Every year I look forward to the release of the new F1 game. I’m a fan of the sport itself, and like Madden, even though the improvements from year to year are incremental at best, there’s something about having the most up to date version that is appealing to me.

I don’t expect any revolutionary changes from an annual sports release, but at least with F1 every year, any new locations added to the season, updated rosters, and new game modes such as the Legends challenges from a few years back, keeps things somewhat fresh.

For a first time effort on this current generation of consoles, I know now to expect anything too groundbreaking. This holds true especially for annual sports titles on a new console generation. Rory McIlroy PGA Tour had the same issues, being a first time release, so did Madden 25, Madden 06, etc.

History has shown that new releases of sports game on a new console tend to be “testers,” if you will. With this in mind, I dove into 2015 expecting at least something on par with 2014 in terms of features.

The results are somewhat of a mixed bag. The game looks and sounds better than ever, with handling tweak to lean more towards a realistic handling model (at least compared to previous entries). Make no mistake; F1 2015 is still “simcade” at it’s best, but it’s less “simcade” than 2014 and before.

A brand new game engine puts the focus on the new handling model and impressive visuals, and those who tackled previous years’ entries with confidence might find themselves spinning out a lot more. For instance: me. I found this year’s game to be a lot more difficult to control (in a good way). Sure you can crank up all the assists and basically play a F1 version of Mario Kart with no worries, but the only assists I tend to use throughout many years of F1 games is enabling the ABS system.

F1 2015 racing

In previous years I could attack the corners pretty hard and accelerate relatively violently out of a turn with little to no fear of losing control of the car. This is not the case with F1 2015. This year’s game needs to be played with much more precision than before. Keeping an eye on your corner entry and exit speeds is imperative, lest you spin out wildly. Driving over the rumble strips or bumping into the car next to you will have much more drastic results (this should discourage those “bumper cars” online players).

In short, you need to be much more aware of what you’re doing this year, a change which I approve of. It still won’t be mistaken for Assetto Corsa or rFactor levels of realism, but this is most certainly a step in the right direction.

The changes to the handling model are much more noticeable with a gamepad than on a wheel. I have always said that “sim” racing games need to be played with a wheel; you will never be able to replicate the precision needed on a gamepad correctly. F1 2015, like I mentioned before, is not yet a full fledged “sim,” but it leans in that direction more so this year, and this translates into the gamepad being more difficult to play on.

Small corrections to steering and throttle control are very difficult to do on the DS4, and this just happens to be the year where these things are important. With a wheel, F1 2015 plays beautifully. I could use a bit more “oomph” in the force feedback, but overall, playing with my Thrustmaster T300RS made for a very smooth and precise experience, two things that should be a hallmark of Formula One.

Graphically the game looks very impressive, but it’s not something I noticed at first. When booting up the game for the first time, I didn’t think it looked that much different than F1 2014 (I had the PC version of that game for those who were wondering). It’s still a step down visually from games like Forza 5 or Project CARS, and after being spoiled by those two games, it was hard to see how much better F1 2015 looked from its predecessor.

The improvements are more noticeable in the small details, such as the glint of a car’s finish, to the freakishly realistic looking Kimi Raikkonen. (though some character models look funky). Little touches like a hand waving the engineer over to check the tires make this a much more animated game than before. The locations all look spectacular as well, though this was always one of the series’ strong points. Overall, F1 2015 is a great looking game. Not the best, but certainly very good.

The content of the game is where things fall apart. I KNOW I said I wasn’t going to expect much and truthfully, I didn’t. But having played annual sports games my whole life, I think I have a pretty good grasp on what I SHOULD expect to see in a sports game on a new console, and in this regard, F1 2015 left me disappointed.

All your exhibition type game modes are still here (quick race, time attack, etc). Online multiplayer is still going strong, with a newly added online practice session to give online racers a chance to warm up before a race. With these game modes, Codemasters did not remove anything, so we’re all good.

It’s the career modes that leave much to be desired. Personally speaking, one of my favorite things to do each year was to create myself as a new racer, and play through the career mode. I liked the teammate drama, checking emails every week, changing teams, reading news articles about yourself, etc. All that made for a fairly engaging career mode experience. This year, all of that is gone, replaced instead by the Championship Season and Pro Season.

Remember when Madden 06 released as a launch title for the Xbox 360, and instead of including the uber popular Franchise Mode, all it had was a bare bones single season? The same problem applies here. The Championship Season is nothing more than a straightforward season of racing, either the 2015 season or the 2014 season.

You don’t even get the opportunity to create your own driver anymore; you must choose from drivers on existing teams. I of course went to my team of choice, Ferrari, which is even better this year because of the addition of the great Sebastian Vettel to the team. It’s just weird to see the Ferrari team and not see Fernando Alonso as one of the options, but replacing him with Vettel is nothing to sneeze at.

After choosing a driver, you’re off in the season, race after race after race. It’s not particularly exciting; you’re basically just being guided from race to race, with even less of a connection than in past since you can’t even create your own driver.

A slightly more interesting career mode feature is the Pro Season, which is basically the same thing as the Championship Season except with all the assists removed, manual shifting, and the opponent AI ratcheted up to the max. If you want to feel completely helpless, this is the mode to play in, especially if you’re using a controller.

Having no assists whatsoever while playing on a DS4 is a pretty hairy experience, especially in the rain and with a surprisingly smart and aggressive AI bearing down on you. If you’re not using a wheel in Pro Season, this could get to the point where it’s borderline not fun to play. Proceed with caution.

F1 2015 is still a fun game, despite the shortcomings with the career mode content. From a handling standpoint, this is probably the most realistic F1 game to date (from the Codemaster’s F1 series, that is). It’s a good looking game with an exciting physics model, and two season’s worth of Formula One content to play through.

However, unless you’re someone who almost exclusively plays online, you’re going to run out of things to do pretty quickly in F1 2015. Sure there are two distinct career modes available, but at the end of the day, neither of them are much more than a glorified exhibition race. Much of the personality that made previous F1 games more fun has been stripped.

I hope this is a one time thing and that F1 2016 can bring back some of the feature from the past. For starters, let me create my own driver. Bring back the Young Drivers Test for beginners. Having a challenge mode and historical challenges can also go a long way in creating more longevity for the series. Let’s see what Codemasters can bring to the table next year!