• video

F1 2016 First Look on the PC

Presenting our First Look at the PC version of F1 2016.  Now, it has to be stated that this is the F1 2016 demo that’s been making the media rounds, so this isn’t the complete game.  It’s an old build, it does have some bugs…and isn’t potentially optimized yet…more on that later.  But with an August 19th release coming quick, the demo is close enough to warrant a look.

So for this First Look, I’m just going to hit some of the things that stood out to me during my time playing the game so far and will save the more in-depth stuff for our Day 1 Review.

First thing that’s noticeable – because I get a warning every time I start up the game – is that F1 2016 really cares about you having your controls setup.  Like F1 2015, it alerts you of controls that aren’t mapped.  Unlike 2015 though, it takes you to the settings page.  Since I haven’t mapped my DSD button box yet, and never plan to map my Thrustmaster TH8A shifter in an F1 game, this is kind of annoying.

Would like to see an option to eliminate this warning, especially for those who aren’t constantly swapping their hardware like we are.

But one thing this annoyance does provide is an opportunity to look through the settings menus and see what’s changed – and all in all – not much has.  The most noticeable difference I’ve spotted so far is the ‘Advance Wheel Settings’ that shows you your button, steering and pedal input on a graphic, which is nice to have to double check that your pedals properly calibrated and your wheel is at the right degrees of rotation.

The screen actually helped me out by reminding me that I needed to adjust my Thrustmaster T300 with the F1 Rim degrees of rotation in the Thrustmaster control panel from the 900 degrees I usually run to 540 which I like for open wheel cars.

I also ended up needing to drop the pressure of my Fanatec Clubsport Pedals V3 from 88% to 60% to make sure the in-game car was getting the stopping power I thought I was putting into the pedals.

It would have been nice if Codemaster had included an upper limit brake threshold in game that I could have decreased instead of leaving the game and adjusting it in the pedal’s control panel.  There’s a brake deadzone slider that puts in deadzone when you first press the brake, but I find that setting not very useless for anyone who has a little experience at racing games.

And quick word on the overall look of the menus.  Very much F1 2015 V1.5 with the same layout but in much better looking white.  The simple color difference makes a huge difference.

It’s easy for me to comment on the menus because I spent a lot of time fiddling with the graphics there.

Why?  Well, essentially F1 2016 doesn’t like pushing my 7680 x 1080 resolution.

While F1 2015 had been a major pain to run on my rig, aka The Bat, that was with a GTX 970.  Now I’ve upgraded to a GTX 1070, a card that handles other titles like Assetto Corsa, iRacing, RaceRoom and DiRT Rally, with no problem at high settings, yet F1 2016 can’t be ran higher than medium for okay frames per second (fps).  The in-game benchmark on medium yielded an average of 72 fps compared to 52 at high, and 40 on ultra.

That’s not cutting it compared to other titles such as iRacing, Assetto Corsa, DiRT Rally and RaceRoom that I’m able to play comfortably at the 90 fps + range that I like on the PC at the same resolution.

So with that said, I ended up doing the majority of my driving in single screen mode where I was able to crank the graphics to ‘Ultra High’ and average around 90 fps.

Now, this is a pre-release demo, so there’s probably optimization on both the game and Nvidia drivers side to go, but I’m not feeling too positive that it’ll get better.  I fired up F1 2015 again, and got average fps of 77 on medium, 69 on high and 59 on ultra.  So a bit of improvement on the higher settings but still well off of where I want to be on the PC.

And I keep saying PC because there’s advantages to running on the PC, like higher refresh rates, and/or triple screens, or VR.  But when there isn’t proper triple screen support and the game doesn’t run well, or when there’s no VR support, and I have to say, I’d be shocked to see it at this point considering you need 90 fps for VR, you start to lose the justification for using it on the PC.

When I was able to turn up the graphics to Ultra High in single screen mode, I did have mixed feelings towards them.  Sometimes they look really good, particularly close ups of the cars and the tracks.  But when there’s a bunch of lines in the road or when the car is far away from camera, you notice quite a bit of jaggies, even with anisotropic filtering set at 16x and SMA anti-aliasing.

While we’re talking about graphics, let’s talk about sounds since they tend to go hand-in-hand.  The sounds in F1 2016 are passable to good.  The sounds don’t have the “pop, wizzes and whirls” of the iRacing MP4-30 McLaren-Honda, but overall they get the job done.

One thing I did notice – or maybe I should say didn’t – was much difference between the four manufacture engine notes.  If you listen to them back to back, you can hear a little difference but it’s not much.  Then again, maybe the notes aren’t that different in real life, I haven’t seen this engine package in-person yet to tell.

There were two things about the sounds that I know I didn’t care for.  First up, there was this high pitch buzzing sound that was occurring on throttle that was really odd.  So odd that I really hope it’s just a bug.  And no, it wasn’t the turbo, at least any turbo I’ve heard from the modern F1 regs, or any turbo regs ever for that matter.

Second, I really don’t care for how the engine note cuts out when your engineer talks to you.  It makes it really difficult to hit your downshifts.  Would like to hear the engine boosted.

So this is where my F1 2016 experience got started, not on the best foot.

But then I started driving, and have to say I’m really liking it.

f1 2016 germany

I first jumped into Time Trials, and it was nice to have the wheel not feel completely dead when I started a flying lap like it did in F1 2015.  There’s a second of dead-ness but it comes in quick enough.

Also, it’s nice to see the list of field of view (FOV) adjustments return.  It’s the same list that arrived to F1 2015 in a post-launch patch and is nearly perfect.  The only thing I think it’s missing is the ability to rotate the driver’s head up, not just down.  Besides that, it’s swell.

Bringing the, “I’m a sim racer so I don’t need no assists” attitude to the game, I quickly changed the settings to Elite to turn off all the assists.  This resulted in a car that’s approachable, but not easy to  drive.  You just can’t bomb it into a braking zone and assume the car is going to save you.

You have to be on top of it.

As you would expect with F1 cars, there’s a very fine line between coming up a mile short in the braking zone and missing it by a mile.  It’s easy to lock up the inside front tire – which by the way is cool to see the weight transfer done right – and once you do  lock it up, you either give up the corner or double down and really trash it.

Once you’ve found the level of respect needed for the brake, it’s the throttle’s turn.  Like you would imagine with such a torquey car, you have to be mindful of throttle application off the corner, and more times than not, a progressive squeeze of the throttle and some short shifting through the first four gears is the way to  go.

Now, if you’re saying to yourself, “duh, that’s how an F1 car drives,”  then all I have to say back is, “YES, THAT’S THE POINT!”

I think these cars strike a very nice balance between being approachable, yet challenging, and most of all, fun.  I kept finding myself just hot lapping in Time Trial mode, trying to knock down my laptimes and my position on the Leaderboad, and I couldn’t have been happier.

In my short time with the game I haven’t played around with the setups, so we’ll save that for the review, but I like the baseline setups.  You can drive the car hard like an F1 car – something I couldn’t do with the base setup in the Ferrari SF-T15 in Assetto Corsa – but you can still feel areas of the track that you could improve on with a little more front wing here and less differential there.

One thing that’s cool about the game is feeling the different performance levels between the cars.  What’s cool is that it’s usually very minor difference.  Having to jump on the brakes a fraction sooner.  Waiting on the throttle a fraction later.  While driving it feels small – well unless you jumped from the Mercedes to the Manor, that difference is pretty obvious – but most of the time, you see the difference more on the stopwatch then in the seat of your pants…er…hands in our case.

It’s nicely done.

As for the tracks, overall they are nicely done as well.  They feel believable and look good.  The only thing I’m not 100% convinced on are the track limits…not that the FIA is either.  I ran with the ‘Strict’ track limits settings and there were times when they felt too strict and times not enough.

Will certainly have to drive more tracks and the game overall more and see if track limits get better or worse.

f1 2016 germany

Eventually, I pulled myself from my Time Trial Leaderboard ambitions, and went to Quick Race mode, and guess what?  You just can’t roll into a race against the Ultimate AI and be competitive.

They will blow your doors off.

While the my races against the roided AI were forgettable, I was able to try out the new launch control feature.  While you aren’t using a hand clutch like the real life guys, you do substitute it with the upshift paddle, holding it and revving the engine until the lights turn off.  It’s a cool feature and a nice addition to the franchise.

Another thing I was able to test out in Quick Race mode was the damage model.  It isn’t bad – you can damage the wing with bumping – but there are times when you can rough it up well more than you can in real life.  While I think this is plenty fine for the lower game levels, when you’re running the car in ‘Simulation’ mode against Ultimate AI, you want it to be as realistic as possible.

One thing that Codemasters did get right on damage are the big shunts, with the new floppy wheel tether system looking fantastic.

Lastly, me getting my ass kicked by the AI did provide one insight that I’m not sure I would have gained at the front of the field, they still snake.  In a pack of cars – particularly mid-pack and back of the pack at the beginning of a race – the AI cars will snake like autonomous cars synced to follow one another.

The AI does seem to race much better around you but following a snake in front of you can quickly break immersion.

f1 2016 germany

After I had my share of the Quick Race mode, I jumped into Career Mode to just barely scratch the surface.  And by that I mean I created a virtual John, signed with the home team, Haas F1, and played around in the first weekend practice session at Melbourne.

Again, while this was scratching, I could clearly see that Career Mode is very deep.  It was cool running ‘Pro Career’ mode that forces you to run full race weekends and distances, and rolling into FP1 and being instructed by the team what the practice checklist was.  Naturally, you get a say in it but it was cool to go from installation lap, to tire life testing, to analyzing your laps and watching your competitors complete theirs.  

It feels very proper.  I’d imagine any hardcore F1 fan will be all over this mode.

I look forward to spending more time in Career Mode – and maybe just regular Career Mode and not the time commitment of Pro Career – and reporting back during our Day 1 Review on August 19th.

f1 2016 germany

I really like what I see from F1 2016.  The game’s biggest strength is its driving and the cars feel believable and approachable.  Sim racing can be like golf.  It’s a ton of work and commitment, but when it’s good, it’s the best.  But when it’s bad, you’re ready to burn the clubhouse down.

F1 2016 isn’t golf.  If a sim like iRacing is a 10/10 intensity, F1 2016 is a 7/10.  It’s a real sweet spot.  A spot where you can jump in and focus on making yourself faster and not necessarily the car.  Sure you can tune on the car – and we’ll look at that more in the review – but you don’t have to, to get to a comfortable, competitive level quickly.

I really don’t know what else you could ask for if you’re an F1 fan.  The new features for F1 2016 really rounds out the title, and gives you the features you care about without too much fluff.  Yes, you still have to talk to you’re well endowed agent, but overall, it’s focused on you being an F1 driver, not a celebrity.

I like it.

With that said, if there’s one big criticism that I have from the demo, it’s the graphics situation.  Yes, the fps will probably improve some at release.  But I don’t see it increasing enough to allow triple screen racing, or VR for that matter.  Codemasters has stayed mum on the VR question, but I will be surprised – and maybe impressed – if F1 2016 eventually does become VR compatible.  Currently, it just doesn’t appear to have the horsepower.

Outside of the triples/VR complaints, the PC graphics also don’t look that much better than the PS4, even with Ultra settings and anisotropic filtering and anti-aliasing maxed out.  It’s odd.

Makes you question if there’s even a reason to purchas the PC version?  If you don’t have something like an ultrawide monitor or one with higher refresh rate, then I don’t really see any advantage, just the headache of dealing with a PC (said by someone who’s gaming PC currently won’t post and is in the endless Microsoft startup repair loop….).

I’m not sure if I should be impressed by the PlayStation 4 version or disappointed by the PC version?  I think it’s a little of both.  But at least at the core it’s the same game experience, an experienced I quite enjoyed.

Keep an eye out for more F1 2016 content from us over the coming weeks, including a look at the multiplayer on the PS4, more Test Drives from Billy, and lastly our review on August 19th.