F1 2015: A Review Hands on The Wheel

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Man. Feral must have been real busy lately. F1 2015 is the latest title ported to you by — you guessed it — Feral Interactive, the first game in the Formula 1 series to be developed for GNU/Linux and — if I’m correct — the third AAA racing title to pave its path onto our beloved Penguin’s platform (see you later, Project CARS). Interestingly enough, there’s no Mac port as of the time of this writing — which, if current estimates are correct, basks in the glory of three times the market share than the open-source-friendly Tux counterpart. Feral was kind enough to lend me a key, so I could have this review for y’all’s information.

It’s all about open-wheel cars this time around. The fact that this game was getting ported didn’t come much of a surprise, seeing as a little someone found an exploit during the free-to-play weekend in March and a beta was playable for a good ten hours or so before Feral stepped in and patched the thing up. As with most of Feral’s ported titles, there’s this neat little launcher that pops up on your screen before the game starts. This box will allow you to change the resolution, run the game in a window, or apply advanced properties, giving you the most optimized experience without having to go to the in-game settings menu.

Like GRID Autosport, most of the tracks in the game — featuring places from countries like Australia, Britain, Italy, Singapore, and Canada — are circuit-based. As you’re listening to the commentators ramble about the race that’s going to take place, the camera gets the perfect angle of each of the courses — a lot of them are quite beautiful. Unlike Autosport, however, there are pit stops in which your team can fix dents, scratches, or mechanical damage on your vehicle, or fuel up the tank should you be low on gas, so you can continue the, uh, fifty-or-so lap race without having to restart. Also, while Autosport has a touch of an arcade feeling to it, F1 2015 takes that a step further. The collisions just don’t feel realistic — a slight tap can send a driver right off-course and into a donut, and while the traction control is great, cornering also feels unrealistic. It’s a bit hard to explain — you would have to try it yourself to understand what I’m getting at.

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Every time the game is launched you will be presented with an option of whether you want to “relive” the 2014 season or try the new 2015 season, and I can tell you, as someone who just got into the F1 series, I was stumped already. Should I try the 2014 season? Or should I try 2015? What’s the difference? So I went with 2014. Later on, I found out there wasn’t much of a difference with the 2015 season — as far as I know, the only thing that changes are some of the drivers. Still. What the heck.

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There’s five different modes: Championship Season, Pro Season, Quick Race, Multiplayer, and Time Trial. I went with the Championship Season, as I was pretty sure that was the campaign mode, and from here I had ten different teams to choose from, two drivers in each, all having the same vehicle (the model name, I’m not sure) and the same stats. So I’m pretty sure the only reason why you would pick a particular team is because of the color of their car or the color of their clothes, or perhaps because they have different tracks to race. Me, I went with Infinity Red Bull Racing, since, you know, I’m a fan of Red Bull. The driver’s name is Sebastian Vettel, my partner being Daniel Ricciardo, and my rival, Lewis Hamilton. You then get to choose the length of the weekend: short, normal, and long. Each accompanies a practice time, length depending on the weekend you chose, a qualifying mode, and then — for the real race — fifteen, thirty, or even sixty laps. Fortunately, I could shorten the race to just three laps, with no practice mode. Eleven rounds later and I’m going, “How many rounds are there in a season?”

Before the race starts you get a chance to customize your vehicle a bit; in particular, the kind of tires (which the game spells as “tyres”) you want. The recommended tire gets selected as default, based on weather conditions. If it’s sunny and dry out, chances are you’ll get either the Option tires (soft tires with the best grip but wear quickly) or the Prime tires (hard tires with good grip and last longer than Option tires). On the other hand, if the track is a little damp, Intermediate tires with light grooves are chosen, or if it’s raining, heavily grooved, full wet tires would be the pick. If you’re playing the Pro Season, you’ll also get to choose the balance between downforce and top speed. The more downforce the car has, the easier it will be to take corners, but top speed is reduced. The less downforce, the more top speed the car gets, but cornering could potentially become an obstacle, if not a nuisance to handle.

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Every time you finish a race in the top three, there’s this cutscene where the guys each take a bottle of champagne (ed. that’s the French spelling) and shower it at the crowd or at each other. At first I was like, “Hey, this is kind of cool and maybe even has a touch of humor to it,” but then it got repetitive. Seeing the same animation over again, the emotionless or weak expressions carrying across their faces, no matter which driver you chose, made me go like, “meh.”

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The AI is a bit weird. I had set the difficulty to medium, and while at times I was easily able to conquer my foes, other times it was obnoxiously difficult to overtake them, taking a good lap or two before I squeezed one position higher.

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I kind of went through the motion doing Championship Season. Pro Season is where it’s at; the camera is forced to cockpit mode, car damage is set to “full,” gears have to be manually shifted, flashbacks are disabled (a thing that allows you to rewind back in time to reverse a mistake you might have made), traction control and anti-brake system is off, the AI is on “Legend” difficulty, and the actual race can be as many as sixty laps. You can’t just jam the right trigger all the way down and expect not to drift to the side; you have to take things slowly and steadily. The HUD is disabled, so when your coach, Jeff, speaks, listen up; he is, essentially, your only source of advice. Every once in a while he’ll talk about the course or make a suggestion, whether it be that your car needs fuel or it needs to be repaired. If your front wing is damaged (and chances are it will), downforce is significantly reduced, making turns difficult. You’ll also hear a whirring noise that gets worse the faster the car goes. Braking too excessively can wear the tires out. This mode may sound like a challenge, but I can say I actually had some fun with this mode. I mean, there’s a whopping three practice sessions — the first two being ninety minutes, the third being an hour — then a twenty-minute qualifying phase, and when that’s all over you still got another sixty or so times around the track to finish one round. Were you to play this in one sitting, you would probably need to devote a whole weekend of your time, but I think this, along with the realistic driving settings, paints a pretty good portrait of what Formula racing is like in the real world.

Quick Race, as the name suggests, allows one to quickly set up a race of their liking — the course, driver, assists, and other rules can be customized. You don’t have any modes you can mess around with; there’s no elimination or checkpoint mode. All you can do is race. Nothing really special about Time Trial either — as with most racing titles, this is where you try to set the fastest record for a race track and compete with your own ghost.

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Something that has been a staple of Codemasters‘ titles is a split-screen feature. Unfortunately, that’s been stripped in F1 2015, and it kind of infuriates me as it’s incredibly hard to find any PC game with split-screen anymore. Rather, you’ll be playing online with other players based on a pre-built set of rules. It’s not dead quite yet – there was twenty-five drivers or so when I last checked the lobbies – but I can tell it’s not going to last much longer. Instead of text chat, the use of voice chat is encouraged. Nobody out of the ten drivers or so I was with spoke, unless you’re counting sniffles or jabs to their gamepads, until this one dude finally passed me.
Sorry man“, he said.

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Turns out later he got a three-second time penalty for illegally overtaking me. A lap or two later, though, I made the same mistake. You can get behind the driver without having to suffer the penalty, but the thing is, you have to do it within ten seconds or so. I lightly tap on the brakes, waiting for him to overtake me. He slows down as well, hitting the back of my car. “Come on man!” he groaned. Because I didn’t brake hard enough, I was still in front of him, and I had to suffer the same penalty.

Gosh darn it.

In any event, these drivers were pretty seasoned, so I recommend getting lots of practice before you set your foot on this mode.

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Now, let’s talk about the port quality itself. I’m not entirely sure what engine we’re dealing with here: the game’s Store page is advertised as having a “brand new game engine“, so good for Feral being able to work with an engine that’s probably unbeknown amongst themselves. I get a few hiccups running the game on the High or Ultra High graphics preset, particularly when there is a bunch of objects in the way, but for the most part I can get a comfortable forty FPS on High settings. The benchmark numbers below reveal the performance difference between Windows and — you know it — Linux.

Hardware/OS:

  • i5-4670K
  • GTX 750 Ti
  • 8 GB RAM
  • Windows 10 w/ driver 368.22
  • Linux Mint 17.3 w/ driver 364.19

Game Settings:

  • Resolution: 1920 x 1080
  • Anti-aliasing: SMAA
  • Anisotropic Filtering: 16X
  • Weather Type: Clear

Benchmark Results (recorded by minimum/average/maximum):

benchmark

  • Windows:
    • Ultra Low: 61/76/92
    • Low: 61/72/87
    • Medium: 54/62/74
    • High: 42/55/64
    • Ultra High: 29/43/53
  • Linux:
    • Ultra Low: 46/57/67
    • Low: 44/53/61
    • Medium: 39/46/52
    • High: 16/36/44
    • Ultra High: 13/31/38

As usual, it seems Windows is the winner here. But why would anyone care about framerates if they can still play the game at a reasonable pace? And the gap is even smaller when you compare it to titles like Tomb Raider (2013). Note however that the minimal frame rate drops significantly on Linux versus Windows in higher settings like High and Ultra. Even though the average between platforms seems more or less constant in terms of gap, this trend on the Min indicates that the framerate may show much more variations on Linux.

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To be frank, I didn’t have a whole lot of fun with F1 2015. You can get a lot more bang for your buck by going for Autosport: for a little more than two-thirds of the price you get so many more tracks to choose from, so many more vehicles (open-wheel cars are still included!), a split-screen mode, different game modes to choose from — in particular, elimination — more customization options, a little better realism, a bigger community (probably), a more polished experience, and a Mac port for those who, uh, have a Mac. I understand, though, that of course there’s going to be some big Formula racing fans out there and are very excited to see something like this on their platform of choice. Me, I’m like “meh.”

Go for Autosport instead.

Some more screenies:

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