This turn deserves another.
If you think Codemasters doesn’t get enough credit for its remarkably fun GRID line of racers, just imagine how much deserved public attention the under-appreciated developer conspicuously doesn’t earn for its equally interesting and oftentimes more authentic F1 series. Though its status as a yearly release has resulted in some ups and downs, F1 returns every twelve months with startling consistency and noticeable improvements. This year, the focal point has made a clear shift to racing and racing alone, and though some players may lament the lack of nostalgia, history, and F1 fan service that permeated last year’s edition, as a racing game designed to entertain, F1 2014 is a marked and worthy improvement.
As always, career mode is the game’s primary focus, and unlike last year’s career which had players hopping gleefully across F1’s historic timeline, F1 2014 is straight and to the point. There’s a traditional, Forza-esque option that allows you to select a series of predetermined, hand-picked tracks, a massive race-set that takes time to complete and can be revisited, or a selection of races designed specifically for certain cars. There’s additional flexibility to be applied to your race options if you really dig in, but I wanted to put my tires to the track as soon as possible—I went with the first option and was on my way.
It’s clear from the get-go that F1 2014 is about racing and racing alone, and whether it’s the fancy new first-person car-entry or the impeccably tuned controls that differ appropriately for each and every car, it’s hard not to feel wowed by Codemasters’ attention to detail. Interestingly, the controls feel ever-so-slightly more arcade-y (or perhaps more forgiving is a better word), in that you won’t be penalized for slight deviations from the track, nor will you slam headlong into a wall if you didn’t begin your turn at the exact moment necessary. I survived a few tough, winding roads hanging on for dear life that I know would have resulted in failure a year ago, and though it may bug certain purists, the toned-down punishment will be a welcome touch for most players.
F1 2013 was an attractive game that looked lovely from some angles and just okay from others, but it’s safe to say that 2014 is pushing PS3’s dated internals to their utter extreme. Despite being one of the shinier racers you’re likely to find (not an inherently bad thing, mind you), F1 2014’s cars really pop. Colors are vibrant without seeming exaggerated or obnoxious, jaggies are minimized and nearly nonexistent, and weather effects are among the best you’ll experience on a seventh-gen system.
It’s tough to compare the visuals to PS4 and Xbox One racers like Driveclub or Forza Horizon 2, in that those titles have the default advantages of more powerful hardware. The best praise I can give F1 2014 is that without A/B testing against next-gen competitors, the game struck me as gorgeous, and never felt outdated or “last-gen.” Given that titles as recent as Gran Turismo 6 are already looking “good but not great” to me after spending about a year with PS4, F1’s visuals are in themselves a feat.
A standout feature of Codemasters racers, and one that has since permeated the industry, is the rewind feature, and like F1 2013, 2014 employs it to its fullest. It’s true that other titles have implemented fancier means of rewinding, but the systems at play here are perfectly usable. Screw up your timing? About to smash a wall and send tires hurtling toward innocent bystanders? Not a problem. Just mash the rewind button and give it another go.
Timing can be a bit tough to master, but I saw this as more of a challenge than a flaw; rewinding begins to feel cheap if it’s too easy anyway. There are no rewind-mulligans online, however, so if you take your skills to PSN you’ll be held fully accountable. Online play was flawlessly smooth and lag-free in my experience, an incredibly refreshing thing to be able to say in light of the struggles of recent high-profile games (some of them being racers).
I’d be remiss not to discuss the various perspectives available while racing, and unlike most racing games where I stick with third-person exclusively, F1 2014 is an experience for which you’ll absolutely want to sit in the driver’s seat. This is due not only to the impeccably accurate controls while in that mode, but also the visual experience. Cars’ interiors are detailed and convincing, while the open road ahead lends an impressive sense of speed and motion. I mentioned weather effects earlier, and driving through the rain and mud from a first-person view is a total thrill and highlight of my experience. Definitely give all perspectives their fair try if you decide to pick up this game.
On the whole, I found last year’s F1 to be enjoyably inoffensive, which is why F1 2014 is such a pleasant surprise. It makes for a great series swansong on PS3 (or, at least, I assume F1 will make the generational leap next year), and is just about the pinnacle of visual presentation for a racer on these tired old gaming boxes we’re still keeping around. It’s not as if there’s loads of F1 competition out there, either; all the more reason to appreciate that F1 2014’s developer took the time to get it right.