There’s a strange thing happening with Codemasters’ F1 series. While Formulas 1 as a sporting spectacle is becoming less and less exciting to watch, the F1 series of games just keeps getting better and better. It’s a remarkable achievement, and while on paper the headline features of F1 2017 might ring some bells for long term fans of the series and offer little in terms of new content, it’s the changes deeper down which really make this a great new entry in the F1 catalogue.
All of the obvious changes are present here. The new, wider 2017 cars are in place along with the fatter tyres, updated liveries and the somehow-worse-than-last-year Honda engine. Tracks have been tweaked to match the various small changes made this season, and the presentation on offer is every bit as modern and gorgeous looking as you’d expect. Most of the game modes are still here as well, letting you take part in individual races, time trials, seasons and a more fully fledged career mode – more on that later.
There are also Event Modes on offer too, and one of the biggest additions comes in the guide of these class races, letting you race some of the most iconic cars from the recent past of Formula 1. Fancy hopping into Damon Hill’s title winning Williams, or the fantastic looking McLaren that Senna once bossed the grid in? Maybe something more recent, such as Vettel’s championship topping Red Bull, or the lovely looking silver McLaren that Hamilton and Button enjoyed for a few years. There’s a fair few available, and while it’d be nice to be able to do a proper season from the 90s with a full quota of cars, it’s a nice addition which occasionally weaves its way into the career mode as well.
Ok, so this career mode. There’s always been a career mode, right? Well yes, but not quite like this. While much is the same – pick a starting team with its own expectations, run through testing, qualifying and the race – it’s the development of your team which really makes this shine brighter than the previous versions. Each team has a development tree, letting you spend research points from testing and racing on a huge array of various upgrades depending on where your car’s weaknesses are. As I started my career and took my seat in the 2nd McLaren there was only one thing on my mind – get the turkey in the back of the car a bit more competitive. Over the course of a season I’d managed to boost a few crucial parts of the power unit and drag myself towards the higher end of the grid, but in doing so had neglected a lot of other aspects of the car which others had improved. Over the 10 seasons of your career you’ll get to try out various things with different teams, and also suffer at the hands of the reliability gods.
As with real racing, you’re limited to how many engine components you can use throughout the year, and you’ll be able to check in to see the state of your various engine bits between races. Try and push your luck and you might hit a failure at just the wrong time, with turbos and the like popping at very inopportune moments. There are times you feel for the likes of Verstappen and Alonso, those great drivers who have just had such bad luck with reliability this season, but at least the other drivers suffer failures and have accidents too, so that makes things feel fair. There’s also a fair bit of safety car action this time round too, and while that might just be the way my games have panned out it’s a nice thing to happen, with some interesting strategy calls on offer. In my first race with McLaren I was called into the pits when a safety car was called, and managed to get a free pit stop as most others had already passed the pit entry; coming out at the back I managed to fight up into the lead as others made later stops, then got called in for a penalty after overtaking before the safety car line. I finished 14th. Disappointing. But the idea was there – my engineer pulled off a blinder, but I managed to bugger it up all by myself. Moments like this happen at a pretty realistic rate, maybe more than you’d get in real racing but a good balance between entertainment and realism, although to really get the most out of the dynamic weather, failures, accidents and other unexpected variables you’ll be looking at races of at least 25% distance – anything less and you can avoid pitstops all together and may well go several races at a time without anything going wrong.
As a package, I can’t think of a better F1 game in recent times. Codemasters are somehow managing to do an amazing job of every racing game they release at the moment, and to make an often dull racing formula such as F1 into an exciting, dynamic and keenly battled racer is a hugely impressive task. It’s not often I suggest buying the latest version of a game if you have last year’s, but F1 2017 bucks that trend. It’s not perfect – some of the animations between races are pretty ropey and look like they’ve just been copy and pasted from F1 2015, and the AI can be on the slightly mental side of aggressive at times, but for an F1 fan this is absolutely on the money. Well worth picking up.
Reviewed on PS4