The imminent release of F1 2019 will mark the tenth anniversary of Codemasters picking up this illustrious motorsport IP. After Studio Liverpool ended their run with the license in 2006, F1 games were in limbo until Codemasters picked up the property and brought out the first new F1 game in nearly three years with F1 2009.
Ten years and ten (soon to be eleven) games later, and its safe to assume Codemasters’ time with the F1 license has overall been a positive one. I mean, you’d be a bit concerned if ten years down the line they still couldn’t produce a decent F1 game. Fortunately they have done just that, and sometimes they’ve gone one better and produced some of the greatest F1 titles ever. Like the best F1 teams of history, the vast majority of Codies’ campaigns have been triumphs, that doesn’t mean they weren’t immune to the odd calamity that blew its engine and crashed off on the first lap.
Having played every single title in the series, I feel well-positioned to rank all ten Codemasters F1 titles in order from worst to best – and guess what? That’s exactly what I’ll be doing today.
10. F1 2014
Let’s start by getting one thing out the way early – the mid-2010s were not a good time for the franchise. When F1 Youtubers are calling for EA of all people to take the license from you, you know it’s a rough spell.
Unfortunately, such criticism was deserved.
Let’s start with the worst first. Booted out the door without a shower or packed lunch, F1 2014 was effectively a re-skin of the previous year’s F1 2013 to keep the series ticking over as they worked on making the jump to the PS4 and Xbox One, whilst also trying to model the brand new generation of hybrid-powered F1 cars.
Sadly, any hopes that merely being ‘F1 2013 2.0’ would be enough were tanked quickly.
This was more like ‘F1 2013 V0.1 Alpha Build Lost On A Corrupted Hard Drive’.
For one, the handling was an absolute travesty. In an attempt to model the new fly-by-wire braking systems in the real cars, a massive strength of F1 2013 was absolutely borked, and controlling your car felt numb and vague. The only way you could tell the engine had changed from petrol V8 to hybrid V6 was a slightly different engine noise, and a vast amount of content wasn’t invited back from F1 2013. This slimmed-down, rushed-out mess of a game is undoubtedly the worst in franchise history – but hey, at least this would mean more time to work on a great game for next-generation consoles, right?
9. F1 2015
…yeah, about that.
The foundations of the series were rebuilt from the ground up for next-gen, and the graphics and gameplay all benefited massively as a result. The tracks and cars look utterly gorgeous, the lighting pops, and the new hybrid cars – now modeled properly with new torque and driving characteristics – are an absolute joy to drive. Aside from the comically slow Manor, but you can’t really blame Codies for that.
As a tech demo, F1 2015 was magnificent.
But therein lies the problem. That tech demo ended up being the entire game.
Career Mode, the core mode in the majority of sports games for decades, was out on its ear. Research and development, changing teams, rivalries with other drivers, building your career from the ground up – all gone. It was Championship Season or nothing. Pick a 2015 F1 driver, do races, repeat.
But what about the other game modes?
Haha. You’re funny.
Aside from Championship Season and Time Trial, that was pretty much your lot. No Scenario Mode, no classic cars, no career mode, nowt. This wasn’t just released unfinished – this was a novel released after only writing the first chapter. With replay value non-existent, the only mode that could offer potentially any longevity was online multiplayer, but that was borked by a broken netcode on release that rendered the player community all but dead on arrival.
Throw in some baffling glitches, like tires switching compound when exiting the pitlane, and it all contributes to F1 2015 not only being one of the worst titles in franchise history, but a massive missed opportunity. Luckily, it was one they would have the chance to put right the very next year.
8. F1 2011
As disappointing as it was, F1 2014 wasn’t the first time Codies had followed up a great game with a mis-step straight into the barriers. The first of those was F1 2011, the follow-up to the very impressive F1 2010. Having debuted on PS3 and Xbox360 so strongly, it’s particularly baffling as to how F1 2011 stalled on the grid so badly. But just like F1 2014, the main issue that blew the wheels off F1 2011 was a comically bad handling model. The tires felt wobbly and deflated, which only got worse when you actually suffered a flat tire in-game – a painfully common occurrence – and the steering was bafflingly unintuitive.
It’s a shame, as in other areas the game did actually build on F1 2010’s success quite well. It modeled the brand-new KERS feature from real F1 well, and the graphics and gameplay modes were decent steps forward also. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is this; trying to make a racing game with horrible car handling is like trying to make a shooter with guns that don’t work.
7. F1 2009
The very first Codies F1 title is a bit of an oddity, as it was released only for the Nintendo Wii and Playstation Portable. I personally played the PSP version, and while the limitations of the portable hardware restricted its appeal, F1 2009 is still an intriguing game.
Think of it as a rough blueprint for what was to come on home consoles that weren’t the Wii. The handling and graphics were surprisingly good given the platform, although trying to drive F1 cars with the PSP analogue thumbsticks is like trying to steer a real car with your nipples. And it has novelty value as being the only officially licensed F1 game to feature Brawn GP as a current team. Only when the Brawn BGP-001 car was introduced as a classic car in F1 2018 did one of the greatest underdog stories in F1 history arrive on home consoles.
Not the best, but also not the worst, and an interesting historical footnote.
6. F1 2012
A common theme with the next two titles is of Codies rebounding after disappointing entries in the franchise. First up was F1 2012, which aimed to fix the blunders made by F1 2011 and get the series up to speed again. It did so successfully, not just by fixing the handling model, but by establishing the template almost all future Codies F1 titles would follow. Solid career mode focused on immersion, a fun driving experience, and extra game modes to flesh out the singe-player content. In this case, F1 2012 introduced Scenario mode, allowing players to jump into classic moments from F1 history and either recreate them or change the path of destiny altogether.
It’s not the greatest nor the most historically significant game in the franchise, but F1 2012 was the title that proved to the world that Codies had real staying power with the F1 license.
5. F1 2016
One thing I have always respected about Codemasters is that generally, they have owned their mistakes. For example, when GRID 2 crashed off a cliff and nearly tanked the GRID franchise, they made GRID Autosport as a make-good to the fans. And when F1 2015 flopped badly, Codemasters promised that feedback would be taken on board and that they would do better next time.
The result? F1 2016, a title that not only brought the franchise back from the brink, but also sent it storming up the grid to new heights.
Career Mode made a glorious comeback, with a completely remodelled structure that added neat new features. For example, the R&D minigames made it worth slogging through practice sessions, as completing these challenges would help unlock upgrades for your car. And nothing was more satisfying than seeing your hitherto pathetically slow car start blasting past opponents on the straights as those engine upgrades you worked hard to earn started paying off over the course of a season.
In reality, there wasn’t much excuse to screw up F1 2016, given F1 2015 had laid the technical foundations already. But its no coincidence that those calling for Codies to lose the license after F1 2015 went strangely quiet once F1 2016 dropped.
4. F1 2010
There could be some debate over this one. You could argue that F1 2016 is a better game, and you would probably be right. However when placed into context, there perhaps isn’t a more important game on this entire list. F1 2010 was Codemasters’ debut with the franchise on Playstation and Xbox, and it wasn’t just a new start – it was a breath of fresh air and a statement of intent all in one.
Very different in look and feel from the Studio Liverpool offerings, F1 2010 laid out Codemasters’ mission statement for the franchise right off the bat; immersive career mode with plenty of interactive elements such as press conferences and chats with your agent in the team trailer, an engaging racing experience and a super-satisfying simcade handling model. Even the UI and menus felt slick and inviting.
This could be nostalgia talking, given I sank hundreds of hours into this game, but I don’t think many titles since this one have held up as well. It is still worthy of your attention to this day, both for the quality of the game and as a historical document.
3. F1 2017
Imagine teleporting back to 2015 and telling the masses angrily demanding Codemasters lose the F1 license that just three years later Codies would drop this title – one of the best and most ambitious titles in franchise history. Imagine the looks on their faces.
But maybe we should have expected this. The foundations were there all along with F1 2015. F1 2016 focused on proving to the world that rumours of Codies’ demise were greatly exaggerated. And F1 2017 was the next gargantuan leap forward for the franchise.
Career mode expanded to allow players to spend upgrade points in whatever ways they wanted, so if your car starts off slower than your gran’s MG Metro on the straights, you can pour all your points into engine and aero development rather than chassis upgrades. And just like real life, components suffered wear and tear race by race, so knowing when to swap engines or gearboxes rather than risk a grid penalty or engine failure mid-race became a huge tactical element.
Outside of career mode, historic cars were back in-game for the first time in four years, and Championships mode offered unique challenges and themed championships (reverse-grid races, sprint races, street-course-only series etc) which enhanced the pick-up-and-play factor and replay value. In may ways this feels like the true sequel to F1 2013, and that’s as big a complement as I can pay F1 2017.
2. F1 2018
In theory this should be number #1. This somehow achieves the impossible of taking another huge step forward after F1 2017, and deserves to be considered in the pantheon of all-time great F1 and racing games on home consoles.
Career Mode got beefed up even more, with driver interviews back on the agenda – and each answer you give to the pitlane’s roving reporter can have an affect on your relationships with both your own team and rivals. Pro tip; if you have aspirations of signing for Ferrari, throwing shade at them in the press will make for an awkward atmosphere when the contract negotiations start. Speaking of contracts, players are able to negotiate for certain benefits and perks specific to you, whilst also pitching your services to other teams should you wish. It all makes for the most fascinating and immersive career mode experience in F1 gaming history, let alone the Codies franchise. Outside of Career Mode, further enhancements came in the form of new weather and atmospheric effects and yet more classic cars, including the two protagonists of that 1976 season battle in James Hunt and Niki Lauda’s McLaren and Ferrari respectively.
If F1 2017 felt like the game Codies had always wanted to make, F1 2018 is that vision realized beyond their own wildest dreams. So how comes it isn’t Number #1?
1. F1 2013
Simple: because this is.
F1 2013 takes top spot for several reasons; a) it’s my list so shut up, b) nostalgic and personal preference reasons, but most importantly c) this is arguably the most complete Codies F1 game of all time.
Let me explain.
On a fundamental level, the game wasn’t really a huge step forward from F1 2012; more a steady evolution. But that’s okay; after all, F1 2018 was a steady evolution of F1 2017. And with F1 2012 laying down the foundations, F1 2013 was able to build on them and go nuts.
And go nuts it did.
Let’s be real; the main reason we all remember F1 2013 so fondly is the first appearance of Classic content. You always remember your first time. And F1 2013 arguably has the best implementation of the mode; classic tracks like Brands Hatch and Imola, actual legendary drivers, period-correct TV graphics and camera filters, and the legendary Murray Walker providing voiceovers. IT EVEN HAD ITS OWN VERSION OF SCENARIO MODE.
This is one of those rankings which doesn’t have a wrong answer – if you put F1 2018 or even 2017 at #1 spot instead, I won’t argue with you. But up until now, no F1 game has stolen my heart and stayed in my affections quite like F1 2013 – the original and best peak of the series.
Will F1 2019 displace it?
We won’t have long to find out. My review of the latest F1 title will drop right here in a couple of days time.
And after that? Well, if I keep playing it after the review has dropped, then we may have our new winner.
If I revisit 2013 though? Undefeated.