Veteran Motorsport developer Codemasters continues to refine the racing genre and F1 2017, its latest chapter in the world of roaring engines, maverick passes and champagne spraying is arguably its greatest achievement since the series’ re-introduction eight years ago. As entries in a popular series go, F1 2016 was a landmark feat with a blossoming career mode, championship and multiplayer facets, but with this year’s annual outing, Codemasters has pushed the envelope even further. Fleshing out the parts between the 3 practice sessions, qualifying and race with a deeper and more meaningful research and development feature than ever before to manage, upgrade and maintain your car, F1 2017 propels the player one step closer to becoming a true Formula 1 driver.
F1 2017: PS4, Xbox One [Reviewed], PC
Publisher: Codemasters, Koch Media
Release Date: 25 August 2017
Price: £54.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Developer/Publisher]
If F1 2016‘s career suite treated us to a tasty appetiser that left you hungry for more, F1 2017 has cleared out the entire restaurant to cater the player to a full banquet complete with all of the delicious trimmings. F1 2017‘s expanded development tree wouldn’t look out of place in a classic role-playing game with over 100 nodes for players to unlock across key areas: aerodynamics, chassis, durability and powertrain, F1 2017 excels by giving the player full responsibility for their car and it delivers spectacular results that make this Codemaster’s finest iteration yet.
No matter the team or the driver, reliability is often in question in Formula 1. With constant pressure applied to various parts of a driver’s car throughout a race weekend or over the course of a 20 race long championship, it’s an uncompromising inevitability that drivers and teams will at one point or another suffer failure, be it, a gearbox that needs changing – resulting in a grid penalty for the next race or brake failure that will have a driver struggling to slow down for a tight corner, then there’s unfortunate punctures picked up from broken debris out on the track. The life of a Formula 1 driver is far from plain sailing and from the back to the front even a three-time world champion like Lewis Hamilton or four-time victor like Sebastian Vettel have endured technical blemishes, mechanical or engine failure in their career’s that will bring their race weekend to a grinding halt.
With that in mind and a major overhaul to the R&D system of F1 2016 now firmly introduced, F1 2017‘s Career Mode is intoxicating – a thorough examination of players driving credentials but also their wherewithal to adapt to the magnitude of technical aspects the sport depends on to succeed. With player involvement more prominent than ever before thanks to a RPG-esqe skill tree, F1 2017 duly thrives. For the novice racer who solely wants to burn rubber and swig champagne F1 2017‘s R&D system might feel like too much, but for the racing enthusiasts out there who long for a more thoughtful rather than direct approach, F1 2017 is up on par with the best racing games about. With over 100 nodes to unlock, improving your racing vehicle is paramount to a successful career and to achieve this, players must first accumulate points which will require you to undergo a handful of tests during each race weekend.
Free practice sessions are a great way to attune yourself to the technical side of Career Mode, with several tests to undertake including your ability to manage your tyres well, manage your fuel usage, in addition to tests that push drivers to meet a good qualifying standard and help to optimise race strategy. Successful completion of a selected test across any race weekend provides players with a windfall of points which can then be used to unlock nodes on the R&D tree and inevitably improve your car. Not every item will work or pay off though, and players will need to be prepared for possible disappointment but ultimately, without these vital tests and hopefully a fruitful end product, you’re more likely to be sitting at the back of the grid before a race, watching drivers fly past you during one or struggling to meet team requirements, which will likely result in the team hierarchy losing interest in you and ending your contract.
F1 2017‘s R&D is a refreshing prospect and one full of vigour but it’s also a brutal balancing act that requires plenty of foresight and attention to detail to achieve the best results and give you the best possible vehicle to race in. In Formula 1, anything can and will happen. Example: It’s a tough and gruelling race weekend in the desert heat of Bahrain in race 3 of the calendar. After managing to make it through practice without issue and mustering a lowly 14th on the grid in qualifying, race day arrives. I make a storming start once the lights turn green, picking off 7 cars as I dart bravely up the inside on the very first corner, a lap later and I’m up into 6th position after a smart pass on Lance Stroll and are now sitting directly behind my team mate Daniel Ricciardo. That jump of 8 places fills me with optimism and has me harrying and harassing my better-placed Austrailian counter-part throughout much of the race, but for all of my sheer desire to attack and not simply sit back and accept 6th I over push my car and my gearbox decides it no longer wants to cooperate.
Unable to safely shift through 3rd I’m now completely missing a gear change and in real danger of gearbox failure that has me nervously turning and shifting for the remainder of the race. Refusing to retire though I push on and having already pitted once are on the final lap of the race with my problems increasing with every turn or upshift. With Daniel now down the road and out of sight and Brazilian Felipe Massa looming larger in my side mirror, I round the final corner slowly when BAM! my gearbox appears to entirely shut down, I’m effectively coasting at this point with little power and just like that, I’m passed by Massa and then Stroll in quick succession before eventually crawling over the finish line in 8th.
My failure to realise and manage that one issue cost me not only a good point scoring position but also a new gearbox for the next race, a grid place drop and a telling off from my team for underperforming. Life as a Formula 1 driver is not all about glitz and glamour, it is incredibly tough and the new look Career Mode echoes those unfortunate possibilities as it does in real-life effectively or unpleasantly well.
If becoming the next Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost or Ayrton Senna isn’t quite your thing F1 2017 has a luxury of modes to keep you ticking over nicely. Championship Mode, Time Trials and Multiplayer all make an apt return from 2016 as does the chance to customise your race conditions. However, possibly the most exciting of modes is the returning prospect of racing some of the sports classic cars in Classic Mode. After a brief hiatus from F1 2013, Classic Mode makes a pleasing return for F1 2017, re-introducing the child-like excitement of all F1 fans as players take to Formula 1’s most iconic of circuits in a 1992 Williams FW14B, 2002 Ferrari F2002 or one of the many other vehicles. Certain to leave Formula 1 fans feeling joyous and overly nostalgic, Classic Mode is quite simply something else.
Questionably there isn’t a huge amount of choice of vehicle on offer but what there is will have fans of the sport drooling uncontrollably to the cacophony of different but powerful engine sounds as you fly up or down through the beautiful countryside of Belguim or the breathtakingly quick Monza circuit in Italy. Giving newcomers and enthusiasts a real slice of history, each of the 12 available cars is distinctive with various eras in the history of Formula 1 covered for varied ages of Formula 1’s timeline. Fans of the thrilling 2008 championship will remember Lewis Hamilton’s title winning if not ugly and clunky looking Mclaren MP4-23 whereas more seasoned F1 fans will get a kick out of driving Damien Hill’s powerful 1996 Williams around Silverstone. Whats more, players can race classic cars through promotional events offered to the player in Career Mode, which is extremely pleasing and a nice break from the pain or gain of Formula 1’s technical life.
For the uninitiated. Time Trial puts the player through their paces as racers seek to set the fastest time on any of the available tracks, Championship Mode allows players to casually race a full calendar season without the depths or hazards of Career Modes technical swimming pool and Multiplayer Mode allows players to take on like-minded racers online in a bid to be the top dog, with a returning ranking system that offers plenty of replayability. F1 2017‘s range of different modes offers a little something for everyone, even if it is more of the same.
For all the great that it offers, F1 2017 is a visual improvement over its predecessor but arguably fails to reach the graphical peak set by Project Cars, Forza Motorsport or the previously seen Gran Turismo Sport beta on PS4 for realism. F1 2017 isn’t awful looking by any stretch of the imagination but with unconvincing cars, track issues and questionable character animations, presentation has never been the series’ strongest suit and that trend continues again with the latest iteration, with the exception of heavy rain conditions which work really well, looking as menacing from the cutscenes and garage as it is to nervously drive about in.
Other than Career Mode, there are many other improvements and tweaks made to F1 2017. Handling feels far smoother as you turn each corner or hairpin which allows the driver to put more trust in the car that it will stick to the track when it could easily drift off. A.I difficulty has also been greatly improved upon with a customisable 0-100 gauge available to tinker your A.I skill to your liking depending on how aggressive or placid you like your opponent to be before Career Mode begins. However, worryingly, F1 2017 still enjoys throwing its weight about with questionable penalties and track limit infringements that will punish the player, deleting a lap time for daring to set a single wheel over the red and white coloured alcove.
With the deepest and most thoroughly pleasing Career Mode to date, F1 2017 is by far and away the greatest iteration of the series. Bringing the player closer than ever to their vehicle feels greatly rewarding, but is also realistically punishing as wear and tear of vital car parts eventually leads to a soap opera of exciting or worrying scenarios that make Formula 1 the grand spectacle that it is. With better handling, improved A.I and Classic Mode making a triumphant return along with seasoned features Multiplayer and Time Trials, F1 2017 is a true joy of a motorsport experience and the most immersive entry yet if not the best looking.