F1 2017 will mark the 9th Formula One game developed by Codemasters. After picking up the F1 license back in 2008, Codemasters have consistently improved upon each entry year after year. Most fans of the franchise will agree that the 2016 entry was the most refined and polished to date, so this leaves Codemasters with big boots to fill for this year’s edition. Admittedly, the last F1 game I played in great depth and obsessed over was F1 2012. In that time, there has not only been big changes to the game, but revolutionary changes to the sport it simulates. So, returning to F1 2017 was exciting both as a gamer and a fan of the product.
Classic Cars and Championships
The first thing I noticed after booting up the game was that there are a nice number of game modes on offer. There’s the career, event, time trial, Grand Prix and Multiplayer which are all staples of the series, but this year sees the addition of ‘Championships’. Allowing you to compete in unique Championships with both modern and classic cars, events such as the Classic Street Series allows you to race the classic cars around all 6 street circuits in a bid to win the Championship. This mode is definitely a welcome addition, and it really adds a lot more meat to the gameplay. Offering hours of extra playability by completing each one. It also doubles as a great way to put some miles on those classic cars while you’re at it.
Speaking of the classic cars, F1 2017 brings 12 of them back to the table this year, ranging from the 1988 McLaren MP4/4 to the 2010 Red Bull RB6. The classics are all great fun to tear around a track in, though they’re fiercer and less predictable than the modern cars, so that little extra skill goes a long way. I had tonnes of fun making my way through them all, each model felt and responded slightly differently than the one before. Perhaps one of the more satisfying aspects of the classic cars are the engine sounds. The unmistakable high-pitched scream of a finely tuned classic F1 car, especially when you’re behind the virtual wheel, does strange things to a man. All the sound in this game is great anyway, but the sound of the classics really emphasizes the hard work that went into them. I even used them as my excuse to cruise the flawlessly replicated tracks the game has to offer. I made my way through all 20 different tracks, along with the 4 additional shortened versions and the Monaco night version that’s available, all with my headphones blaring and blood pumping. As you can tell, I loved the addition of these cars and I hope they continue to get their deserved time in the spotlight, hopefully made even better by adding some classic tracks to throw them round.
A Career in F1 2017
Once I was satisfied enough to pull myself away from my classic F1 car indulgence session, I made my way to the always popular career mode. This year boasted the inclusion of female avatars that are available to use as your custom driver, which was a nice touch. The custom driver feature is rather lackluster though, a lack of customisation options makes this feature feel generic and not worth caring about. Even some simple options like facial hair and eye color would have gone towards my character feeling more like me. However, I understand that this is not an RPG so character creation isn’t a priority; it just still would have been nice to have a few extra options. So, I created Mr Generico, picked my race team, and it was time to start the F1 season with the Australian Grand Prix.
Formula One is a highly technical and strategic sport, and Codemasters have done a fantastic job of packaging this strategic nature into their game. This year delves right into engine management, just as real-life, engine parts will wear as the season goes on, forcing you to swap them out for new parts. But with the F1 regulations only allowing 4 units of each section of the engine to be used per season, and penalties being enforced for any additional units after that; this mechanic quickly becomes a niche game of pros and cons. Changing how you drive in order to slow the level of wear is an absolute must, and that’s something that separates F1 2017 from most other racing games. It captures a part of the motor sport that flies under the radar of most casual fans in a way that’s both fun and true to the sport.
Of course, you can gain better performing and more sustainable parts for your car via the Research and Development system. This system allows you to spend resource points on various upgrades for your car, there are 4 categories that each have their own branching upgrade tree amounting to 115 upgrade options available in total. The categories – Powertrain, Chassis, Aerodynamics, and Durability, are all as important as each other, but if you’re unsure about what will be the best upgrade for your car, there’s a ‘recommend’ feature available so you can quickly get the best one and move on. Resource points are earned through completing various practice programs during the pre-race practice sessions. The programs consist of objectives designed to improve your performance on that specific track. For example, in the tire management program you’re tasked with completing a number of laps while maintaining low tire wear, and so on. This keeps playing through the career mode fresh and gives purpose to the multiple practice sessions available. Every facet of the career feels like it’s designed in a way to entertain both the casual player and the die-hard F1 fanatic and it does it perfectly.
As is to be expected, the real thrill of this game is to be had on the race track. With 22 cars, 20 tracks and dynamic weather to boot, I found that almost every race took on a life of its own. With each of the cars handling slightly differently, I was forced to consider the setup and race strategy carefully before heading out to the starting grid. But all this careful planning can be scuppered quickly if the weather system decides to turn on you in the form of some heavy rain. This coupled with mechanical failures had me sweating on several occasions. The steering is very precise for each car too, with minor shifts of the analog stick having a massive impact, especially when cornering. Various assists are available to toggle on and off though, and I found that assists like Anti-lock brakes and traction control made the game playable for me, but still challenging enough that I was constantly at my personal limit.
Play Your Way
That’s the thing with assists in this game, they never feel cheap, at least not to me. They’re there because it’s an incredibly difficult sport and Codemasters have catered to people who want to experience that sport, with an incredibly difficult game. Another welcome edition this year is a difficulty slider, something the series has lacked up until now. Grading from 0 to 110, there’s a difficulty there for everyone. F1 2017 accommodates everyone who wants to play regardless of skill level, and that’s not an easy thing to do.
Binding all the awesome mechanics and features together in a nice immersive package is the graphics. Textures of the roads and foliage look great, together with the immaculate presentation of the cars themselves, one could easily mistake this game for the real thing at a glance. In fact, turn off the HUD, switch to the TV pod camera angle, and plonk an unsuspecting friend in front of it, and I believe they’d be hard pressed to tell the difference. The presentation of the race weekend makes it all the more immersive; the way that crowds of engineers, press, and stewards litter the starting grid, and the showing of infographics giving details of the race weekend all give the authentic feel of a Formula One event.