Codemasters’ newest instalment in its celebrated F1 franchise is finally here, promising high-speed thrills, new modes and improved racing mechanics.

Essentially, however, F1 2018 is a polished version of F1 2017. Last season’s effort already impressed, but small changes to the 2018 instalment have elevated the game to the most lifelike Formula One experience to date. For instance, better utilisation of the rumble feature throughout races has an impact on your driving style. Now road textures and the grip of your tires on the road can always be gauged through the precise rumbling of the DualShock 4. While drifting off the tarmac in F1 2017 felt stiff and unrealistic, you can really feel your car starting to go in F1 2018.

Along with the responsive rumble mechanic on the track, you’ll notice changes in your cockpit, too. To match with real changes made to F1 cars during the current season, a protective halo has been added to the framework of the car. This reinforced carbon fibre bar wraps around the bodywork of your vehicle. Its purpose? To protect drivers from flying debris and offer better collision protection. Its introduction is likely to divide opinion as it completely redesigns the once sweeping feel of an open cockpit, although in this F1 game the purpose is completely aesthetical to represent the latest changes in F1 guidelines. Those who enjoy the game from cockpit mode are likely to notice a decrease in visibility which may cause problems in tight corners and narrow straights of road. Thankfully, Codemasters offers up a variety of viewpoints, ranging from the nose of the car to a far chase stance in which the halo causes little distraction. You can even turn the halo column (the middle bar) off to increase visibility if you wish.

F1 2017 gained plaudits for its introduction of new cars and the variety of modes available. Classic Career mode is still the main draw of the bunch in F1 2018, allowing you to work your way up the ranks, changing teams and tactics to become the world champion. A new addition to Career mode is the post-race interview section where you will be grilled on your performance in the previous qualifier or race via a dialogue wheel. The answers you choose will alter your team’s perception of you. Tell the reporter something slightly controversial and the team you’re with may reject you for being hot-headed, or you may be applauded for bringing media coverage to your brand. Brilliantly, different teams are looking for different reactions from you and this keeps things interesting.

Other modes still exist for players who want to jump into a race without the need for practice runs and qualifying stages. Grand Prix allows you to select multiple races, stringing together a tournament including only courses of your choice. This mode includes the popular classic car option and, among returning favourites, you can expect to see the 2003 Williams FW25 and 2009 Brawn BGP-001 burning rubber on the track. The vast catalogue of both classic and modern cars available makes for an enjoyable, nostalgic, and varied experience. There are also circuits from old and new F1 seasons alike. Making its debut in this 2018 edition is Le Castellet circuit from the French Grand Prix, while the Hockenheimring German race track returns following a year out from the game.

Time trials are perfect to hone your skills on the circuits without the distraction of other drivers cluttering the track. Championship mode and multiplayer also return with the same rules implemented as in the 2017 edition. However, multiplayer mode now has a new Super Licence mode which looks at your strengths and weaknesses, matching you with others of the same level. This feature is sure to eradicate unfair match ups, making it easier to reach those elusive podium places.

F1 2018 is a complex game filled with intricate in-depth features that will be untouched by most casual players. The game allows you to ease into the steep learning curve before delving into the intricacies of tire type, fuel saturation, and electrical recovery systems. Your personal race engineer will offer you guidance through the DualShock 4 speaker in each race assisting you with strategy, and for a new or causal gamer, these suggestions often provide the winning formula. By pressing L1 you can source a pool of information regarding distances between cars ahead, the condition of your vehicle, and the current place of your assigned rival.

Through all these modes the game continues to look effortlessly realistic. From a graphical point of view, the game gets better and better each year. Tiny cockpit details are clear even at top speed, tarmac on the road’s surface is blemished with stains from hot tires, and your racer’s hands make impromptu gestures depending on what’s going on in the race. When driving in difficult racing conditions such as rain or fog the track transforms into something even more impressive as the screen becomes peppered with spots of water which roll off the gleaming body work of your car. Photo mode is another new addition, which means that those stunning graphics and lens flares can be captured forever.

Conclusion

With challenging racing and a diverse car management system, F1 2018 is filled with endless opportunity. Although undeniably similar to last season’s effort, small changes have improved the overall experience enough to merit a revisit. And, ultimately, F1 2018 takes the chequered flag as the best F1 instalment to date.