No career mode. No season challenge. No rival system. No online co-op. No champions mode. No classic content. No split screen. No functional safety car. No motorhome. No paddock. No TV interviews... The list goes on. F1 2015 elects to abandon several great features explored over Codemasters' last five years of F1 games and the result is - comparatively at least - an inevitable disappointment. I've always championed quality of core experience over reams of content, but even I said 'crikey' under my breath as I scrolled through the game modes on the main menu and found myself back at the first one after seven clicks. And one of those is 'Xbox help'. You either race a season in regular or Pro mode, play a single event, take it online, or try Time Attack. That's it.
On the track, where it matters, F1 2015 is strong. Very strong. 1080p and a reasonably constant 60fps makes for an immediately impressive-looking game and you can really get your teeth into the driving. But under the technical progress, it's a very familiar experience. The handling may have been built 'from the ground up' for new-gen, but it's not revolutionary. It isn't exactly exciting either, with the fastest lap times coming from the most delicate approach to the controls. It doesn't help that the audio mix isn't great, with quiet team radio and little sense of power from the engines.
And I was very surprised to discover the most simmy handling model is comparatively easy. You need to be careful on the triggers for braking and acceleration, sure, but once you get the hang of that, qualifying high up the grid on expert isn't particularly difficult if you're used to how the series works. When you're locked to helmet cam and the AI is locked to legendary, I didn't expect to be immediately competitive. But I was.
One of the biggest problems I have with the core driving is just how much corner cutting you can get away with. I'm all for taking a bite out of a kerb to see if you can cope with the instability that causes, but as long as you don't put all four wheels off the track here you won't be penalised, which means you can easily cut many corners with half the car or more and get away unpunished. That doesn't look very attractive, but online is going to be full of people doing it so you'd better get your corner scissors out. Exacerbating the problem, the kerbs feel way flatter than they look, and are about as threatening as a kitten compared to Project CARS' ramp-like humps.
Online is... weird
The traditional online lobby system has been replaced with a 'Hopper' system, which allows you to choose a difficulty level (presumably to separate crashers from serious racers), and then return to whatever you were doing while the game searches for a suitable match. The lack of 'quick race' is odd, but we'll see how the system pans out when the public gets involved.
Whether you drive 'properly' or exploit the game's rules, the sensation of grip through the Xbox One controller is incredible. Feathering the throttle at low speeds feels and sounds exactly how you'd want it to, and the haptic feedback lets you know when you're spinning the wheels under acceleration, or locking under braking. It's amazing how well it teaches you to protect your tyres, with subtle vibration kicking in as your cornering wheels start to understeer across the track. Granted, this sort of feedback has been in the game for a couple of years, but the new-gen pad is way more subtle and it makes a huge difference to how you drive and how the car looks when you're doing it.
Speaking of looks, the new-gen graphics are not as close to real life as you might expect them to be. Trees are great up-close, gently swaying and with dappled sunshine sparkling through their leaves… but in the middle to far distance, they're reduced to almost cartoon-like slabs of green. The cars look amazing, but the tracks have a filtery feeling of 2005-era CG. Considering Project CARS has shown that Xbox One can convincingly recreate reality with realistic colours and textures, F1 2015 looks awkwardly stylised. I never expected I'd be saying this, but Project CARS looks better.
To F1 2015's credit, there are no jaggies anywhere at all. This is the slickest-looking Xbox game I've yet seen in terms of smoothing and it means the game looks noticeably better than last-gen’s F1 games. There's occasional screen tearing and the odd dropped frame on Xbox One (and replays and wing mirrors are certainly not running at 60fps like the main gameplay), but it's a fine-looking game when judged on its own merits.
The best new feature is the pit radio voice recognition system. Tap the left bumper and – if you've got Kinect connected – a menu pops up with things you can say. You can shout 'Inform Teammate' in qualifying to hear how Nico's doing compared to you - because you're playing as Lewis, aren't you? - or 'Understeer Advice' to hear what you can do to improve a light-nosed setup. It works beautifully and really helps in Pro mode, where all the HUD information is turned off.
Pro mode is intended to provide the most authentic F1 experience possible, and it certainly has a fair stab at it. You can only use manual gears and ALL assists are banned. Races are set to full distance, and you have to drive out of the pits and then back in again, unless you elect to retire completely from a session. Taking part in all three practice sessions, then managing your tyre allocation through qualifying is great. Just sitting in the pit lane, watching the on-board TV feed is brilliant. And when you call over your mechanic to change your setup on the tablet he hands you, you really do feel part of the team.
This sense of being part of the sport instead of feeling like the world revolves around you is way better than any other racer I've played. I even hit the rear view button while the mechanics were wheeling me backwards into the garage, and the guy at the back even ducks under the VDU hanging from the ceiling. Little details like that make a huge difference to making the world believable.
But such subtleties can't make up for the damage model still falling short of the standard of even F1 Championship Edition on PS3. Crashes at least feel heavy, and there's plenty of carbon fibre that lies around on the track after an incident, which is good. But the cars are still too durable, with even moderately heavy collisions between cars rarely resulting in severe damage.
Taken in absolute isolation, this is clearly a great F1 game. But in terms of the package you're receiving for your money, this is inferior to F1 2014, which in turn was inferior to F1 2013. So this is as much of a step backwards as it is a step forwards.
This game was reviewed on Xbox One. A version of this review appears in Official Xbox Magazine.