Though it was not intended this way, it seems I have become Invision’s Formula 1 correspondent, what with my coverage of the past 3 entries of the franchise under my belt. I may not be a huge fan of the motorsport, but what I am a huge fan of is growth, progress and innovation, and I’ve been lucky, no privileged, so see all of this over the past 4 years from Codemasters. Twelve months ago, I stated that F1 2016 was the deepest, most immersive F1 game so far, a gargantuan improvement and a game that, if you pardon the pun, impressively steered the franchise into the right direction. I did also predict that F1 2016 would only be the deepest, most immersive F1 game until its successor arrived, and I’m here to tell you today that I was correct. F1 2017 is a staggering achievement and Codemasters truly have taken this motorsport to greater heights.
F1 2017 is the latest game in the ever popular and action-packed motorsport of the same name, releasing once again on all consoles and PC from the legends of the digital track, Codemasters. Expanding on everything that made last year’s entry so great, F1 2017 promises to be even bigger and better by improving everything from the career mode to the visuals. Step into an even deeper Career mode that now features even more customisable options to get the best out of your cars, as well as additional events that will give you the chance to drive some of the sports most celebrated vehicles in a number of highly exciting challenges. The game’s visuals have also received an overhaul, and the new and improved dynamic weather system will showcase just how much effort has been made to make it look terrifyingly realistic. So with all that said, does F1 2017 have what it takes to overtake the shadow cast by its impressive predecessor? The gap may not be as big as the last time changes were made, yet it does claim pole position in the most spectacular way.
The feature that impressed me the most last year was the game’s extensive 10-year spanning career mode, and here it’s even better. During the course of each race weekend, players were tasked with numerous challenges to settle you into each track, and by completing each of these you were rewarded with a means to improving your vehicle and the chances of winning the championship. In F1 2017 this has been improved ten-fold. Rather than just being seated in 1 of many generic rooms before and after each race, your agent and head mechanic will now lead you in to different rooms, giving you a more realistic tour of what it would be like to walk in the shoes of your favourite racing driver. Also joining the cast of charismatic behind the scenes types is a new billionaire philanthropist, who will treat you to special invitationals where you’ll be racing classic cars in alternative arcade racing events. Whether it’s chasing your competitors in Pursuit, racing against the clock in Time Attack or overtaking all of your opponents in the allotted time, these additional challenges truly inject some much-needed excitement and variation into the game’s otherwise unchanged career mode. In F1 2016 racers were tasked with various practise laps that would teach you all you’d need to know about your track accuracy and tyre wear, and because that was a) quite fun and b) things I’d genuinely never considered before, it’s back and it now includes a few extra tests to keep the 10th attempt at the track feel as fresh as the first; completing these tests will also allocate the results to your vehicle for the race, so it actually pays to attempt them all. As good as the racing is and as delightful as the new welcomed changes are to the career mode, it’s still missing a bit of life and spice, and what I mean by that is having a monumental firework display to celebrate my championship win rather than a buzz-killing textbox congratulating me. My biggest gripe with F1 2016 was that the career didn’t match my success with more difficult goals, and though sadly it seems this is still the case, the fact that you can make each race weekend more difficult for yourself by completing all the pre-race challenges and continuing to follow them for the big day, it’s at least a kind of rev in the right direction. Aside from the life and soul of the party still being absent, F1 2017’s career mode is still an incredibly exciting and vibrant racing experience that more than trumps last year’s effort.
Being a good driver is one thing, but what good is a championship bound racer sitting in a piece of junk. In F1 2016 our efforts on the track were wonderfully rewarded with resource points that could be used to improve our vehicles, so it’s no surprise that this fantastic addition to the game has been given a bigger and better makeover for 2017. In similar fashion to an RPG skill tree, successful racers now have access to over 100 research and development branches that will improve every aspect of your car. It was a little daunting at first having no idea what any of it meant, however after some encouragement and recommendation from my chief mechanic, I was soon on the road to glory with my super-duper racing car. Perhaps the best and most encouraging fact about these enhancements is that none of them come cheap, meaning if you really want to have the best car on the track you’re going to have to do well on and off the track over the entire course of your 10-year career, meaning avid and committed fans will have their persistence well and truly rewarded.
Formula One has suffered a few controversial casualties and drastic changes to its vehicles and regulations in recent years, and it’s impressive that Codemasters have managed to stay up to date with it all. I can’t pretend to fully understand or even tell you exactly what any of these changes mean or do in real life, however what I can tell you is that they have been applied to this year’s game. Each vehicle seems to now have more bite and drag, meaning not only does this feel different from playing last year’s game, but it also handles much more realistically and satisfyingly, so much so that even an F1 novice such as myself can feel the difference in the game’s handling and mechanics. Whilst we’re on the subject of realism, Codemaster’s vastly improved visuals also make F1 2017 the most beautiful Formula 1 game to date, or at least until you win your race anyway. As lush as the visuals are behind the wheel, behind the scenes however they seem to have recycled podium cutscenes and background interactions from 2 games ago, which are terribly distracting when comparing it to what you’ve just witnessed for the past 50+ laps. It’s not a major drawback to the game as a whole, but it is disappointing that the same level of time and effort hasn’t been applied to what goes on off the track. Back in the driver’s seat and every location and track looks far brighter and sharper than anything that has come before, and with the game’s new and improved weather system showcasing each track in a literal new light, F1 2017 may also be the most beautiful racing game to date. During qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix, I was treated to gorgeous sunshine that danced around every nook and cranny available, lighting up everything around me in glorious fashion, however come race day I was pelted with an unforgiving storm that was hitting so furiously that a tide of falling raindrops on my visor made it difficult to see. This realistic and unpredictable weather system made every race I conquered not only a stunning thing to behold, but a heart pounding experience that surpassed any feelings I had for last year’s game.
I may have been a little cocky when I correctly envisioned that this year’s game would be poles apart from last year’s release, but it’s only because I genuinely didn’t think it could have gotten any better. Everything in F1 2017 far surpasses everything that made 2016 such a great racing sim, and though the results aren’t as noticeably superior as last year’s improvements, the subtle changes here have set the bar on what makes a truly deep and exciting Formula One experience. The career mode may be the most expansive and customisable one yet, the visuals may be the most stunning so far, however F1 2017 is still not perfect. That being said, Codemasters certainly have a winning “formula” here (you’re welcome), and if they were to create a more personal, evolving career mode, as well as incorporating the real-life action and drama of the sport into their next release, I strongly believe F1 2018 can be the greatest racing game in history. Can I make it 2 for 2? Join me in 12 months’ time!