It can be difficult to keep sports games feeling fresh every season. Formula One games are no different. To a large extent the teams and drivers remain the same. Mercedes win. Ferrari or Red Bull challenge. We’ll never tire of playing Monza, Spa or Suzuka, but they remain the same. So when Formula 1 adapted new, more aggressive regulations for 2017 it was seen as a breath of fresh air. And when tasked with having to document the sport in video game style every year, I’m sure Codemasters got the same sigh of relief that they had something new to play with.
What they seem to have done with F1 2017 is take the new regulations and decide to shake up the whole game while they were adding wider tires and lower wings. The latest release has greater depth and more features, not to mention track layouts and classic cars.
As with any annually released sports game, the emphasis is heavily skewed to Career Mode where you take on the role as the sports person and navigate your way through an illustrious story rising to the top of your game. Codemasters have gave a lot more freedom this year with the Career Mode, it is not just about driving the car fast around a track, you have to keep an eye on the wear to the car’s internals as well as the development of the car as the year progresses.
It is this expansion that gives F1 2017 a welcome edge, and something that creative director Lee Mather was proud of before the launch. To be successful at Research and Development you must put in the efforts on the track to earn the resource points necessary to make advances and then choose wisely as to what aspect of the car you apply them to. For the likes McLaren Honda improving the power unit is an obvious choice and you work your way from minor improvements up to major part changes that launches the team forward. But be warned that there is an element of risk to R&D and not every part will work, which means your time and resources are wasted and you must apply more resource points and wait a few more weekends to see the problems rectified. Otherwise the horror of 2017’s accuracy will become painfully obvious as Alonso fans feel the heartache of Honda engine failure.
It is important to strike a balance in a measured approach to development and keep an eye on mechanical wear and upgrading the development tools and team.
To make the full length weekend more bearable and purposeful, you are given objectives to achieve across the three sessions to help prepare yourself and the team for qualifying and the race and you are rewarded accordingly for your achievements. However I found that as power unit wear becomes more evident, I was opting to do the bare minimum in practice to get the easier achievements and save the car for the competitive parts of the weekend, although perhaps someone with more mechanical sympathy would be able to extract more benefits from it.
There was a large amount of attention put into the classic cars in F1 2017, and in practice they have been accurately imagined in the game. They are a feast for the senses with a range of beautiful engine notes and body shapes, and a welcome feature to game. But in a sense I see them as nothing more than comic relief from the modern cars; the invitational events are woven into your career but carry no real meaning. They greatest use for these cars is to take them on a time trial to your favourite tracks to lay down some times and rubber.
The spread across the eras means that very few are directly comparable to each other but they are accurately represented and it is interesting to drive the evolution of the sport from the early McLaren cars all the way up to the latest generation. In an ideal – but nigh on impossible with legalities and rights – world you could have a classic championship focusing on a particular year or season, but if you go into the classic cars section of the game only to experience the differences in the cars then you will have an enjoyable time.
The largest gripe I did have with the game was, because I was away from the series since F1 2010, it took me a while to set the AI difficulty correctly. I spent the first few races of the season making slight adjustments in between sessions to put my opponents at a pace that was challenging but realistic, and then putting it up a notch or two as I got used to the game a bit more.
The game as a whole comes as a very attractive package and is polished well. I found no issues with the graphics and it was little extra additions to the experience like engaging the clutch for the launch, doing the formation lap and having more of a duty in pit stops gave the actual races as much of a welcome boost in interest as are all the added extras outside of the cockpit.
With the real life season of Formula 1 being one of the most exciting in recent memory, it is only fitting that from your console you can experience the equivalent and explore your own make your own mark in the sport.