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Day 1 F1 2016 Review – Should You Buy on the PC, PS4 or Xbox One?

F1 2016 is out on the PC, PS4 and Xbox One and we’re going to tell you whether or not the latest F1 title from Codemasters is worth your money.

A note before we get going.  This review is us trying something a little different for Inside Sim Racing.  We’re not really known for timely reviews.  Usually releases come and go and we take a sweet time to play through the majority of the game before presenting our feelings on it.  While this allows us to go very in-depth, a fair amount of you have most likely already made up your mind on the game and have bought it or decided to pass on it.

So we’re fixing that with this Day 1 Review.  The upside is you should know today whether or not you should buy the game.  The downside is we haven’t touched every aspect of the game – such as multiplayer – so there are thing that we are going to miss.

We will try to rectify that later with a follow-up review, but let’s be real, there’s a lot of software and hardware releases coming up, so no promises.

With that out of the way, let’s jump into the review.

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We’re going to do this like an abstract and give the conclusion first and work backwards.  I really like F1 2016.  Codemasters has done a good job honing in on what makes F1 fun.  The driving, the Career Mode, bringing aspects like standing starts and safety cars.  They’ve done all of that while still creating a game that’s approachable, yet challenging if you want it to be, which isn’t easy.

Like we discussed in our First Look, the physics in the final game – V1.0 on PC and V1.1 on the PS4 and Xbox One – still walk the difficult line of being approachable by controller players and challenging for sim racers.  F1 2016 isn’t a sim, but it’s not as far off as you may expect.

The cars do feel a little rigid – even for an ultra stiff F1 car – compared to some of the sim examples out there from iRacing and Assetto Corsa, and do not have the complex ERS harvest system mapped, but there’s a lot of other things they do well.  

The cars are easy to lock up going into the corner and challenging to put the throttle down.  They can be driven on the edge and be caught if you step over.  They would probably be a little easier to catch if the tires had a little more sidewall flex feel, but it’s still doable.

The physics are a 7/10, which for a title that has to be a “Jack of all trades”, is very good.  

And if you can’t quite grasp the driving in ‘Simulation’ mode, you have the ability to turn on assists such as ABS and traction control, or head to the garage and make adjustments to the car.  The garage doesn’t have a huge list of adjustments like the sim versions do, but making adjustments to the aero, brake bias and differential do result in noticeable gains.

Naturally, physics conversation leads us into a conversation on about the force feedback.  While the force feedback in F1 2016 won’t light the world on fire, it is solid to good.  A little more strength through my Thrustmaster T300 and TX would be nice, but there’s enough there to translate.  Other forces such as curbs are present as well.  More kick-back on the wheel while going over rough parts of the track would also be nice but that’s maybe more a reflection of the non-laser scanned tracks lacking bumps then the force feedback.

Again, like physics, force feedback is a nice effort.

F1 2016 supports most of the big wheels out there, with the only snub being the current tiff between Fanatec and PlayStation, resulting in an unsupported Fanatec ClubSport Wheel V2 (which is par for the course today with Assetto Corsa suffering from the same conflict).

All of the primary wheels come mapped out of the box – except for one example we’ll get to later – and controls can now be checked via the ‘Advance Wheel Settings’ which is nice.  One thing you can’t do in Advance Wheel Settings, which would be nice, is change the degrees of rotation of your wheel.  Based off of the graphical arms and wheel in-game, it would like you to be at 360 degrees of rotation.  Although this is probably the ideal number to be at, having an option to adjust it in-game, instead of on the wheel (if you’re using a wheel that allows you to adjust it on the fly), would be nice.

And again, this talk segues well into another topic, being in the car.  One of the perks of F1 2016 is the ability to adjust field of view (FOV) in the cockpit to make it more realistic.  All the settings are there except the ability to move your head angle up to pier over the chassis.  You can angle down but not up.  If that option was added, it would be perfect.

Another – minor – critique of being in the car is not being able to remove the driver hands and lock the steering wheel.  It would be less distracting, eliminate the 360 degrees of on-screen rotation issue, and probably improve frames per second (fps).

As for the cars themselves, it is cool to see the differing manufacturers interiors.  The car models are also nicely modeled after the early season versions of each car.

Moving on to tracks, and they are nicely done in F1 2016.  It’s cool to see them updated to 2016 spec, with tracks like Monaco and Interlagos showing the updates.  They also compare well to their laser scanned counterparts in titles like iRacing and Assetto Corsa, with geometry that feels dead on.  The only track that felt maybe not quite on was Suzuka, but it’s not far off.  The tracks do lack some of the bumps and road surfacing of the laser scanned tracks, but are still nice and believable to drive on.

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Lets now dive into the driving modes.  There are five in F1 2016; Time Trial, Quick Race, Championship Season, Career, and Multiplayer.  Again, we haven’t checked out Multiplayer yet, but all the other modes provide compelling reasons to drive.

Pounding out laps in Time Trial mode is oddly addicting thanks to the Leaderboard.  Seeing you have the fastest lap in a particular car – Haas being my favorite weapon of choice – with no assists is very satisfying.

Just be weary of corner cutting.  The ‘Strict’ corner cutting setting is strict.  With that said, besides a few corners – looking at you Casino Square in Monaco – the corner cutting system is more times than not fair.

As the name suggests, Quick Race is the quickest way to experience the racing experience in F1 2016.  You can pick your driver, track, weather, time of day, race settings and jump in.  Having all  of these options are very nice with my only critique being the jump from a 5 lap race to a 25% race length being a little steep.  Adding the option for a 10 lap race would have been nice.

Once in the session, you get to see the result of your choices.  Both weather and time of day are nicely done in F1 2016, giving you plenty of options.  Racing in the rain is intense and takes a lot of concentration on the limit.  With that said, at times it does seem like you can carry too much speed for the conditions, but the current F1 full wets and intermediate tires are insanely good at moving water, so maybe it’s not as far fetched as it appears.

The AI make their debut in Quick Race and race with mixed results.  The AI does a pretty good job leaving the line into turn 1 and race pretty well around you, actually racing you.  But left to themselves, the AI does a lot of nose-to-tail snaking around the track, which doesn’t look great.

In terms of AI difficulty, the game is pretty well balanced.  With seven settings it’s easy to find one that suits you.  I could run the base setup on ‘Expert’ and mostly keep up with the AI.  This bodes well considering there’s two levels above for when I start to really work on developing setups and turning more practice laps.

This is probably a good time to talk damage, since a couple early brake-check maneuvers by the AI left me with a damaged front wing.  Damage intensity mirrors physics, in that it’s there but has some forgiveness.  Sometimes you can bump into someone and get away with it, even with damage set to ‘Simulation’.  But the majority of the time, contact will result in some bit of visual damage – seeing pieces of wing sliding across the track is pretty cool – and loss of front downforce.

It’s also cool to see the front suspension crumple and the tire go flopping about after hard contact.  Hell, there were even times when I thought I didn’t hit the wall that hard and the front suspension was destroyed.  But upon further inspection on the replay, the game had it right, which is pretty cool.

A little more guarantee of wing damage on Simulation mode would be nice, but overall, the damage model is about right.

Championship Season is pretty straight forward.  Pick a car, select what weekend sessions you want to run, from just the race to the entire weekend program, and go race.  It’s a nice way to live vicariously through your favorite driver and amps up the intensity of not making mistakes compared to Quick Race.

Career Mode is very impressive in F1 2016.  You can race across 10 seasons, starting with creating your driver, signing with any team you like, then meeting the goals of the team (beating your teammate).  Between that, the race weekends are deep with practice programs by your team to help you learn the track, test tire compounds, setups or just monitor the other AI cars on your TV in the garage.  It’s all very cool and very deep.

Speaking of deep, this would be a good time to talk about some of those deep features mentioned at the top.

The new ‘clutch in’ standing start is well done.  Hold in the up-shift paddle, build revs and release at the lights propels the car off the line.  It’s not super difficult but it’s not a mindless task either.  You have to be paying attention to do it right.

Prior to the lights you can take a warm up lap which is cool, and if there’s carnage after the lights, you can go behind a safety car or virtual safety car (as long as the race is 25% length or longer).  

Up until this point we have been talking about the game as a whole, but now we’re going to break it down by each platform.

I enjoy playing F1 2016 the most on the PC for a number of reasons.  First, it looks and performace best on the PC.  Clearly optimizations and improvements have been done since our First Look at it on the PC, because the game doesn’t look or perform like the PS4 version anymore.  With graphics maxed out – ‘Ultra’ settings, anisotropic filtering, antialiasing – I was able to get 97 fps average on the benchmark at 1920 x 1080 and 90 fps at the native 2560 x 1080 on my BenQ XR3501, taking advantage of the 144 Hz refresh rate.

Not only was the fps high, but the game looked really good doing it.  Gone were the jagged edges from the demo.  Everything was smooth.

Also, have to say that Codemaster continues to move in the right direction with the look.  The old F1 titles were so yellow and off when it came to color.  F1 2016 looks much more believable, both in color and material shine.  The reflection of the chrome helmets to the matt of the Red Bull livery all look spot on.

If there was one downside to the graphics on the PC, it’s still the lack of triple monitor support or VR support.  In fact, running triples put such a hurting on my GTX 1070 graphics card and Intel 4.2 GHz 2600k CPU – and didn’t look great with a ton of side monitor stretch – that I just decided to keep it to single screen.  With the ultrawide providing enough horizontal space to capture the side mirrors without messing up my FOV, I decided that  was the best option.

Another reason why I like running on the PC is the ability to mix and match hardware.  Unlike the consoles, the PC can handle multiple input devices, so if I want to run a T300 wheel and Fanatec ClubSport Pedals V3, I can.  I can also run ancillary devices like a button box.  

You can’t do this on the consoles that only accept one input device, unless you have an adaptor, and there aren’t adaptors out there for every single combo of wheels and pedals.  On the PC, not a concern.

One thing that I still don’t care for on the PC, but will likely change, is the buzzing sound while under acceleration.  It’s the same sound we talked about in the first look and I’m still not quite sure what it is.  Is it a bug?  Is it a turbo?  Never heard a turbo like that.  Is it the ERS?  Is it a sound that only the driver hears and the onboards don’t pick up?  I watch plenty of F1 and I’ve never heard it before.

Whatever it is, its still there.

But, it looks like some relief is coming.  The V1.1 of the consoles still has a sound, but it wasn’t nearly as annoying.  This makes me think it’ll be coming to the PC soon.  I’m still not sure I like it, but I can probably put up with it.

The PC features, plus the fact that I do really enjoy the game design, lead me to definitely recommend F1 2016 on the PC.

I would also recommend F1 2016 on the PlayStation 4.  While not quite as pretty as the PC version and having some screen tearing due to 60 Hz, overall the PS4 version still looks and runs nicely.

With that said, I did experience a few graphical bugs on the PS4.  My car would leave black smoke instead of white when it left the line at the start and I experienced an odd pixelation issue at Interlagos on a few corners.  Annoying?  Yes.  But a game stopper?  No.

I also had no issues using my PS4 compatible wheel, which is more than can be said about the Xbox One version.

I cannot recommend the Xbox One version.

First, the graphics – primarily in TV mode – are pretty rough.  A lot of jagged lines and hard to read text.  Just not as nice looking as the PS4.  And while the graphics aren’t really any worse looking from behind the wheel when compared to the PS4, the performance is.  

I had a fair amount of drop frames and screen tearing on the Xbox One, making it pretty distracting. Some is to be assumed when racing on the consoles versus a PC, but there was just too much of it happening with the Xbox One.

I do understand that the Xbox One isn’t quite up to snuff compared to the PlayStation 4, but when I play Forza Horizon 3 at E3 on the Xbox One and it’s one of the best looking racing games I’ve ever seen, period, I know that it can be done.

My second issue with the Xbox One was an infuriating wheel mapping issue.  Both the Thrustmaster F1 rim and TM28 rim wouldn’t map properly.  Even after I did a custom map, I would end up stuck in a session not being able to find the ‘A’ button.

It was so frustrating that I connected my Thrustmaster TX to the PC to make sure it was working okay, and it was.

I eventually went to driving with the Evo 599XX Alcantara rim on the Xbox One which functioned without issue.

Hopefully this is an annoying bug that will be fixed in the near future, but the big mapping issue from F1 2015 – having to use the clutch pedal as the brake on the PS4 version of the game – took two months to fix, so there’s no timely guarantees.

But if you only have an Xbox One, and want F1 2016, I’m certainly not going to try to stop you.  It’s still a good game, just not the best gaming experience that you can have with F1 2016.

In summation – if you made it this far, pat yourself on the back – there’s a lot to like about F1 2016.  2016 feels like the game 2015 was suppose to be.  2015 had some good things going for it – particularly the driving – but was hampered by bugs and missing game modes.  F1 2016 rectifies these issues with all the game modes you want, cool new features, raceable AI and not too many bugs.

No, F1 2016 isn’t a sim, but it’s not that far off for a title that has to cater to all levels of F1 fandom.  This is why F1 2016 is the game that F1 and racing game fans deserve.