A few days ago, Codemasters announced the latest Formula One game, in the form of F1 2016. Released in August, it will be their eighth title since taking over from Studio Liverpool (Psygnosis).
As the inevitable hype begins to build up, fan expectation is always high each year. Then, when release time comes, it is the ultimate anti-climax. Are Codemasters the right developer to evolve the series on current-gen consoles?
A new beginning
Previously, a majority of licensed Formula One titles were exclusive to Sony’s PlayStation consoles. The last of these was Formula One Championship Edition on the PS3. Thus, F1 2009 was the first official title for a lot of people, albeit limited to the Nintendo Wii and PSP.
Their next product, based on the 2010 season, is often perceived to be the first ‘true’ Codemasters F1 title. For the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC, several aspects of the game improved, especially in terms of visuals.
Despite many glitches, F1 2010 received praise for its high-octane driving experience. It appealed to both hardcore and casual players. Not only in the form of the single-player career, but also in multiplayer lobbies (the first time some would experience F1 online).
Adding new layers to gameplay such as the safety car and KERS/DRS, F1 2011 was an improvement. This included a slicker menu interface – both on and off-track – that was more presentable.
Codemasters kept the series fresh in 2012, with the addition of ‘Champions Mode’. This was a multitude of challenges against the six world champions competing that season. Plus, there was ‘Season Challenge’, a condensed campaign for those who found career exhausting.
In 2013, Codemasters included various vehicles and tracks from the 1980s and 1990s. Despite the gaping absence of classic McLarens, the ability to revisit previous decades of the sport was exciting for many.
The classic cars in F1 2013 was excellent content, and held up well on its own alongside the main game
From innovation to regression
Then, something happened – F1 2014 happened. It was the first time Codemasters failed to add anything new. Furthermore, it was only previous-gen consoles, despite the PS4 and Xbox One being out for a year.
The removal of features prompted negative reaction, fuelled by what was seen by many as a half-hearted cash grab. F1 2014 was devoid of inspiration at best.
With this in mind, many believed Codemasters dedicated their resources to producing a next-gen title. Some fans, although they chose not to buy the game, empathised with the developer’s need to release a mandatory game, and raise money.
Announced with great hype, F1 2015 was a graphical improvement, but disappointed. Even though the handling in 2015 was the best in the series, it was a second successive game which was nowhere near a match for previous titles.
With this in mind, it is clear the quality of Codemasters’ F1 games is regressing at an alarming rate.
With the removal of many features at once, Codemasters’ decision to release a barebones F1 2014 antagonised a majority of the fanbase
Codemasters the hypemasters
With the announcement made for F1 2016, you can’t help but notice it like last year’s. Advertising the career mode and safety car as ‘new’ features, when they are ‘returning’.
To be cynical, the ‘rich car upgrade system’ seems like the R&D upgrades in previous games. The ‘captured development engineer’ resembles the mechanic from F1 2013’s Young Driver’s Test. The ‘player agent’ likely harks back to the days of the agent in F1 2010’s career mode.
For those who are new to Codemasters F1 games, these features are a huge breath of fresh air. But, for those who have been buying F1 games since 2010, these are not new features. From analysing the content of the 2016 announcement, there is not a lot to shout about. Nothing stands out other than Azerbaijan’s new street circuit and the new Haas F1 team.
So what has initial the fan reaction been this year? Reception is indifferent – both on Codemasters’ Facebook page, and on racing forum RaceDepartment. The return of the career mode may be a selling point for some, others are wary about purchasing this year round. Or, at least until waiting until more information is available.
As approximate sales figures have shown, the number of players re-purchasing has decreased year-on-year. This suggests Codemasters have their work cut out winning disgruntled fans back.
The best-selling title has been F1 2011 (2.45 million copies), followed by F1 2010 (2.3m), with F1 2012 (1.71m) in third. The games which have sold the least copies? F1 2015 (0.89m) and F1 2014 (0.83m) are at the bottom of the standings.
Here is the safety car, a ‘new’ feature to F1 games, despite being present in previous titles
Cause for complacency
As the pinnacle of motorsport, Formula One games should be leading titles of the racing genre. Not only are Codemasters up against Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport, but others too. The likes of Project CARS and Assetto Corsa will also make it difficult for Codemasters to make an impact.
Sales figures depleting, and the quality of games are regressing. There will be better titles in thegenre to compete against in the future. Are Codemasters the right company to continue developing Formula One games?
The series has definitely stagnated, to the point where it feels as though Codemasters are stuck for ideas. No features are new, hence the excessive promotion of the career mode in an attempt to placate the fans.
So what could Codemasters do to revitalise F1 games? Besides reintroducing past content – such classic content – there are so many ideas. What about a career mode spanning seasons since 2010, including rule and driver changes? What about an advanced career mode in which you can create a team (including designing the car)? Or even the inclusion of junior series GP2 and GP3?
It is understandable that hands may be tied due to licensing issues with FOM (Formula One Management), but there are ways to keep things fresh. Polished visuals and the return of features which should exist anyway is not enough to entice players from better racing games.
With the recent acquisition of Evolution Studios , it is a fantastic opportunity for new input. Part of Codemasters’ problem is being the only developer who has the official F1 license. This has bred complacency, shown by releasing half-hearted games because they know people will buy them.
What’s next for F1 games long-term?
F1 2016 could be be make-or-break for Codemasters. 2014 was poor, 2015 was poor, and the last thing needed for both the developer and FOM is a hat-trick. Another bad F1 game doesn’t reflect well for the sport, and for those hoping to take an interest in F1 from the games.
Regardless, if people continue to fall for the hype like years gone by, F1 2016 will sell. It may not sell as well as previous years, but it will make enough money for FOM’s satisfaction. In this case, Codemasters will still remain unpressured to improve their products.
Fans continue to fall for the hype, continue to buy the games, and continue to complain about them (despite falling the the hype in the first place). The cycle will continue. Like Codemasters, we could be here next year, releasing the same article, with no new features!