I’ve been playing a bit of F1 2017 recently, mainly in between sessions of Destiny 2 or Dishonored 2, and it’s proving to be a splendid game, one where I’ve finally found a way to play, and enjoy, what is a great racer.
I’ve dabbled in the F1 games since Codemasters on and off since the 2010 version, but have generally found myself bouncing straight off all the walls in the first race of every season in Melbourne and ending up with a wrecked car. It hasn’t been a fun experience, that much is for sure. I spent some more time with last year’s release, which is when I realized that by turning off all of the assists, I was only causing myself pain and misery. This certainly isn’t a game to experience without assists while playing with a gamepad. I imagine it is quite an experience when racing with a wheel setup, but for my needs, a gamepad is essential.
I rocked up to F1 2017 and dove straight into the career mode. Without any genuine minnows (who else loved Minardi?), I chose to take the place of Sergio Perez at Force India and started by career. After a few dodgy early laps in Melbourne, I found the right balance of assists for me and got under way. The career mode this year is extensive, yet still punctuated by some slightly dodgy scenes where your PR manager or race engineer come gurning over to talk to you. It’s not great, but these moments are generally short and don’t take too much away from looking after your career and car or the racing.
In addition to engine and gearbox management where you review how much wear and tear they have been put through and decide when to change, risking grid penalties as you go, there is a massive tech tree to explore. Split into four categories covering engine power, reliability, aerodynamics and mechanical improvements, over your career you can turn try to turn a mid-pack Force India into a title contender. It’s a great idea, and one which adds a dose of reality to how modern F1 works. It is just a bit frustrating for a more casual racer that it in some ways forces you to undertake all the practice programs. In addition to the now customary Track Acclimatization, Qualifying Pace and Race Strategy plans, there are new Tyre Management and Fuel Saving routines you can complete. These offer a great insight into the chores an F1 driver has to go through during practice sessions to get the car ready for the race, and if you are playing in full simulation mode with full race distances, you would certainly look to get the most out of them.
However, I’m a man of simple racing needs, looking for a quick fix here and there with assists turned on and races limited to either 5 laps, or 25% distance depending on how much time I have. When it feels like you spend more time completing practice testing plans than racing in order to acquire the resource points required to improve your car, it can become something of a chore. When the game allows you so much freedom to customize your experience – do you want a manual clutch controlled start, what about safety cars and reliability failures? – it’s frustrating that this part of the game which is so very interesting can become so tedious. But as a representation of the F1 world? It does a great job.
One of my big issues though isn’t the fault of Codemasters, it comes down to the F1 license. It appears that Codemasters have been given more leeway in some respects by the new owners of F1, but they could really do with more. Some of the tracks on the F1 calendar are dire, producing rubbish racing in the real world, and proving to be a snooze-fest to drive in the game. China, the second race in the calendar is certainly a culprit, and while Russia surprisingly entertained me to drive, I have never got along with Barcelona. Going way back to Geoff Crammond’s Grand Prix 2, it’s a track that just drives me silly. Looking back through the annals of F1’s history, there have been some amazing tracks such a Rouse-Les-Essarts or the original Spa layout. Sadly, Codemasters have to make do with the current list, with short versions of Bahrain, Silverstone, Suzuka and the Circuit of the Americas as alternatives. I would love to see what Codemasters could do with some of the classic tracks to really allow you to create your own F1 world.
The good news is that the developers have had plenty of scope to play around elsewhere. There are hordes of ready-made Championships to try your hand at with all kinds of lovely twists. There is of course the 2017 championship without any worrisome R&D, or classic championships with the old cars that Codemasters have brought back for the first time since 2013. Racers such as the McLaren MP4/6 from 1991 or the Renault R26 from 2006 up to 2010s dominant Red Bull Racing RB6 all appear. There are championships featuring sprint races, reverse grids, spec cars and other intriguing ideas. Safe to say, if you don’t fancy getting bogged down in the career mode, there is going to be something here for you to get stuck into.
Thanks to the greater freedom Codemasters have this year, and the re-introduction of the classic cars, there are light diversions from the career mode. Invitational events arise with a nice regularity giving you a choice of two challenges. It could be a pursuit event around Silverstone in the Williams FW18 or a time attack assault on Interlagos in the scary fast McLaren MP4-13. It’s worth the price of admission just to listen to the glorious sounds of the old beasts.
Despite playing with a gamepad, and a whole load of assists turned on, the feedback from the cars is impressive. During practice in Bahrain, to earn some extra development points, I tried out a different car setup moving to a low downforce setup. While I still posted good times, I wasn’t as comfortable in the turns, but I entirely forgot to change back to a neutral car setup for qualifying. I couldn’t make any further changes to the car after entering parc ferme conditions, but before the race, I made my sole change by increasing downforce from the front wing. Perfect, the race started well and I was much more confident in corners than I had been at the end of practice. Things were going well….until I clipped the back of Bottas’ Mercedes when leaving the pits. I didn’t want to waste time pitting for a new front wing, but the loss of downforce was substantial and resulted in plenty of understeer in the corners. It is a truly impressive handling model, especially when comparing cars of different eras.
For a simulation and recreation of the current state of Formula 1? F1 2017 does a brilliant job, and hopefully moving forward, with F3 and F2 becoming integrated with the big leagues better, we will see Codemasters introduce a career development path through the junior formula. Here’s to hoping.
The Verdict – Headshot
Platforms Available – PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Platform Reviewed – PC
Review based on Steam media account copy. For more on our scoring policy, head here.