Formula 1 might not be holding my interest like it once did but Codemasters’ treatment of the sport retains a level of curiosity. With some strong visuals and a handling package behind it, can this year’s game surpass last season’s revered effort?
Visually, this doesn’t differ much from last season’s blueprint. Racing runs at a smooth 60 frames-per-second with car models and track detail impressing. Drivers can look a little blurry as they appear to draw in higher textures as they see fit. It’s jarring, although they’re more striking than the terrifying paddock dwellers. Codemasters persist with that motif and, whilst it does make your career feel a little more of a journey, I don’t think it offers too much in the way of drama or substance. The faces you meet are there to introduce systems and objectives, rather than provide real context.
Changeable weather remains a key factor in F1 2017. Rain and the puddles it produces add a dimension to the track that could always be subject to change. Your kept on your toes by it and it continues to be something that’s more than just cosmetic. Damage modelling has improved with some crashes displaying some real carnage. Engine notes fill the track with a nice sense of atmosphere and the ability to hear what’s behind you is always a welcome touch.
Handling is where I find the most joy from F1 2017. The feeling of the car’s power hitting the back wheels is something that’s well-replicated. Overcooking it and having to deal with the traction is a fun tussle and, even on a controller, you can hammer out a certain level of precision. The bells and whistles of modern F1 are available to you. Fans of ERS will miss it from this year’s regulations but DRS works as advertised. There’s plenty of feedback to aid you in the race. Tyre temperatures, damage indicators and lap deltas give you plenty to assess where you’re placed in the race. Your race engineer keeps you clued in on any missing pieces. It can be information overload but the core driving and racing has a competitive feel that’s enjoyable to thrash through.
The default difficulty provides an experience that’s a touch on the easy side. You can punch above your weight in an underpowered McLaren and heavy braking zones provide big invitations to overtake. It’s not hard to defend against medium level adversaries. Those wanting a challenge will absolutely take this up a peg or two. They can still be beaten on the brakes but there’s a larger willingness to return fire. At times, it can be relentless and F1 2017 is all the better for it.
Classic vehicles take a larger presence this year, although from a mostly modern perspective. The selection begins with Senna’s 1988 McLaren and concludes with Red Bull’s 2010 World Championship winner. These cars are interesting to drive with the earlier exhibits struggling to decelerate. The 2000’s represent Formula 1’s fastest era with the raw power being fascinating to control. There’s some curious omissions with Schumacher’s Benetton hardware nowhere to be seen. It’s a small complaint and, whilst the 30-year span feels a little narrow, it does guarantee a pacey grid for classic events.
The game modes run the usual race and time trial furrows. With the license providing a very specific series, the chance to offer some variety comes from the Championships mode. As well as an opportunity to play through this year’s season, you can play some fantasy series with a handful of twists. Some offer some classic competition with both sprint and feature races. There’s also a selection that gives the whole grid parity, making skill the deciding factor in success. Codemasters have tried to freshen up a property that always has the potential to wear thin. It’s commendable, especially on a yearly cycle.
Career mode remains the show piece of the package. The usual loop of globe-trotting whilst keeping an eye on rivals within and beyond your team is intact. Obvious improvements come via the R&D tech tree. It’s vast with four areas to re-enforce your vehicle in. There’s a time scale associated with each upgrade which provides some tactical element to it. Do you prioritise engine power in the hope of grabbing a podium in Monza or look for grip in Monaco? Success naturally earns brownie points with your team and reputation amongst the rest of the grid. There’s a compelling flow from event to event with resource points (the currency required for upgrades) being gifted for completed sessions and practice programmes. Racing makes up the bulk of your tally but it offers some incentive to deal with the more minor aspects of a weekend. The season’s broken up even further with invitational events that introduce you to the vintage vehicles.
There’s plenty to involve yourself with. Online multiplayer is functional with races on release week being easy to come by. There are now weekly persistent events that mirror real Grand Prix weekends to give fans a larger test of endurance, all with leaderboard support. Sadly, local multiplayer remains absent.
After a few years away, F1 2017 allows me to enjoy the sport again with smart, accessible handling and a race experience that shows enough teeth to make each event feel different and competitive. It’s content rich, even if most of that content revolves around driving in circles.
+ Great weather effects with plenty of track-side detail.
+ Deep career mode.
+ Plenty of variation to keep the package from feeling stale.
- AI can sometimes be a little generous.
- Classic car selection is a touch underwhelming.