalties which will add up.  

Third, the performance of your car is a function of your own tweaks and modifications.  Having trouble cornering?  Adjust the front wing angle to get greater downforce.  Car not slowing down fast enough when approaching a hairpin turn?  Increase brake hydraulic pressure.  Need more top speed?  Adjust the gearbox ratios.  If you want to play this game to its full potential you have to have an understanding of real F1 basic engineering principles.  For me, it's an opportunity to learn all kinds of things I never had any idea about, but it can be frustrating to the player who would rather just race the car and not think about those things.  

Sadly, there's no booklet in the game case and the in-game tutorials are simply short videos explaining some elements of the game.  I would have liked a real-time tutorial to help beginners get up to speed on game controls, basic racing principles and techniques.  The first time I did anything it was a quick race on the Monaco track and it took me several minutes just to figure out how to get the car to move.  I'm not being critical of the control setup here.  Once I learned the controls they felt very logical.  I would just have liked to see more guidance in the form of tutorials or a manual.   

This is definitely a game for F1 racing fans.  If you've ever been in a conversation in which you've said something like "Sebastian Vettel really pulled an upset over the Mercedes team in Australia this March!" then you'll really get into this.  If you have no idea what that sentence means, then a good bit of this game will just feel like fluff.  The racing teams are all there, along with the drivers for each team in the 2016 roster as well as their actual cars.  The player can be any driver they like for the quick races but there's also a career mode where the player creates their own race car driver character and joins a racing team, replacing one of the two actual drivers on that team.  

F1 2016
Highlights:

Strong Points: High realism, great graphics, lots for diehard F1 fans to do
Weak Points: Steep learning curve, tutorials not very useful, no instruction manual
Moral Warnings: None

This game isn't just about race day.  There's practice sessions and qualifying runs, as well as tweaking and upgrading the car based on player experience during practice.  The player also earns points toward buying upgrades for the car by doing well during these sessions.  Because F1 tracks aren't usually simple ovals, braking and low speed cornering are just as important as full speed on the straightaways.  The player needs to be mindful of the condition of the car's brakes, gearbox, aero surfaces and suspension to get the most out of the car.  Different race tracks favor different configurations for the car so researching the number of turns and straightaways is crucial for knowing whether to configure the car for better low speed cornering or high speed straight sprints.  Some tracks reward a more balanced approach.  Some car settings can be tweaked on the track but others can only be done in the pit between practice sessions.

Of course, tire wear and type also matter.  Should you go with soft tires for good grip and longer life, or super softs which will not last as long but grip even better and make the car much faster?  Other factors influence this decision as well.  Is it a warm day or cool outside?  Will it rain?  The car grips better in the late race than the early race because of all the tires leaving rubber behind on the track.  Yes, this actually matters and affects how the car performs and should be taken into account.  This is what I mean by being a game for fans... If you don't know or don't care how all of these factors will affect the way the car handles then you'll probably be better off playing a simpler racing game.  This game takes itself very seriously and really goes all out to make it as close to real F1 racing as can be achieved using a console that sits in your home.   

What the game lacks in tutorials it makes up for in the sheer number of options the player can set to affect the difficulty (and realism) of the game.  Presets exist for beginners up to experts, but custom configurations are also possible.  Automatic or manual transmission?  How fragile is the car?  How stringently will the rules be enforced?  How tough is the AI for the other racers?  If the option is chosen, the game will also show the most efficient path for the race car to take when dealing with corners and the indicators even change color to let the player know when their speed is too fast to safely take the corners.  There's plenty of flexibility here.  

The game plays on the standard PS4 controller.  I've heard that the game is even more fun with a steering wheel controller, but the price tag on those devices means I'll be sticking with the standard PS4 controller for the foreseeable future.  On the PS4 controller the left stick steers the car while R2 works the throttle, but with the very small travel of those controls it's hard to make really fine adjustments to steering and speed.  I can definitely see where a steering wheel/pedal controller would help.  I don't blame the game for this; it's just the nature of the controllers.  A typical game controller is just not optimized for racing games.

The rumble feature in the controllers is actually more useful in this game than any other game I've played.  It isn't just there for realism, it actually lets you know what's happening.  Go off track and pick up dirt and debris in your tires and you'll feel it in the controller even after you get back on track for a while until all that junk falls off of the rubber.  Damage the car and you'll get the feedback when steering around corners or straightaways depending on what's busted.    

What really tickled me is that as I was watching the 2017 season opening race I felt like I really knew the track, because I had been running a few practice sessions and qualifiers on that track inside the F1 2016 game.  As I watched the camera view from the drivers as they raced down the track, it really did look just like the game.  These guys really did their research.

F1 2016
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 88%
Gameplay - 17/20
Graphics - 10/10
Sound - 8/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 3/5

Morality Score - 100%
Violence - 10/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

The nice thing about the multiplayer environment is that it looks and feels like the real thing.  By that I mean the game has come close enough to realism that to actually race against other live players has many of the same challenges and factors as reality.  Well, there is one exception... No collisions, at least on the level of difficulty I was on.  Cars just pass through one another like ghosts.  

For the extra dose of realism, the multiplayer environment is set up just like real F1 racing, with practice sessions, qualifiers and then the actual race.  This can make it difficult for a player to find a session that's just starting so they can get in on it.  A player can also create custom sessions if a group of friends want to get together and have their own.  There's also a multiplayer championship.  Fortunately for me, a rookie room is available where a player can find quick races of three laps to get in on.  This makes it a lot easier to find some online fun but the community doesn't seem to be very large and so it can be tough to get into a race session just in time.  The option exists to spectate until a race is over, at which point the player can then jump in.  Sadly, none of the sessions I joined were full.

The graphics are great, in some cases almost photo-realistic, at least during the race.  Between races in career mode you speak with a variety of other characters in the game and the facial movements still have a long way to go.  It's the look of the cars and the track that really shine.  Drive off the track into the grass or sand and you'll see bits of dirt and grass stuck in your tires and splattering onto the "camera lens."  They gradually fall off once you get back on the pavement.  

During the race the player can choose from a variety of camera perspectives, including a chase view, the driver's perspective, the TV camera mounted behind the driver (my favorite) and others.  

On the PS4 version, the music, sound effects and UI sounds come from the TV speaker, and the voice of the crew chief comes in through the controller speaker or headset if connected.  It adds a little realism to feel like the crew chief is talking to you over the headset with the engine roar coming in from outside.  I did notice some problems where he would be talking and the audio would break up a bit, almost like when talking to someone on the phone when they're getting a bad signal.  I don't think this is an intentional part of the game.  Also, since the default PS4 headset is a single ear bud, I only got audio in one side of the stereo headphones I was using.  (I borrowed the headset from my wife's Wii U and it did work in the PS4 controller.)  

The game plays smoothly and didn't crash or freeze when I was playing.  The only issues I noticed were the audio issues mentioned above.

This game is a straightforward racing game, so morality issues are minimal.  Of course one can drive the car in a reckless and dangerous manner which puts other drivers at risk in the game, but this is never encouraged by the game itself and in-universe imposes penalties against the driver in accordance with F1 racing rules.  There were no language issues noticed and no sexual content.  There's no occult or supernatural content of any kind.

I really enjoyed this game a lot, and despite the complexity even my almost 5-year-old son was able to get the hang of driving laps around the track with the difficulty set to low.  We don't have a category for the quality of the instructions so I took off a point from game play to reflect the shortage of information.

If you're ever online and you see a driver named "El Toro Bravo" from Ecuador, that's me.  Stay out of my way because I still don't fully have the hang of this game and F1 cars come apart very easily when they collide...

 

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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