Racing games come in a wide variety of styles and formats, from astoundingly realistic simulators to gloriously goofy kart racers. You can choose from a range of vehicles, too. If race cars aren’t your thing, try motorcycles, big rigs, jet skis or monster trucks. I prefer futuristic hover bikes, myself.
Fans of this kind of open-wheel racing – much more popular in Europe than the U.S. – like to talk about the extreme precision required in Formula One competition. One mistake on the track will put you into the wall or another car – or the hospital.
That’s certainly the experience with “F1 2014” – minus the hospital – which even on the easier difficulty settings requires quick reactions and full concentration. The game provides a number of different driving assist tools for the beginning racer, but even with extra help, it’s a steep learning curve.
Part of the problem is that console controllers are really not built for this kind of precision work. (Really serious racing gamers often invest in dedicated wheel-and-pedal gaming seats.) Handling the hairpin turns of F1 tracks requires split-second timing with throttle, braking and steering.
Here’s the upside: With “F1 2014” flipped to automatic transmission, you have only three control aspects to worry about. Left thumbstick steers, right trigger accelerates and left trigger brakes. After putting in some time on “F1 2014,” I started to understand the appeal of the game.
The driving physics in high-end simulators like this are demanding, but they’re consistent. Tackle the same course in the same car enough times, and you will eventually start to intuit the best way to handle the turns and straightaways. One of the driving assists, extremely helpful early on, is a guide rail graphic that indicates optimum angles and brake points. As you approach a tricky hairpin, the green marker turns yellow or red, suggesting the amount of brake you’ll want to apply.
It’s all about repetition – in my experience, anyway. Running the same track over and over appeals to my OCD tendencies, and I got a disproportionate thrill when I managed to shave a few seconds off my lap time.
Like most heavy-duty racing games, “F1 2014” gives you plenty of options for advanced geekery. The game’s main Career mode lets you choose the length of your racing season, then proceed to work your way through each race weekend in sequence – practice, qualifying and the big event itself.
In Rivals mode, you assume the role of a rookie on a small-time team, then make your name by taking down rival racers and climbing up the Formula One ladder. In the newly expanded Scenario mode, you’re given specific racing challenges – racing up from the back of the pack or surviving a rain-slick course.
Multiplayer options include local split-screen and and full online grids supporting up to 16 racers with additional AI vehicles.
The graphics in “F1 2014” are entirely satisfying – I liked the rain-day races in particular – and the sound design is impressive. Be sure to turn up the volume if you have a home theater setup; there’s something intrinsically compelling about a screaming high performance engine cranked to 11. The excitable race announcers add a nice European flair.
I don’t know that I’ll spend too much more time with “F1 2014.” The game is clearly designed for dedicated Formula One fans. But I was surprised at how much fun it is to dip into hardcore European racing for a while. Just don’t tell my dad. He’s a NASCAR guy, and he’d never forgive me.