It’s the metagame that makes Formula One such a compelling motorsport: the tactical tension of fuel management, the timing of that pivotal pit-stop, and the never-ending research and development going on behind-the-scenes. F1 2017 offers a taste of these additional activities, and it all helps to raise the stakes when you’re behind the wheel.
Building upon last year’s edition, the Career mode sees you partaking in practice session minigames in order to collect Research Points, which can be used to contribute to the construction of your ride. The game has a skill tree that would make even a 90s role-playing title blush, and while you can ask for recommendations from your wax-faced engineer, merely browsing your options gives the impression that you’re part of a high-tech operation.
Even more realistically is that sometimes things will go wrong: it’s crazy to think that you may invest hard-earned in-game currency into a project that will ultimately fail, but thems the (broken) brakes. Of course, all of your extra-curricular activities are in service of the race, and the game’s no slouch there either.
As always with Codemasters’ F1 titles, you can truncate each race if you see fit, but the title really shines when you’ve got to drive long enough to pay attention to the wear of your tyres or the remaining fuel in your tank. There’s a lot to think about, but deeper communication options with your team provide plenty of feedback – and help add needed authenticity to the race day experience. You’re going to need those weather reports, because a sudden change can alter your entire strategy.
While this is a simulation, there are enough options to open up the experience to almost everyone. The title’s more than playable with a DualShock 4 – even with all assists off, it’s manageable on the pad – but obviously hardcore players will want to opt for a wheel. Whichever peripheral you play with, a hearty selection of support toggles allow you to tailor the experience to taste.
Another nice touch is the addition of an artificial intelligence slider, which replaces the pre-set difficulties of old. This means that you can tweak and tune until the level of competition feels just right, although an oversight that we noticed prevents you from changing the difficulty mid-Career, which can potentially lead to lost progression if you feel you need to re-balance things during your campaign.
It’s a shame because the Career is really good this year, aided by the variety augmented by Invitational events. These are Codemasters’ way of integrating the various classic cars that it’s added from yesteryear, and the short sprint or time-based activities peppered throughout drawn-out race weekends help imbue some needed variety and breathing room.
And if you still want to break that cycle of practice, qualify, compete, then the Championships running parallel to the campaign keep things moving at a brisker pace. Adopting different rules and themes – such as weather or track type – these have you competing in mini-contests for racing superiority. Sometimes these mix up sprints with longer races – or even reverse the grids. There’s an interesting array of challenges that eke even more mileage out of the game that’s been made.
The only real downside is that the presentation falls short. The game runs at an eye-melting 60 frames-per-second, and effortlessly captures the sport’s wild sense of speed – but screen tearing is a constant problem (even on the more powerful PS4 Pro) and it's extremely off-putting. Moreover, while each track from the real-world Formula One season has been meticulously rendered here, the visuals do look a bit flat.
The same can’t be said of the engine sounds, which are thunderous – particularly in some of those aforementioned classic cars. But the wooden pre-race commentary from the likes of Anthony Davidson fails to capture the broadcast-like presentation that the developer’s shooting for – and the cut-scenes in the Career mode fare worse. It’s not what you come to a game like this for, of course, but a bit more polish in these areas would have gone a long way.
Still, you’re going to spend most of your time on the track, and that’s what counts. Time Trials are a staple for the genre, but here the online ghosts are well integrated, serving up a rotating roster of lap times for you to target across both wet and dry surfaces. Meanwhile, the online grid once again allows for 20 participants, with the addition of two spectator spots which the developer probably hopes will help cultivate an e-sports scene.
F1 2017 flies across the finishing line in great form. Codemasters’ latest has captured the off-track trappings of the world’s most popular motorsport with a hearty R&D component that forms the backbone of its campaign. But behind the wheel the title fares just as well, with the Career mode implementing Invitational events to break up the routine – many of which are designed around a robust selection of historical rides. Factor in the rule altering Championships and a handling model that’s able to accommodate a wide range of skillsets, and you have a racer deserving of its podium place.