F1 2017 is the latest instalment of the extremely popular Formula 1 racing game that has been under the steady custodial arm of Codemasters since their first game back in 2010. I’m a keen player of racing games but over the last few years my time has been devoted solely to the Forza series – in my opinion that franchise has nailed the racing genre. Will F1 2017 do enough to prise me away? especially with Forza Motorsport 7 imminently arriving on the Xbox One X – is it even fair to compare the two, seeing as they are quite different beasts?
F1 2017 is a really polished racing game, which looks beautiful on the Xbox One. But it is not just a racing game, it is much more than that. For every lap raced there are a multitude of strategic decisions leading up to it. And a skill tree to rival even the most complicated RPG. It’s a strange mash-up of the two.
My immediate thought when tasked with this review was that F1 games are too long. Too laboured. With a short window of gaming time, how do you complete a Grand Prix weekend, with all the practices and qualifying? Not to mention the incredibly long race. Well Codemasters have thought of everything and created a number of game modes to satisfy both the casual player and the F1 superfan.
The game mode that Codemasters have put the most time into improving is the Career mode, which is where I will spend much of this review. However, there are also game modes where you can race single races, compete in special events and race for the best lap in time trials. There is also an online multiplayer mode, which I have not had the chance to test due to limited players online before the official release dates, so the lobbies were empty. The inclusion of the much publicised classic cars comes into its own here, as they can all be played in these modes, whereas in Career they only pop up in invitational events.
Career mode is where the most hardened racing gamer will spend their time. And rightly so. It has all the features you might expect. At the beginning you will pick your driver (male and female choices are there), choose your helmet and the team you want to drive for. All teams are open at the start, so picking Ferrari will put pressure on you to win races and championships immediately, whilst picking a less successful team will have your objectives set a little lower. I picked Williams, as I have personally been lucky enough to visit their UK headquarters and see the wonderful museum there, so I have a certain affinity for them. My objectives were to finish 7th in the championship, and to finish 5th in each race, whilst also finishing ahead of William’s other driver.
Where Codemasters have added to F1 2017 is the inclusion of cut scenes involving you, your agent and engineer, amongst others, to tell your story within the game. This should have had the effect of making career mode more cinematic and therefore more engaging, but for me it had the opposite effect, as the cut-scenes took me out of the action. Within these cut scene locations was your own desk and laptop, with the latter being your entry to the menus. To be honest I could have done without this, and would have been happier with just a dialogue screen and a menu. The cut-scenes before and after races don’t change much either, the drivers may change but I have seen the same podium cut-scene time and time again.
The main feature of Career mode is the race weekend, and this is highly customisable, with the ability to set session lengths, qualifying type and race length. At all times, the preset felt like the right choice, but you could also choose to complete in a full length race of 50+ laps. One of the most important features is the difficulty slider that allows a choice between 0-100, not just Easy, Medium, Hard, etc. If you’re set at 50 and finding it just a bit too hard, you can knock down to 45, instead of a massive jump from medium to easy, allowing you to find that point where the difficulty is just right for you.
So, if you’re like me, you want to race, I mean, that’s why we play these games right? But personally the thought of first taking part in three practice sessions is a real turn-off. But in F1 2017 it’s not. Codemasters have included objectives within these sessions, which in turn teaches you how to better manage your car. For example, one of these objectives is to manage tyre wear, which requires you to complete laps in a certain time, whilst keeping an on-screen bar away from the red zone. Taking corners too aggressively moves the bar into the red. Completing these objectives earns you research points, and these research points is where the skill tree comes into action. This makes the practice sessions more vital to take seriously, as it’s a main driver in improving your car.
The skill tree is essentially your suite of car upgrades. If you know about car stuff (I don’t) you can pick and choose which elements you want to improve, or you can take recommended upgrades (like me). These will take a few races to be researched and developed and can sometimes fail. Now, I think it would take some kind of genius (maybe you would have to be an F1 engineer) to understand all of this incredibly complicated car stuff, but the choice is there if you want to delve in and get your hands dirty.
Now, I need to talk about how incredibly brutal this game is. It’s an F1 simulation. It follows all the rules and regulations of the sport. If you crash, or you have an engine malfunction, there are no restarts, no “Y” button to press to rewind time so you can avoid taking that corner too fast. I will give you an example.
I’m on race four in Russia. I have won my last two races after finishing 5th in the first. I am buzzing. Race two was won by mere seconds, as I ran out of fuel approaching the finish line. I learnt at that point that I drive aggressively and use too much fuel, so now before the race I increase the amount of fuel in the car when setting my strategy. The practice sessions in Russia were a disaster. I was plagued with engine and gearbox issues. I couldn’t hit my objective times. So before practice session three I changed my engine, as you are allowed five to last the season. I also planned to change the gearbox, but as it’s supposed to last six races I would endure a grid penalty for doing so. I went into session three and again the gearbox was missing gears, so I made the executive decision to do it. With the car fixed up I qualified in pole, but due to the penalty I had to start in sixth.
Not a problem I thought, but when it came to race day it was hammering it down. This dynamic weather is a new feature of F1 2017. It is extremely unpredictable. This meant I needed a whole new strategy. The race started, I had the racing line heading into turn one, and Max Verstappen took me out completely. Now, I want to make it clear that it wasn’t a dodgy AI that caused the crash, as it was the only example of that kind of thing. In fact the AI seemed to be pretty clever, especially on situations where you are braking late, on the inside to overtake on a corner. If you have that racing line they will back off. If you don’t they will take it ahead of you, causing you to crash into them, and you will be penalised for it!
I then had a damaged nose cone, but I could still drive, so I had to drive one lap with virtually no downforce, but I made it to the pits. My crew patched me up and sent me on my way. 30 seconds behind in 19th place. I finished the race in 10th after some quite extraordinary driving.
But that’s F1! That’s what happens week in, week out in the real championship. So this game is realistic, brutal and amazingly tense. I knew at every point during that race that I wasn’t going to win. But it was still a challenge and still fun. I felt as if restarting the session was cheating, so I refused to. Crashing and damaging your car will also have a realistic outcome, with your car being out of action whilst repairs are being made.
I can’t fault F1 2017. Is it as good as Forza? I’m not going there, as it’s not trying to be that kind of game. It’s a simulation of Formula 1. And on that criteria it smashes it out of the park. And I can’t wait to see it running on Xbox One X, where it’s already been confirmed as being enhanced for Microsoft’s new console. It’s beautiful on the Xbox One, so it’ll be even better on the X.
If you like racing games, and if you really like F1 and all its intricacies, then just go and buy this game. You will not regret that decision.