A great reader submission to kick off the long weekend, Ruben Lopez has written to us summarizing the disaster that has been not just F1 2015, but the previous five games in the series as well.
As someone who played the Codemasters F1 games religiously from 2010 to 2014, all the negative feedback I’m reading about this year’s edition (I didn’t dare buy the new game) does not come as a not surprise. The series stalled long ago, and every new release rarely added anything. Even if the progress made since F1 2010 is evident, looking back, all I can think of is how my expectations got lower and lower every year to the point where I simply did not care anymore about their games.
I remember my first days playing F1 2010. We had been deprived of F1 games since the infamous Formula One Championship Edition on PS3. At that point I would have bought anything anyone released. It wasn’t hard to please me, and F1 2010 I felt was worthy of a purchase when it came out. Almost everything was magnitudes better than the last Studio Liverpool effort; the biggest leap forward was the driving itself and the pad optimization.
For the first time in ages, an F1 game felt very comfortable to drive with a pad. The triggers were more than capable enough of applying throttle and braking inputs smoothly, and more surprisingly, steering with a joystick was OK-ish. It was easy to be consistent and the fuel loads and tyre wear affected laptimes just as much as you would expect in a F1 race. It was not anymore a struggle to see how many times the jerky steering would make you mess up every lap.
But the cars didn’t mimic their real life counterparts: the top speeds in almost every track were excessive, the brakes behaved as if they were made of steel and the braking distances were huge. Around the corners, the handling of the cars was simplified and bland, and canned effects were all over the place. The rear grip was almost binary; either totally gripping or not gripping at all. Slides caused by wheelspin were impossible to catch. Admittedly, you could get away with all sorts of over the top inputs, but once you passed the absurdly high grip limits, you were executed with no warning. Driving over high curbs also caused auto-spins with no chance to save it. Locking the front brakes was only possible if you applied maximum brake pressure and huge steering inputs. Once you knew you were going to spin, jumping on the brakes stopped the rotation momentum instantly and your car would magically straighten itself.
Codemasters had a lot of work ahead, but it still looked like a solid platform to build on. The vibe the game had was quite serious, and that gave me hope. There were no concessions made for accessibility in certain areas like the cockpit view. If a car seating position was obstructed in real life, it also was in the game. If the mirrors were on top of winglets miles away from our virtual heads (as the 2010 regulations allowed), they were like that in the game and you had to cope with it. If F1 2010 could talk, it would say “I’m trying to be serious, give me time and I’ll get good”.
But slowly, that initial enthusiasm went away. While the driving experience was significantly better every year as the bad handling traits were removed, some other aspects saw little to no progress, or even huge steps backwards.
Track limits are a prime example: the same huge curbs that would mercilessly spin you around in 2010 became completely flat and had just no effect whatsoever on the car. Over-reaction at its finest. Add grippy astroturf and grass to the mix, and track limits became a mockery. This problem was a constant over the years, and this is how a World Record lap looked like in F1 2011 and its successors:
Watching single-seaters bashing high curbs with the undertray, the inside wheels on grass every corner, and flooring it out of turns with the rear wheels on astroturf or grass was cringe-worthy. If you under-steered off the track already using all the lateral grip you had and put your loaded outside wheels on grass, the car would still come easily back to the track. If you hit the brakes with two wheels on tarmac and two on grass, nothing would happen. Half of the calendar became useless for online racing because the layout forced you to either drive like a jerk and abuse the tracks, or give away two seconds per lap to your fellows. Also in Single Player against the AI, if things weren’t going well, the opportunity to cheat the tracks badly was always there.
It looked like they didn’t take the userbase seriously and they didn’t want to allow us to take the training wheels off. No matter how much some players insisted that the tracks allowed for too much abuse, nothing was ever done about it. In fact, some high curbs that were perceived as dangerous were directly taken off the tracks in their games.
The game setup feature was bugged all these years too. The whole setup section was just some bars asking you “how fast you want to go today, Sir?” There was a fast side, and a slow side, and within one week you knew perfectly what you needed to do. The fastest values were always on one of the extremes of the available range. This was adding insult to injury because in some trailers for F1 2010, Steve Hood was talking about how teams arrived to a track with 90% of the setup done, and he wanted his games to reflect that. Well, instead of being given a solid baseline setup that you could tweak for some extra tenths, you were given default setups miles off the pace.
That impacted negatively the multiplayer aspect. If you didn’t want to be a scrub and drive ridiculous setups that you KNEW were bullshit (like minimum downforce for Hungary, or lowest ride height at Monaco), you would carry a huge handicap around. The player base got split between exploiters and non-exploiters and the even field of play disappeared.
Oh, talking about fairness… the “equal cars” setting for online races (so a Red Bull and a Sauber performed the same way) didn’t REALLY give people equal cars. This was a common compliant for years that was NEVER solved. You can imagine the impact in leagues…
The cockpit cameras were dumbed-down following some loud moaning from the player base after 2010. The only actual problem with these in the first game was that the mirrors in the Ferrari were blocked by the headrest, but plenty of people complained about how “they couldn’t see anything”. The new approach CM took regarding cockpit cameras reminds me of this video…
It was as if Usain Bolt had explained them what you see out of a Formula 1 car.
The serious vibe started going away. It didn’t look Codemasters were trying to be accurate anymore. They were dumbing down whatever they thought it was too much for us clueless monkeys to handle. It became evident what Codemasters wanted their games to be. If some of the previous examples were not enough to illustrate that, then the damage model they kept using will surely do it: you could survive anything that was not a full speed shunt head on to a wall.
Suspensions would just not break and wheels would not come of the car unless you intentionally tried to kill your virtual driver.Worst of all, when this issue was raised, Codies replied in their forums with a strawman argument:
Community: Guys, bump up damage sensitivity please. Cars are tanks.
Codemasters: The F1 license won’t allow further damage to be shown, sorry.
We didn’t want to see Fernando Alonso crawling out of a car on fire, upside down and with blood on the overalls. We wanted the damage already present in the game to be triggered by smaller impacts, so you couldn’t wall-bounce your way to the finish line of the Monaco GP.
If all the previous problems weren’t enough, some technical issues came out of nowhere. F1 2010 looked and ran OK in all platforms. Everything released for PlayStation after that looked and ran horribly year after year. There was some serious trouble with the anti-aliasing in the PS3 releases, and everything looked like it had sharp edges, from the cars to the white lines. F 1 2011 was the worst offender… It looked like Minecraft! What the hell, some cars built with Minecraft look as good as the 2011 game´s cars…
The framerate was also very low for PlayStation players… it struggled to stay over 30 in a lot of situations. This problem was mitigated a bit in the 2013 and 2014. I’m not one to complain about graphics or eye candy in a driving game: if the textures don’t look impressive, it doesn’t matter too much, if the lighting isn’t stunning I don’t care, but hey, the game MUST run fluid. Driving at 20 FPS is just frustrating, and some tracks and traffic situations took the game to this absymal FPS level very often.
Codemasters found yet another way to shoot themselves in the foot with some weird ass decisions like removing the Friday Free Practice sessions from their officially licensed game, introducing stupid game modes no one played (express seasons? Scenario mode? WTF!?!) while removing stuff like career or the ability to build a custom season. They wasted time and resources in useless game modes but they never listened to some universal demands like online practice sessions or an option to lock everybody to default setups in a custom lobby.
I don’t know if there´s a moral in this story, but I like to think that whoever takes the F1 license next time will look back at this and take their customers seriously. Formula 1 is the biggest auto racing series in the world, but whoever comes next must make sure that when a hardcore F1 fan sits behind the wheel (or the pad) there is a sweet spot for them to have fun with the game. Being forced to drive tanks around tracks with blurry limits is not satisfying.
I wish I could write a proper response to this great submission, but I can’t. F1 isn’t very popular in Canada, as you have to understand that most races occur anywhere from 3AM to 5AM North American time; the sweet spot where they’re just a bit too late to stay up past your bedtime for, and too early to set your alarm and wake up early for. So the sport itself is really hard to follow.
One of these days I’ll torrent F1 2010 and see what all the fuss is about, since a lot of people seem to consider the first Codemasters entry as the best in the series, and my personal favorite would be F1 2011 as I felt it handled the best on an Xbox 360 Controller. Played through half of a co-op season with my friend and it wasn’t too bad, although two things have always bugged me with the Codemasters F1 games.
- The AI sucks. In some sectors, they’re mind-numbingly retarded and you can pull away from them with ease. In other sectors, they’re almost a full second faster than you. I was dicking around in F1 2014 the other night trying to run a race at Albert Park. In sector 1, I was killing everyone. Half a lap later, the entire field was on my ass. I have no idea where that speed came from. I wrote a pretty detailed piece on my experience with the AI here.
- Penalty enforcement sucks. As I mentioned above, I did half of an online co-op season with my buddy in F1 2011. We had to restart each race numerous times because even the slightest bump from an AI car, contact that was totally unintentional, would warrant us a grid penalty of several positions. Shanghai was the worst offender, where the crazy opening hairpin had a few AI cars slam into the back of us, and of course, the game deemed that was our fault.
Oh and online is a clusterfuck of people who can’t drive, but that’s a given.
I’ve got F1 Championship Edition and the biggest issue I have with the game is the kamikaze AI and the accuracy of some tracks on the schedule, Imola being the worst offender. Seriously, it’s just bad. I think if you gave Studio Liverpool a few more years, you could have had a pretty decent game by the 2008 or 2009 season.
The problem Codemasters is dealing with right now is a lack of funds, and just putting a game out on store shelves each years is their top priority. I’m sure the devs all want to have a quality F1 product, but to keep the studio afloat, they have to ship something regardless of the state it’s in to guarantee sales. With the ballooning cost of developing video games, this has been the norm for quite some time.
And it’s sad.