Review by Matt S.
Codemasters is reliable with F1, and that’s just as well, given that it’s my racing event. I’m happy to give rally and V8s a miss, and downright glad that NASCAR isn’t a thing down this way. F1, though, is where you’ll find me up at the ridiculous hours of the morning following the tour.
There’s an elegance to the speed in F1 that the other forms of racing lack, and as such I find it easier to relate to the skill of the best drivers. Or my love for the sport could just be that I grew up when Schumacher was in his prime. It’s hard not to be inspired by one of the greatest athletes of all time, across any sport. Regardless of the reason for why I love F1, I do end up looking forward to the annual release by Codemasters, and this year hasn’t let me down.
It’s not as stand-out impressive as in some years past. The way the game builds a narrative into the career mode is neat, but that’s not a new feature either. The “newness” in the career mode is some subtle additions to contracts and team morale, which can have a big impact on your on-track performance, but are hard to get directly excited by. Being able to answer post-race questions is an important part of the F1 experience now, and the fact that your responses can have serious ramifications offers a nice bit of character building, but it’s also a system that makes the rewards and risks far too obvious, and is therefore far to easy to “game” for its own good. You know, immediately, which responses will flush your team’s morale down the toilet, and there’s no substantial benefit in doing so.
In fact, most of what this year’s edition offers was available last year too; it’s the update to the tracks, rosters, and mechanical tweaks that you’re looking for in F1 2018. And does it ever offer quality racing action.
F1 cars are fast – this might be stating the obvious here, but other forms of racing don’t usually manage to hit this sport’s speeds. Over the last few years, Codemasters has worked really hard to nail that sense of speed. It’s not easy to do – the faster things get, the greater the potential for the slightest twitch in the wrong direction for things to go very, very wrong. It can’t be easy creating a physics engine for a sport that highly strung, but F1 2018 was built with the extreme precision of an actual F1 car, and the sensation of speed is absolutely there. The only thing that lets it down is the collisions. They’re never quite as… spectacular… as you might brace yourself for in the microseconds you have when you realise you’re not going to be able to break in time. Of course, collisions in real F1 tend to end races for competitors, so reducing their impact was probably a wise move from a playability point of view. Also, collisions aren’t actually cool in real F1, and I suspect Codemasters didn’t want to encourage people.
For all its speed, F1 isn’t an arcade racer, either. You’re going to have to manage everything from fuel and tyre wear to on-track teamwork with your teammate. In this area, F1 2018 has had the same problem that all its predecessors have had; it’s just not accessible to people who aren’t familiar with F1. Tutorials aren’t overly helpful at explaining the inner workings of F1 itself, and the career mode just loves throwing information at players early on, and then somehow expecting them to still come out on top.
You could argue that F1 2018 would have a limited audience outside of F1 fans, but I can’t say I’d agree there. Racing is racing, and racing games are constantly pulling in new fans. Codemasters knows how to introduce players to a new form of racing – look at how good GRID is at it – and I can’t help by feel that F1’s one step closer to something like Tour De France as a hyper-niche sports game, and unnecessarily so.
Still, gripes aside, F1 2018 is an absolutely brilliant simulation of the sport. Every track from the season is in there – an effort well beyond what many other racing games are able to achieve. They look good, too. In years gone past racing game developers would ignore environments and the like because the speed in which the game moves means you’ll never spend much time looking at them anyway. But these days it’s expected that racing titles will have a photo mode, and the backgrounds need to look good in those. The developers have clearly worked hard to capture each unique quirk and memorable feature of each track in the F1 season; from the track that kicks it all off (Melbourne) to the ridiculous complexity of Monaco – the track everyone wants to win for boasting rights.
Boost the AI up and you’re in for some pretty challenging races, without relying on the AI to be able to stick to the perfect racing line unnaturally. F1, for all its speed, is also a game of patience, and knowing when to make your attack. It might take a half dozen laps of careful preparation to give yourself an opportunity to try and overtake, and F1 2018’s AI and engine has been carefully tuned to make sure those moments are truly exciting and intense.
Of course, like with just about every other annual sporting franchise, there’s a strong argument to say the best experience is in buying new entries on alternate years. Has F1 2018 done enough to render last year’s (excellent) title redundant? Probably not. But if it has been a few years since your last F1, absolutely give this one a go. The racing market is a crowded one, but F1 is pure racing, and the sport doesn’t get much more exciting, or strategic, than this one.
– Matt S.
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