Winning the Monaco Grand Prix in my Jammies – F1 2014 is a mixed bag

The dangerous combination of boredom and a rain-shortened NASCAR race meant I found myself scrolling through Steam to check out what was being sold at a discount for their much anticipated Summer Sales event. Eventually I saw that F1 2015 was available for pre-order, and wanting to try out last year’s game to know what to expect in early July when F1 2015 drops, I began Googling F1 2014 to learn more about how the title was received.

Turns out, people hated it.

f1 1F1 2Pushed out as a contractual obligation with genuinely neat features like the historic content from F1 2013 removed, F1 2014 was seen by fans as totally underwhelming. Unexciting cars and a season which saw Mercedes walk away from the rest of the competiton made everyone but the most diehard of Formula One fans skip out on the release, holding out for the next-generation offering that’ll land on store shelves in a month or so. Heck, the only time we’ve covered this game previously is when Team VVV discovered an exploit that turned on a hidden traction control setting – negating any effects of the insane turbochargers that were supposed to make the cars hard to drive.

I torrented it, downloaded all of the essential mods from RaceDepartment, cranked it up to the highest difficulty, and won a full length Monaco Grand Prix in my jammies. It’s alright.

F1_2014 2015-06-15 15-55-20-89There are a couple mods everyone needs to check out before getting into F1 2014. First of all, the Seven Additional Tracks mod is basically unofficial DLC – all tracks found in previous Codemasters F1 titles are fully compatible with the game’s EGO engine, and some guy made all the necessary adjustments to import them into F1 2014. Istanbul, the Nurburgring, Valencia, Korea, Brands Hatch, Jerez, and Buddh are nice additions to the track roster and there’s no reason not to have them – they all retain roughly the same graphical fidelity as the default tracks.

Another useful mod is the 2014 Updated Database. Despite the huge changelog and list of features, the overall explanation for what the mod does is pretty simple – it fixes a bunch of AI issues that have plagued the Codemasters F1 games since F1 2010 – and gives Red Bull, Ferrari, and Williams a fighting chance against Mercedes.

Lastly, with the Ryder BXML Converter, I made my own cockpit camera adjustments. The default cockpit view sucks, and I prefer to be able to adjust my seat position as if I’m playing a traditional ISI sim. I’m one of those annoying dudes who swears by correct FOV and seat position settings, but compared to the original cockpit view the game ships with, it’s easy to see why. I raised my seat position and increased the FOV for a better sense of speed.

F1_2014 2015-06-15 16-07-39-49 This was the biggest shocker for me since one look at the name of the developer and you’re preparing for the worst. Once I’d gotten everything set up, my camera position where I wanted it, and all of the random mods configured properly, clicking off laps wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. The cars in F1 2014 weren’t as lightning quick as the FRR cars in Race07, but they had a lot of the same basic properties. They were twitchy, responsive, and generally responded well to whatever you asked it to do. The game engine didn’t let you do the crazy braking that ISI sims let you get away with, and running test laps at Brands Hatch and Interlagos were strangely satisfying. It wasn’t on the level of Assetto Corsa or Stock Car Extreme in terms of physics engine depth, but I was having fun, and I don’t even follow Formula One.

The turbos are a game changer. Team VVV ragged on Codemasters for the secret traction control feature, and I did the same when we ran the article linking to them, but actually making laps, it’s easy to see why this was included for console players. Nobody with a controller would be able to manage the throttle on exit in an efficient manner if you totally removed this assist for the casual players. If you’ve got your shit together and have gotten used to some of the 80’s cars with turbos that are found in Assetto Corsa, rolling on the throttle is a skill you’ve already acquired. It’s satisfying and feels natural when you do it right.

And it really sucks when you get it wrong. Sometimes the car does a perfect burnout in a straight line. Others, it feels like you’re about to loop the car, leading you to start working on the wheel to save yourself from impending doom, and it’s like the game activates a light traction control feature that prevents you from spinning entirely. I think Gran Turismo 6 calls this skid recovery assist – whatever it is, F1 2014 has it and it makes any sort of wheelspin at the rear feel really awkward and unpredictable. Unless you’re a killer driver already, expect to be dealing with this scenario a lot. Where iRacing would send you into a deadly slide, F1 2014 instead activates a temporary set of training wheels, and it makes your efforts to save the car look very strange and unnatural when watching the ordeal in replay mode.

Thankfully, you can avoid these situations altogether by not driving the car like a retard. The game doesn’t require you to drive in a way where you’re constantly sending the tires to the limit and breaking traction, instead rewarding you for smooth inputs and gradual throttle application. Unfortunately the majority of F1 2014’s player base probably can’t get the car into this sort of rhythm, hence the widespread complaints.

I’m sure with the restructuring at Codemasters, this odd tire behavior will be mostly dialed out for F1 2015 given how good DiRT Rally feels.

F1_2014 2015-06-15 15-57-13-94Car setups were handled in a way I really like. I’m decent at making setups for proper racing sims, but when it comes to a title like F1 2014, I want to focus on the racing first, and all of the simulator stuff should take a backseat. F1 2014 offers both simple sliders (above) where you can choose an overall configuration for your car, as well as a more hardcore setup menu for people who want to fine tune.

The Quick Setup option proved it’s worth on-track, which was really nice. Taking Kevin Magnussen’s McLaren out for practice laps, and an eventual short race at Brands Hatch, I was easily able to mix it up with the leaders. The car always felt neutral no matter what I did with the slider, and in the end it let me focus on the racing like I wanted to.

F1_2014 2015-06-15 16-07-59-48As I mentioned in the name of this post, the best way to test the complete F1 2014 package was in a 100% race length Monaco Grand Prix, with all assists turned off and the AI set to Legend. Usually when I write lengthy posts on here I always make sure to use my own screenshots, but I didn’t realize that oh shit I’m doing a full length Monaco race and should probably take pictures until about ten laps in – and by that time I was too involved in the race to start pausing shit and messing with Fraps.

So here’s a screenshot of a loading screen with an astronomically high laps led stat after three hours of play to get the point across.

F1_2014 2015-06-15 15-51-02-02Legend AI with the 2014 Database mod promised killer AI and that’s what I got during qualifying. I opted for the one-shot format because I’m a NASCAR guy from when NASCAR still went to Rockingham, and I put Kevin Magnussen’s McLaren on pole with a 1:16.8xx. Starting on the front row with me would be Lewis Hamilton, with a 1:17.1xx. It’s safe to say that I was flying.

I got an alright jump on the two Mercedes cars and drove away from the field in turn one. I looked back to see the entire pack of cars slowed to a crawl for no apparent reason, and immediately thought did someone wreck? Not two turns later and Hamiltion had made up the five second gap from the AI issues in turn one. I have no idea how he accomplished this – it was the most extreme case of rubberbanding I’ve ever seen. Rosberg was somewhere behind him.

I assume it’s because we were at Monaco, but Hamilton didn’t even bother passing me and seemed totally content to ride behind me for the duration of the first stint. Even with the DRS zone on the front straight providing the #44 car with a gigantic overtaking opportunity, he never took it. As I got more and more comfortable with the car and track, I slowly distanced myself from the two Mercedes cars. With the gap increasing each lap, I dialed back my fuel settings, and this is where I started to get confused. I had no idea how much fuel I started with, no idea what fuel mixture to run, no idea when I’d be pitting, no idea how much fuel I was consuming per lap, and generally no idea what the gameplan was for the long haul. This is sort of important in a 78 lap race.

Out of habit I switched to the lean mix, and after a few laps was told by my race engineer that I was doing a good job of saving fuel. Look, I’ve done rFactor leagues, Stock Car Extreme leagues, I want some numbers so I know what’s going on. I wanted precise info from my race engineer, and I was getting vague info. He seemed more concerned with sounding like a race engineer than being a race engineer.

Adding to the confusion over fuel strategy were the reports I’d been receiving on Hamilton. I was often told by my race engineer that the #44 car was running on full mixture and to expect him to close the gap. This made no sense to me, as I was on full fuel conservation mode, barely topping out fifth gear when I’d usually be hitting sixth, and had increased the gap between myself and Chocolate Senna to 5.3 seconds.

You aren’t supposed to be able to do this in a McLaren.

F1_2014 2015-06-15 16-18-35-47Around lap 28 or 29, one of the Marussia cars blew up in sector three and the Safety Car came out. I was really surprised at how well Codemasters implemented this feature – partial control is given to the player, allowing you to warm your tires, but your speed is limited and you obviously can’t hit the safety car like an ass. The gap between myself and Hamilton had evaporated.

Ten laps later, we cycled through pit stops. Again, the process was handled surprisingly well. You’re allowed to fly balls out into pit lane and the game magically slows you down without a penalty, but for this kind of game, I prefer this simplistic approach. By the time the front runners had all finished their stops, I was 2.3 seconds ahead of Hamilton. And I thought it would be another process of steadily pulling away from Mercedes.

Codemasters didn’t want me to win.

Like all long races, you eventually catch lapped traffic, and you’re supposed to use these guys as rolling picks on the opposition like we’re playing basketball or something. I’d strategically get around the Caterham and Lotus cars right at the end of sector one, leaving the two Mercedes cars to navigate the backmarkers through the Casino Hairpin. Codemasters didn’t like when I did that. Both Hamilton and Rosberg would gain superhuman-like speed after I left them to deal with the backmarkers, and in some cases, close the gap between us. As the race wore on, I’d look back to see Hamilton almost come to a stop to get around the lone Marussia limping around, only to see him gain an entire second on me a few turns later and be right on my ass.

This wasn’t cool.

The rubberbanding knew no bounds. During the first stint, I was utterly destroying the field, Hamilton included. I was literally babying the car around the track and still pulling away while my race engineer told me Hamilton was pushing as hard as he could. Somehow, without any warning, Mercedes found unexplainable speed. With 60 of 78 laps completed, both Hamilton and Rosberg, who at one point had been 27 seconds behind, were now on my bumper. I was destroying these kids in the first two sectors, only for them to magically appear underneath my rear wing going into the final set of corners. I just didn’t understand what was happening.

F1_2014 2015-06-15 16-18-55-46The only way to win was to block. I didn’t waste two hours of my time to get screwed over by the rubber band AI, so I threw some dirty ass blocks and made sure I took home the win. I’m still not sure where Mercedes gained their speed from, although there’s some serious sorcery going on with the AI, even after installing an AI mod that supposedly made things a million times better. 103 minutes later, 17 of 22 cars finished the race, and my legs hurt.

It drives pretty good when you aren’t roasting the tires and looks even better, but there’s some shady shit going on with the AI. There’s your review of F1 2014. Hopefully F1 2015 improves on it and stuff.

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