Finally, it's time for a little Formula One action in the current generation. If you put aside the cameo appearances of F1-style cars in other titles, we've yet to get our F1 fix on Xbox One. That was due to Codemasters deciding that they were going to release F1 2014 for last-gen machines back in September, whilst creating a "new experience" for the newer consoles which would be released this year. We were disappointed at the wait but figured it would be worth it to head into a shiny new Formula One career in F1 2015, starting with a smaller team and fighting for every inch of track and pushing to shave every tenth of a second off our lap times in under-powered machines in order to get a contract offer from the big boys once again. Indeed, Codemasters' F1 series is the only game in recent years to make the battle for 18th place be something that was genuinely tense and rewarding. We were looking forward to seeing how the increased power of the console would affect things.
Initially, it appears to affect things in a positive way. The enhanced visuals and increased framerate – an attempt at a full 60fps which doesn't quite make it but is still perfectly acceptable and playable – make things look great. There's screen tearing in bundles, but you'll be so fixated on driving that it won't cause you all that much of an issue. The more testing courses on the F1 calendar are more difficult than ever, with the likes of the Monaco circuit being a far more claustrophobic and more nervy experience than in any other F1 game made to date. The sense of speed is on the money, too. Hitting those apexes just right, mastering your braking points and putting in that perfect lap is more intense and more rewarding than it has ever been before, thanks to a new handling model that is easy enough for new players to pick up, but challenging enough to keep hardcore players involved.
Speaking of hardcore players, a new "Pro Season" mode has been introduced that locks the camera to cockpit view, takes away all of your assists (including automatic gearing), sets the AI difficulty to the top level, and forces you to take part in full-length races. We'd imagine that a single-digit percentage of people will take this mode into consideration, but it's nice for them to have the option. The less fanatical will enjoy taking part in a standard championship season where they select whichever team they'd like to drive for and then race through the full 19 race season in the shoes of a real-world F1 driver. Failing that, they can take on a few quick races, or try to best their rivals in F1 2015's Time Trial mode.
What they can't do however, is play any sort of career mode, since there isn't one. It'll hopefully be back in F1 2016 according to an interview that Codemasters took part in just days before F1 2015's release. Cold comfort if you've been anticipating this year's edition, no doubt.
So, fighting your way up from the bottom of the grid over a number of seasons is out, which will be a massive blow to a lot of players. Especially when the standard single season mode still contains targets for you to beat (as you used to get in career mode) that now do nothing other than reward you with a message saying that you met your objective. To be fair, it's not like the objectives were ever thought through very well anyway and nothing has changed there. If you defy the odds and somehow qualify 12th in a Manor – which is usually two or three seconds a lap slower than the rest of the grid – your team director will still expect you to finish in 8th, rather than praising you through the roof and praying that you won't finish last. It's the same as it was in the previous six titles, but why it's even here at all without the rest of the career mode just boggles the mind. Still, it isn't a game breaker really, more an indication of the shoddy, rushed nature of things.
After playing a few single player races, some will turn to the game's various multiplayer modes to provide longevity. They will be roundly disappointed. Every single multiplayer mode is absolutely riddled with bugs that make the game unplayable. Start a race and you'll find someone has been declared the winner for crossing the starting line. In the next race, you'll be awarded the fastest lap after only being on the third turn, before watching all the cars get stuck in the pits six laps later behind an AI driver that has gotten confused. In the next, you'll get to the front of the pack, lead all the way up until the final bend and then watch as you're demoted to 2nd place and somebody else is declared the race winner, even though they started on the 4th row of the grid and haven't even been listed as being in second place, let alone ever passing you. Or you'll take part in a one-shot qualifying session and put in a respectable time to qualify in third, then see that the game has decided that your time was actually about 15 seconds slower than it initially said and that you're now starting at the back of the grid. Failing that, you'll play through a mini-championship online and put together a respectable haul of points over the first three races, only to see that before the fourth starts, you've randomly had all of your points taken away. That's if you get that far, since often nobody in the game will be able to select a car, so the game never starts. Or the "skip this track" voting that's supposed to take thirty seconds gets stuck for five minutes at a time. Or the game just kicks you out to the main menu without warning. There's no way to sugarcoat it, since there are problems with literally every single race that you attempt to play. If you do get off to a nice clean start without any issues, you'll likely be put into a wall by a griefer behind you. Then given a five second penalty for initiating the crash.
So, career mode and multiplayer modes are out. Back to the single championship season it is, then. There's fun to be had here for sure, although there's a chance you won't be able to play through things as you'd like to. If you're a fan of the short 25% races for example, you can't take part in a full qualifying session as you used to be able to. Instead, you're limited to one-shot qualifying. When you hit the grid, you'll be asked to determine your pit strategy. This has also been limited to the point that you can choose which tyres you want to start on and…that's it. If you're the sort of racer that likes to push the tyres early on to try to open up a lead, you can't change your strategy to pit a lap or two earlier. Again, you used to be able to, but now you can't.
If you're lucky, you'll play through a couple of races where nothing goes wrong. You won't see Felipe Massa suddenly be determined to be a lap ahead of everybody after 30 seconds of the Brazilian GP, meaning that you absolutely cannot win. Every AI racer won't have a 20mph advantage over you coming out of a slow corner every single time for no apparent reason. Your DRS will actually have an effect, as opposed to doing nothing. An AI driver won't barrel across the course out of the pitlane and head for the racing line during his out lap in a practice session, directly in front of you as you start your first timed lap. You won't be propelled into a wall because the pit assist feature doesn't tell you when you're going to be given control of the car again. The pit limiter won't decide to lock you down to 10mph while everyone else gets in at 50, has a tyre change, and drives out of the pits in the time it takes you to even reach your team's garage. You might even be lucky enough to see the supremely overpowered – to the tune of a second and a half or more per lap – Mercedes cars not actually win a race. Our first season through saw Hamilton fastest in practice, Hamilton on pole, and Hamilton win. Every. Single. Race. Well, aside from the Russian Grand Prix, where the AI seems to have a real problem in navigating the track with its usual gusto, so they brake early and allow you to whip around them without much of a fight.
One thing you will see this year though, is retirements from AI drivers. Codemasters have pretty much ignored the fact that not every car on the grid will finish a race in previous years, but they've upped the ante this time around by making it possible for what seems like a maximum of two opposition cars to retire in each race. That's two retirements, even in races where the rain pours from start to finish. At times, drivers will refuse to retire even when you've clearly seen them get smashed into one wall and then into the other on the starting straight. You won't know why they've retired as the details aren't listed in the "incidents" section of the post-race screen, so there's no way of really working out what's happening, barring watching the full race replay. Indeed, although your team director will prattle on endlessly in your ear about your tyres (often incorrectly), how much faster or slower you're lapping than the car ahead (often incorrectly), how far ahead the car in front is (often incorrectly), how much fuel you've got left since he mentioned it half a lap ago (he seems right most of the time with this one), he won't tell you that the car ahead of you has gone spinning into the barricades. Don't expect the safety car – virtual or otherwise – to make an appearance here either, as for whatever reason, it simply hasn't been included. Not that it really matters since, without the challenge of a career mode, you either win the race or you lose it. Someone retiring to promote you to 18th place to beat your objective simply doesn't matter anymore.
Still, at least you get to watch a sub-par animation of Lewis Hamilton standing on the podium when he wins, and drivers being interviewed before the race in similarly marionette-like fashion. Is the "improved" presentation really worth throwing a whole bunch of good stuff out for? We have to say that no, it isn't.
There's a general sense of poor decision making and confusion about a lot of F1 2015, in all honesty. This isn't a game that's been rushed together for a new console launch much in the way that EA do with their franchises so that new console owners aren't ever far away from their sports titles. This is a game that's being released two and a half years after the new machines launched, after the developer specifically decided to not release the last game in the series for them so that they could spend time putting together something worthy of the platform. It just makes no sense.
We're not exactly seeing what the wait was for when it comes to F1 2015. The game is clearly rushed, riddled with bugs and lacking in some relatively basic features. You might spend enough time on track to watch that achievement for spending 10 hours in your car just reset itself and never pop (again, due to a bug) and have a fair amount of fun while you do so, but there's a more likely chance that you'll run into so many issues that you just don't bother turning up for the next race.