GRR

F1 24 review: Are the physics really that bad?

07th June 2024
Ethan Jupp

Sports games with yearly instalments rarely debut with much fanfare being, for the most part, warmed-over, re-skinned versions of the same game that came out last year, maybe with new features and of course, all new skins.

The F1 games are no exception. The last two iterations have brought the latest F1 cars on the latest F1 tracks, with a couple of new features thrown in for good measure. Even the physics of F1 23 seemed to reach a nice goldilocks zone of accessibility while still being challenging. Then, F1 24 came along - early it must be said by comparison to previous entries, with physics that left most who tried it near-on speechless, and not in a good way. So, we had to have a go for ourselves.

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F1 24 physics – what we learned over two race weekends

So, I downloaded F1 24 and got stuck right in with a friend in co-op career mode - a relatively new feature itself that still has its issues. But we’ll get to those and others in a bit. Let’s talk physics first. EA and Codemasters were boastful ahead of the game’s release that the handling had been overhauled, with new tyre, suspension, and downforce models, in pursuit of an authentic feel.

Feedback, however, hasn’t been complementary, with most complaining the game now feels too easy. Some claim the cars don’t really understeer, some say oversteer is too easy to catch and that overall, a lot of the challenge has been sucked out of the game.

Here’s what I think: the game absolutely is more forgiving and easier, but that’s actually no bad thing. The F1 games are meant to be distributed widely, to a range of players with a range of skill levels, playing on all platforms, using everything from game pads to racing wheels. My Logitech G923 and Playseat setup is very typical casual sim racer and that’s what this game is good for. 

I personally did find understeer, that of course was dependent on tyre compound, tyre age, fuel load, track conditions, and how you drive – all as they are in real life and as such, how they should be on the game. There’s also a bit of cleverness where the aero is concerned in this area too; brake understeer is curable by actually letting off the brakes, thus levelling the platform and returning the car its downforce, returning turn-in bite. As they have been for some time on these games, the cars are subject in terms of feel, to what your (adjustable) downforce setup is. A race weekend at Suzuka for instance, very much rewarded the application of a bit of extra downforce, resulting in time improvements of a second or more.

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Likewise, oversteer is, shall we say, not the instant race ender that it was on past entries, which of course, it shouldn’t be. These aren’t Formula Drift cars, but you do see drivers catching snaps of oversteer in real life. These are 1,000PS (735kW) rear-driven cars with no traction control (you can have TC in the game but we had it turned off) and very sensitive tyres. Oversteer is natural in certain circumstances. Also, as above, the wider audience didn’t appreciate spinning off at every throttle application on F1 22, so this by comparison is a step in the right direction.

Overall, the way the handling of the cars evolves depending on tyre compound and age, fuel load depletion, and changing conditions over the course of a race feels authentic without making the game inaccessible. That’s mission accomplished as far as I’m concerned.

What I do have a big issue with – and this is not something my co-op career teammate thinks is much of a problem, is the steering feel. There isn’t enough of a sense of self-steer resistance. The sense that you feel the car ‘wanting’ to go straight-wheels when turning a corner, the feeling of the steering weighting up. The build-up of weight and resistance as you go through the rack is minimal, which feels odd given in real life drivers have to do specific exercises to build muscle in order to handle the steering. It’s something I’ve been able to drive around, with most of your brain power going towards keeping up with the car, nailing your braking zones, being in the right gear for a corner, and hitting the right lines, but it’s something I really want to see fixed. 

Otherwise, F1 24’s physics are far from the disaster many (likely gatekeepy sim racer influencers) have made them out to be. It’s a game fit for purpose, that could do with a quick, easy fix in terms of the accuracy of the steering weight.

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Other issues – glitches and jittery AI

For a yearly release, this game has a few too many bugs for my liking. No, they don’t have long to develop and test these things but given the budget and brainpower behind it, some are a little rich.

For instance, during Q1 of our Japanese Grand Prix, I was the only driver allowed out to set a time. All the AIs, as well as my team-mate, were held in the garage with ‘finished’ as their status. The order was randomised for Q2 where the game then functioned normally. Even getting into a game was a bit of a slog, with setup menus that were stuttery and threatening to freeze, and connectivity issues. It took us a few attempts to set up a two-player career we could both actually join, going through the process correctly and identically several times. 

Once in a race on the starting grid, we also found the AI to be, shall we say, a few brainncells short of Verstappen-esque in terms of just purely dangerous aggression. On our first race in Australia (you can do custom 16-race seasons where you pick the races you want to do) my teammate was punted off and his race was ended within a couple of yards. We reviewed what happened and it was quite simply a pit manoeuvre from an AI. 

Likewise, later into the race I got squeezed very hard by an artificial Tsunoda while trying to overtake, being borderline pushed off the track with millimetres to spare between hitting him and running on the grass. I had a car and a half of track width just a few tenths of a second earlier and no, it wasn’t part of the racing line. At Suzuka, a very spatially unaware Sainz basically took the nose off my Williams as he cut across the track. Aggression and mistakes are very real in F1 and maybe I’m being ultra-sensitive because I’m now subject to them, but there’s definitely room for improvement with the AI.

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Graphics and authenticity – the good bits

These games are starting to look really rather good now, and I can tell you that both in spite of and because of how uncomfortable some of it is to look at. I’m talking about the driver models, which look so incredibly good and unfortunately as a result, stray into the deepest and darkest depths of the uncanny valley. Near-perfect likenesses of Verstappen, Norris, and Leclerc they may be, but there’s no light behind those eyes, and no humanity. *Shivers*.

There’s some wonderful authenticity in here that could be coincidence or could be by design – I hope the latter. We picked Williams as our team because we love the underdogs. But three out of the four upgrades we punted for ‘failed’ due to manufacturing issues and timescales and yes, I had more than my fair share of issues on the way into sessions, delaying my practice and even qualifying running by minutes at a time. I even had a DRS failure. And you know what? We laughed, we enjoyed it, because it all felt very ‘Williams.’ “The Excel sheet strikes again,” we said. Sorry Williams. A note too for the game’s soundtrack, which seems to just be a lift of Lando Norris’ favourite Spotify playlists.

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The revised career mode

‘Be one of the 20’ Codemasters says - an allusion to the new Driver Career mode which allows you to play as one of the existing F1 drivers on 2024’s grid. You can also pick from the F2 grid if you want to play out the ‘Bearman to Ferrari’ fantasy and indeed, there are ‘legends’ to pick from, including Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Jacques Villeneuve and… Pastor Maldonado. Thinking I’d be stacking it a lot, I picked Maldonado as my two-player career driver.

The other welcome aspect of Driver Career however, as opposed to ‘My Team,’ is that it slims down the experience. If you just want to get on with the business of driving and conducting your journey through F1 as an F1 driver, this is it, taking away all the team management components that you get with My Team. Challenge Career mode is a fun new mode too, with driver-specific, er, challenges. 

On the flip side, F1 World adds some fun customisability, allowing you to design your own suits and even liveries, so you can fully live the Andretti dream that has so far eluded Michael.

Co-op career is probably the coolest way to run through a career for us because playing with friends is fun, right? As above, you can also pick an existing driver in this mode, which is why we have Maldonado and Jenson Button teaming at Williams. Hamilton in a Ferrari is just there for the taking…

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Bring back historics! Supercars and Braking Point gone, too

Remember when historic cars made a truly legendary appearance on F1 2017, staying with the franchise for a couple of entries thereafter? We do. It wasn’t only an extra dimension of gameplay, and it wasn’t only cool in terms of adding a variety of cars; it was educational. Imagine younger generations not necessarily being so familiar with the 1991 season seeing and hearing Senna’s McLaren MP4/6 in the game and being spurned to go down an F1 history rabbit hole. 

You’d expect it coming from us but, frankly, deal with it. F1 24 and all that have gone without, are worse games for not featuring a roster of historic cars. We don’t hear the end of discussions about F1’s history during real race weekends so why can’t we see more on games?

Indeed, while we were praising the game for adding modes that add a bit of variety, F1 24 has taken away some stuff, too. The ability to drive supercars made by the different manufacturers is now gone, as is the Breaking Point story mode. Granted, the latter is included in every other entry as a general rule, and the supercars were hardly a main feature but the point stands: it’s still content we don’t get this time round.

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F1 24 – should you get it?

So, to conclude, F1 24 is a good enough game that we’d recommend taking a punt on, especially if you’ve not played one for a while or fancy getting into sim racing.

Is it an essential buy off the back of F1 23? As is often the way with these yearlies, no. It’ll be half price in six months, so if you must, get it then. But as a way to get back into the franchise and enjoy a new dimension of this sport, F1 24 is highly compelling. And we’ll reiterate. The physics – on the wheel at least – aren’t the disaster Mountain Dew-swilling sim racers have made them out to be.

  • F1

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