Start your engines.
Whilst I’m someone who has a great affinity for racing games, I’d describe myself as a casual fan of Formula One itself – and that would be generous. I used to pay a lot more attention back when Michael Schumacher was king but in more recent years, watching F1 races felt like a mundane exercise that offered little in terms of exciting, well-matched competition. In 2016 that changed. The ongoing rivalry between Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, which reached an apex last season as Rosberg finally claimed the Drivers’ Championship, definitely captured my attention.
Fast forward to the start of the 2017 season, developer Codemasters’ latest iteration of the Formula One franchise looks to build on what was a well-received entry in 2016. Equipped with a love for great racing games, along with a healthy amount of scepticism about how much I could possibly enjoy a racing game solely centred around F1, I booted up the game on my PlayStation 4 and prepared to shred some very expensive tyres.
Platforms: PS4/Xbox One/PC
Starting out in the newly expanded Career Mode, I immediately found that F1 2017 was a game that worked amazing well at helping the player find their own comfort zone. Having created my driver from a selection of pre-set avatars (this was a little disappointing), I decided to launch my career with middle-of-the-pack contenders Toro Rosso. Each F1 manufacturer made their expectations clear to me before I made my choice – if I was going to drive for Mercedes, for example, I was expected to win it all. I decided to give myself a little room for manoeuvre and selected Toro Rosso as my team – if I could exceed expectations and stay competitive, perhaps I’d be able to progress in future.
I then went on to meet my (bizarrely poorly rendered) agent, Emma. Emma laid out my initial responsibilities with my new team, and subsequently managed my career as I progressed through consecutive races. Whilst interactions with this character did feel a little gimmicky, the regular check-ins and the opportunity to participate in various invitational events offered some welcome variety to the grind of a lengthy championship season. Similarly, Career Mode has a ‘rivalry’ feature which pits the player against another racer, charting the battle between teammates over the course of a season in terms of team expectations and individual success, such as finishing ahead of a rival in a race.
This is science.
Career Mode also features a thoroughly in-depth equivalent of a 4X technology tree – in this instance, the player’s Research & Development team. This feature really works to create a sense of personal investment in this particular game mode, offering the player a degree of developmental control and direction. There are over one hundred different upgrades available to be researched, and newly installed components can also fail.
The R&D feature isn’t the only aspect of F1 2017 that really enhances the sense of realistic simulation. On the track – be it in practice or an actual race – a significant challenge comes through things like tyre wear and fuel management. Unlike an arcade racer, or even something like Gran Turismo, this really rings true when it comes to Codemasters’ Formula One sim. A prime example would be fuel economy – this is essential to making it though a race and it’s an aspect that is integrated extremely well. It’s not frustrating to the point of making the game not enjoyable, but it really teaches the player to adapt their driving to frequently-changing race conditions in order to preserve the necessary amount of fuel to make it to the finish line.
During the course of a race players can access a popup HUD that displays the numerous bits of information a driver needs to pay attention to. This HUD is presented perfectly – information is for the most part clear, allowing the player to review things like tyre wear, fuel economy and chassis health among others with a few quick glances. Even as someone who is far from a serious F1 fan, I found the influence of these more complex considerations to be really rewarding when it came to the game’s overall experience.
Nuts and bolts.
Outside of the core Career Mode experience, F1 2017 offers a number of additional features such as the aforementioned Invitational events, numerous Championship events with a variety of themes, and an array of classic Formula One cars to race.
The Championship events in particular are a welcome diversion. These are closed events that take place over a set number of races, providing players with more of a casual ‘pick-up-and-play’ experience compared to the grind of an entire season.
Visually, F1 2017 looks great. There’s a high level of fidelity when it comes to the individual circuits, and the core racing mechanics are extremely enjoyable. Initially, I found the game to be very forgiving to a franchise newcomer. When I started my career with Toro Rosso I stumbled a little in my first race, as I got to grips with everything that was going on. My second race I subsequently won by a country mile, which ultimately felt far too easy. Fortunately, F1 2017 comes with a flexible difficulty scale that helps players avoid crazy spikes in challenge. However, this does take some tuning which more casual players might not be inclined to bother with.
Everything that takes place off the track is prompted by the player’s laptop. Heading over to practice, navigating the R&D process – it’s all done via laptop. Again, this is a little gimmicky. For the most part the UI is fine, but at times it verges on being cumbersome. For example – every time the player wants to progress to a practice or a race they have to log into the laptop rather than log out of it.
To me, this felt a bit unnatural, and initially I kept forgetting this was where I had to go to progress. I’d close my laptop after reviewing various screens with the intention of actually going to the next event, before realising I could only access said event through the laptop. It might seem a trivial complaint but as a player, it just felt counterintuitive.
For all of its surface gimmicks and complex management systems, F1 2017 excels by maintaining a real sense of accessibility for players who aren’t true F1 aficionados. Racing players will find this an enjoyable experience, albeit that experience probably won’t offer a great deal of longevity once the novelty wears off.
That said it is impressive that, as a racing game, F1 2017 is a title that genuinely offers something for everyone. At its core though, Codemasters’ title is obviously a simulation that has been pitched to F1 enthusiasts. Those players should find themselves more than satisfied with the variety of content, level of detail and complexity that’s included.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.