I’m going to admit it. I was a bit worried when I loaded up Codemasters’ latest racer. Formula One games haven’t gone well for me in the past. I’d crash and fail for hours. Finally I’d turn all the assists way up, turn the difficulty down as far as it would go, and try to play it like Midnight Run or Burnout Paradise. For years the only way I could play an F1 game was to make it as little like Formula 1 as possible.
When I started playing F1 2017, it was like a revelation. It’s a deep game, packed with technical terms, tracks, classic cars, as well as all the current teams and drivers. But – and this is important – it all comes down to one simple screen. There are five settings for adjusting your car’s downforce. From a lot, to not much. I just increased the downforce a little, drove onto the track, and raced for hours, and had a blast doing it.
Is the game totally nerfed? I don’t know. I’ve never driven a Formula One car. But, this is the first time I haven’t felt like I had to be Michael Schumacher to play. It was still a challenge; I finished ninth in my second race and felt good about it. Tried racing at Monaco, but it was too hard, too narrow, and too technical. So, I went to Silverstone where it was way more open and forgiving. I raced online, everyone was better than me, but that was fine. In my first online race I was 30 seconds behind, by my fourth race I was well inside 10 seconds and competing.
If you want to go totally authentic you can still turn the assists off, switch to a manual transmission, and spin out every time you touch the accelerator. But, for us gaming mortals, F1 2017 is infinitely more accessible than it has been in the past. It also has a mountain of content to explore, and is simply enormous fun.
The first thing I always do with a sports sim is create a character, this time I went with the Sebastian Gorka look, and dove into career mode. While all the cars and tracks are detailed and accurate, the people aren’t. They look like they were modeled ten years ago, and have accents straight off of Love Island. So you join Red Bull or Williams and set up in their cafe/open plan work-space with your laptop and phone. You take calls from your agent about KPIs, consider offers to invitational events, and tinker with your car’s setup.
Along with the downforce settings, you can distribute resource points to upgrade your car. There are four R&D trees to work on; power, durability, aerodynamics, and chassis. While the first three are self explanatory, upgrading your chassis affects the weight of the car and impacts tyre wear. There are a tonne of details to upgrade, and resource points – especially early in the game – are hard to come by. Even at the end of your ten-year career you’ll still be upgrading.
When all the ancillary stuff is sorted, you can head to the next Grand Prix. Each race is played out over four days. In the first three practice days you essentially race in mini games focused on tyre management, fuel consumption, race line, and time trials. If you’re successful you earn resource points, but, if you fail, you can try again. However, the more time you spend on the track the more your engine and tyres wear. In F1 these resources are limited; if you need extra above the allocated amount, you and your team will get penalised on race day.
Once you’ve practiced, learned the track, and spent your resource points, you can complete your qualifying lap and take your place on the grid. In the past games the lead-up to race day has felt like a chore. In F1 2017 it all feels worthwhile. Aside from the resource points, knowledge of the track is vital, and with all the mini-tasks lasting at most five laps, it never feels like you’re just going round and round in circles.
Although I’ve emphasized how friendly the game feels compared to previous entries, race day is still very tense. Starts are a mess. Cars everywhere, all heading full-speed into the first tight corner. It’s simply a matter of survival. But after the first lap it all settles down to a typical F1 race. Drive carefully, and accurately, brake early, and exit clean. Also, taking damage feels a little less brutal. While hitting a wall will still put you out, you do have a rewind option if you’re quick enough. But, even slight damage to your car will noticeably affect your top speed and handling.
Along with the career mode you can compete in an individual race weekend, or build your own series of full or short races. There are also one-off events with challenges, like win at Spa with Max Verstappen in a damaged car. You can also compete in single races, custom races, or custom championships online. Although it seems to have some stability issues, the only time I raced against more than half a dozen cars, the session crashed. Finding races was quick though, and for the most part ran beautifully.
F1 2017 is an impressive game. It not only retains the feel and flavour of Formula One racing, it makes it all accessible. No doubt there is a touch of arcade racing about it. The heavy rain, fighting lens flare, and swapping paint. Although, the likes of Lewis Hamilton have made swapping paint a more common event than it has been in the past. With the upgrade system and large collection of classic cars, it’s even overcome the problem that every car – in past games – felt essentially the same. Even if it hasn’t won the Constructors’ Championship, in almost every way F1 2017 has driven to an impressive win.