F1 2014 is the fifth Codemasters game in the Formula One franchise to be released on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles, and likely to be their last appearance ahead of F1 2015 on PS4 and Xbox One around May next year.
The sport itself has had a refresh this year after the biggest change in regulations of a generation. Out goes the naturally aspirated 2.4 litre V8's and in come turbo charged (through energy recovery) 1.6 litre V6's. Of course, the biggest consequence of this change is the engine sound - gone is the notable scream, replaced with a guttural, throaty sound. In addition, cars now have eight gears, high torque and limited fuel allowance. How have Codemasters done to replicate these changes at the first attempt? One word: impressive.
Sure, there are legacy traits from previous iterations of Codemasters' F1 franchise in terms of presentation and technical points of view, but strip all that away and we have a very accomplished racing game that truly reflects Formula One in 2014.
However, it isn't all good.
Upon loading the game for the first time, you are requested to do the Driver Evaluation Test. This replaces the Young Driver Test from 2012 and 2013. Having left everything on default and completed the test, the recommendation was to run the game on Very Easy. After changing a few settings and running the test again, the recommendation was to run the game on Custom. This feature was intended to understand your driving ability and pit you against a worthy competitor, yet it is unlikely to be used again throughout the game, which is disappointing to see.
The Career Mode allows you to select any team you want this time around; so no need to start in a lowly Marussia or Caterham and work your way up. Having opted for a Mercedes, I took Nico Rosberg's seat. It's just a shame you can't select which driver you would like to have as your teammate. Regardless, all of a sudden you are learning a new race craft whilst being expected to finish the season as one of the top guys.
At this point, this review can only go one of two ways. In terms of a racing game reviewed purely on the racing element, it is one of the best racing experiences that replicates Formula One very well. The cars drive very differently to previous games, and having to get to grips (literally) with high torque wheel spinning is a new but fun challenge. It's great to see that, even with all assists off playing with a gamepad, Codemasters have been able to recreate the skittishness of the cars wrestling around corners, yet you still remain in complete control of the car instead of simply spinning out. It's very enjoyable, giving a real sense of being able to push and find the limits of the car and track.
The AI is respectful of the space around you and I experienced some genuine undercut passing manoeuvres on me, and vice-versa. Tyre management is much more on cue this year as well, so you don't have to make additional stops just to get to the end of the race. This is surprising bearing in mind the increased amount of wheel spin experienced on first, second and third gears.
Wheel control is generally good - Codemasters have often been among the best developers when it comes to standard wheel support, and default settings should allow any driver the precision required in maximising performance. However, throttle control is tricky and sometimes unpredictable with some curbs causing wheel spin or an unexpected loss of traction. It is possible to minimise this but not remove it entirely without losing pace or track position.
Physics are serviceable on the whole. It may lack certain elements of depth, such as tyres breaking friction with the track surface as they reach the level of grip on a corner, or lateral suspension movement as the tyres flex. But the basics are all there, with throttle and brake input finding an interesting medium that works out to generating virtually perfect game to life lap times around the new Sochi circuit.
That said the other way to review this game is looking at the product as a whole. The menus, race engineer audio, interfaces, animations are all the same as last year. Whilst they have removed the garish turquoise blue colour scheme on the menus, it does initially look like they have only put a lick of paint on the game. It goes further in to the career mode, too: the emails read the same as last year, Sabine Walker returns as your manager and more emails from your team about tyre wear which once read just become an annoyance. Taking this into account, the game does let itself down.
Some fans will also likely be disappointed that you cannot select your own racing number for the career mode, the parade lap and victory lap remain elusive and there is no podium celebration.
Graphically, however, this is the best looking F1 game ever on PlayStation 3. The sun beams across Albert Park, rain effects and the impressive backdrops of Austria and Sochi really do look impressive in this iteration. Frame rate also looks far more consistent than it has in the past. Whilst this is far from what the PC version can achieve, it is a great looking game as this generation bows out.
Codemasters was always going to get a backlash for not releasing F1 2014 on the new generation of consoles. They took the long-term decision to release F1 2014 on last-gen: the result is a good racing experience, and anyone who wants to try out these new cars won't be disappointed from that aspect. There are new tracks, new cars, new liveries, new drivers, and new engine audio - this is definitely not F1 2012 or 2013 with DLC. F1 2014 signs off this generation of F1 games in great shape and is overall an impressive step forward that bodes well for future iterations of the franchise.
Rating: 7/10 (PlayStation 3 / Xbox360)
Rating: 7/10 (PC)