As a fan of all things racing, Formula One is something I tend to keep a keen eye on, especially as the race calendar progresses throughout the year, and the Drivers’ Championship is contested in every race. I can usually be found doing this with a cold beer in hand and my feet up as I watch it on the telly, firm in the knowledge that this is the closest I’m ever going to come to getting involved with race day.
As a fan of all things gaming on the other hand, the yearly F1 release offers an opportunity for us racing fans to get a lot closer to the action, with a simulation experience that’s as close to the real thing as possible, without physically jumping into the seat of the multi-million-pound speed machines.
Unfortunately, recent years haven’t gone that well for the once highly regarded series, with recent F1 releases feeling dull, uninspiring and lacking improvement in key areas. Nevertheless F1 2017 is upon us, and after missing out on the recent Mercedes sales listing for the 2013 Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 W04 as driven by Niko Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton by several hundred thousand pounds, I was given the chance to jump into something a little more realistic. Can the latest F1 title from Codemasters finally bring us the F1 game we’ve been craving?
Whilst last years’ game was certainly a vast improvement over its predecessor, one thing that came under criticism was the sheer lack of content on offer. This time round Codemasters have gone all out to change that, and from the first time you arrive on the main menu, you can see just how much things have changed with F1 2017. There are several game modes to choose from this year, with Career, Grand Prix, Multiplayer, Time Trial, Event and Championships all available for players to put pedal to the metal in.
Championships is an all new mode in the F1 series this year, and brings with it twenty different and varied series’ for players to dig into. You’ve got the 2017 Formula One World Championship to the Double-Header Tour consisting of a feature race and a sprint race in every championship round, the Classic All-Weather Championship that offers a random grid with each race start, the Classic Street Series that brings a reversed championship grid, and many others. This may sound different to the classic F1 experience, but the championships certainly bring many hours of fun to the game and offer something very different to what we have become used to seeing with recent entries. That in turn helps to keep the gameplay varied and fresh. Championships is also where you can find and replay any of the Invitational events unlocked throughout the games’ Career mode.
Another refreshing option for F1 2017 is the return of classic cars, for the first time since F1 2013. There are twelve altogether with my personal favourite being the 2006 RENAULT R26. Others included in the game range from the 1988 McLAREN MP4/4, to the 1996 WILLIAMS FW18, all the way to the sensational 2010 RED BULL RACING RB6. Each of the cars can be used in many of the modes too, with pre-set or custom championships in Grand Prix, hot laps in Time Trial or through the Invitational Events.
Creating my own custom championship in the Grand Prix mode was something I enjoyed spending time with simply due to the depth given when creating one. In my first championship, I decided to give the iconic machines of days gone by a go, and found myself able to enjoy some mixed racing, with the modern monsters of today racing alongside the classic legends we’ve seen over the years. Mixed racing isn’t just a mismatch either with both vehicle classes recognised with ‘C1’ for newer machines and ‘C2’ for the legendary track masters, as well as class positioning and overall positioning for both. What made things even more exciting was the fact It wasn’t just a one race affair, with the option available to create a full 24-race championship ready from the off, complete with practice and qualifying for those that want to try a full and ingenious experience.
Another impressive mode in F1 2017 is the one most players will likely spend the most time with, Career Mode. After making the initial decision of which team you wish to start your ten-season career with, it’s time to decide the important factors of your career, such as the length of each session – Practice, Qualifying and Race – as well as just how high you want the difficulty of the A.I to be, from 0 – Very easy to 110 – Ultimate. For my career, I decided to give myself a justified challenge; I’d sit just behind the levels of downright ridiculous at 70 – Hard, which turned out to be just right for a decent challenge.
One of the major differences found in F1 2017, is just how much control and assistance you have. From Practice to Qualifying, and Race day to the pits, every aspect of the game brings multiple options to the player. One such example of this is the Practice Programme which allows your team to gather data from your performance on the track to aid towards getting the most out of your car. This year sees five programmes available, two extra from last years entry, with Fuel Saving helping players to manage fuel throughout the race and Race Strategy putting racers through a five lap run with simulated conditions to help prepare for the big race. Completion of all these programmes isn’t mandatory, but those wanting to remain competitive on the harder difficulties will want to ensure they use every resource available, with your crew able to tell you which parts of the track you’re using too much fuel on, which corners are wearing your tyres faster, where you are likely to qualify and much more.
If that sounds amazing then you may just want to take a seat. On top of that F1 2017 sees the introduction of Resource Points and Research Development. Everything you do in your F1 Career will earn you Resource Points, with better performances and meeting objectives gaining more. Resource Points are vital and are used in Research Development to upgrade and research new parts for your car throughout the course of the season, meaning skipping those time-consuming Practice sessions because you’re sure you don’t need it will mean some valuable points lost, making for a much deeper and immersive experience for hardcore fans.
Spending of Resource Points is a simple process within F1 2017, with players able to boot up their in-game laptop and jump straight into an upgrade screen straight out of an RPG. Yes, there are that many upgrades that we have an entire web of possible upgrades. But spending points won’t immediately give a return. Parts you upgrade need to be researched in this year’s title, and just like the real life world of Formula One, performance upgrades take time, some a few races, others many races, so finding you have to wait several months of the calendar season just to get some extra power from your engine is something that racers will need to keep in mind before choosing where to spend their points.
Another new feature this year is Vehicle Management. Whilst you may find yourself wanting to brake only at the last moment to shave every valuable second off your lap times, and pushing your car to get every ounce of performance out of it, you’ll also need to make sure to you keep a close eye on the condition of your vehicle. Much like real life, parts won’t last you an entire season in the world of Formula One, and too many late changes or hard corners will only see that gearbox break and that engine crumble. With only limited fresh parts available there becomes a serious case of vehicle management throughout the game, making for a serious need of care and strategic planning.
Of course, if you perform well throughout the season, it’s not only the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships that are up for competition. Good performances can see a whole host of Invitational Events come your way, many of which will see you driving the most iconic classic cars, which offer a nice change from the constant pressure of the race calendar.
We all love a good career, but there’s always something enticing about the Multiplayer component to games that often leave us unable to avoid the desire of competition it brings. As mentioned earlier Multiplayer is something that’s present in F1 2017 too, and the options look impressive with the option to create Online Championships available for up to twenty players, complete with options for A.I to fill in the extra slots after. Or of course you can jump into public games already on the go.
One interesting thing I was able to notice is the ability for players to join in as spectators or commentators for online racing. That is something I can’t wait to jump into once the game arrives fully to all on Xbox One in the coming days.
Another mode that features components of Multiplayer is the Events Mode. This is one that will look very familiar to those who have spent any time with that other popular racer, DiRT Rally. Events are a one off, downloadable race scenario, designed to place you in the thick of the action, with specific and tailored objectives. In one such event I was placed into the shoes of Red Bull’s own Max Verstappen, and was immediately thrown into a mid-race event in which I was required to pit due to front wing damage before returning to the track and told to take back first position and win the race. Being downloadable events, there is no doubt these will change throughout the year, making this one mode players should definitely keep their eye on if they want to keep the experience fresh. And that’s not to mention the compliment this mode brings to the wealth of quality content on offer throughout the game.
Finally, we have the gameplay, and whilst it’s always nice to have such a vast amount of content on offer, it doesn’t really amount to much if the gameplay isn’t up to scratch. Fortunately, that’s not the case here. As expected everything from the visuals of the cars and the tracks – including all four new additions Bahrain, USA, Japan and the smaller track of Britain – to the audio of the roaring engines, the physical handling and the A.I behaviour, everything in F1 2017 is just as you’d expect from a simulation experience. It really does make for a truly impressive entry to the series.
So yes, it seems that we have finally got it – the one true to life Formula One racing experience we have been begging for in recent years. From the racing to the content, the visuals to the general feel of the game, everything is a massive improvement over recent years, and with the introduction of the Events Mode sure to keep the game alive throughout the year, we can now look forward with hope that the F1 series is finally heading back in the right direction once more.