The 2016 edition of Codemasters' F1 series adds depth and detail to the driving gameplay fans have come to love, with an expanded career mode, better-integrated practice minigames and some new tweaks to weather hazards. Whether in single-player or multiplayer modes, this is a high point in Formula 1 racing games, accessible for new players but with plenty of depth and challenge for old hands. Victory will take practice, but the game makes its practice system very rewarding.
Getting on the track
F1 2016 allows players to compete online against up to 21 other players or race in a single-player career mode that allows players to create and develop a driver over time. The career mode is the deepest and most interesting part of the game, allowing for extensive customization and management. Between major races, drivers go through practice challenges; these are essentially minigames that test your ability while building your familiarity with a track. By completing these, players unlock points that allow them to upgrade and customise their cars. Track familiarity, practice and car upgrades will all come in handy when the actual race begins.
Nuts and bolts
Whether racing against others online (there's no split-screen head-to-head option, which is reasonable considering the density of information on the screen) or playing career mode, driving gameplay is at the heart of F1 2016. Like previous games in the series, this game has responsive handling that can be tough to master for new players. A greater emphasis on track conditions means that driving in wet weather can be highly difficult to control.
When not racing against other players, drivers will face off against AI opponents. These are mostly excellent drivers, although there are a few odd edge cases. They'll occasionally slow down for no real reason, for instance, presumably because they've found themselves in a situation they're not programmed for. In most cases, however, the AI drivers are worthy competitors and can make single-player races very challenging. The AI pit crew are similarly not bad, although some of their recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt.
Visually, it's clear that Codemasters have devoted most of their effort to the cars and environment, which are lovingly rendered. The pre-race lap is a beautiful spectacle, but it isn't just for building hype; players will need to use it to keep their tyres and brakes warm. The graphics fall down a little when dealing with human characters, who can look a bit robotic.
A good starting position
F1 2016 is a worthwhile purchase for anyone interested in driving games, whether long-time fans of the series or not. There are still a few rough spots, but overall the gameplay is smooth and accessible while rewarding practice and strategic thought. The added details of the career mode add both immersion and replay value, but the real appeal of the game is the tense, compelling races.