EVEN in a generation packed with driving titles, Codemasters’ simulation has never been threatened by competition. In contrast to the majority of its rivals, it places the emphasis on precision and discipline rather than a raucous pedal to the metal affair. For the fanatical band of motorsports fans, it has become a much-loved and accurate simulation of the sport, leaving other games free to follow a wilder, arcade-style path.
The latest F1, however, has something for both camps. As with previous years, the game encourages patience and prudence, with an infinity of technical bells and whistles to be tinkered with in order to maximise performance. The handling and mechanics of each car are second to none, while the sleek presentation now customary with every Codemasters driving game has been buffed and polished further. Everything is in place for those determined to slog through the global circuit, following a sequence of qualifications and full-length races. A handful of welcome tweaks add to the experience, especially the ability to save sessions during races. True, saving your game may not accurately mirror reality, but having the choice is long overdue.
The greatest step forward in this year’s edition, however, is a refreshing nod the past, thanks to the incorporation of classic cars, drivers and tracks of yesteryear, along with the familiar voice of an ageing Murray Walker. In the hands of many developers, the F1 Classics mode could have easily been a perfunctory affair, with rebranded liveries and the like disguising the same old game. A few minutes behind the wheel of a 1980s F1 car, however, and it is clear Codemasters have done their homework. In contrast to the precise, refined vehicles of today, they are hulking, unwieldy beasts offering a thrilling blast of power and an entirely different experience. Simple things like navigating a few laps in them without crashing, or accelerating out from a tight corner while maintaining control of the back end of the car feel like hard won achievements, and they provide a stark reminder of the seismic changes that have taken place in F1 over the past few decades.
The Classics mode is an excellent example of a developer using a licence in an enterprising and thoughtful way, and it is an approach that would breath new life into other titles robbed of innovation by the demand for annual updates. Sadly, they would be advised not to mimic Codemasters entirely - inspiring though the addition is, only a handful of the classic cars and tracks are available to buyers of the standard edition. The rest must be paid for by DLC (or via a Classic retail edition). It is difficult not to view such a strategy as cynical, and it serves to sour what is an otherwise assured and imaginative update of a tried and tested series. Some might say the pursuit of profit is an accurate depiction of the world of Formula One, but as Codemasters have shown this year, a licence can go beyond slavish imitation.