F1 2017 makes some serious improvements, but is it the best racing game around?
If you’ve watched Formula 1 in the past ten years, you’ll probably know Ferrari is one of the most successful teams in the sport. The Italian marque has won countless championships since F1 began, and its red cars are now synonymous with motorsport. But it hasn’t actually won anything since 2007.
For the past decade, Ferrari has employed top drivers such as Alonso, Raikkonen, Vettel and Massa in its cars, and although it’s come very, very close, Ferrari has always remained the runner-up or, even worse, third. Until very recently, Ferrari has been almost there, but not quite the best – and that’s exactly how I feel about Codemasters’ F1 games.
Ever since Formula 1 97 – still one of the best games I’ve ever played – the official F1 games have produced flashes of brilliance, but haven’t had the consistent performance to complete the top racing titles. However, after a antisocial weekend with F1 2017, I’m starting to think Codemasters might have finally got it right. Featuring a new RPG in the form of Career mode, more involving handling and the return of some serious classics cars, F1 2017 has the makings of greatness. But just how good is it?
F1 2017 review (on PS4)
F1 2017 is the official game of the 2017 Formula 1 world championship, and that means it keeps to the same basic recipe as the other F1 games you’ve probably played. You can play as any of the teams and all the drivers that are taking part in this year’s championship, and as you’d expect, you can drive on all the tracks that the sport is visiting this year.
The game features different layouts of all the tracks on this year’s calendar, so you’ll also have some extra variation. And Codemasters has also included a night time version of Monaco, which is nice.
Game modes are pretty much the same as last year, too, with Time Trial, Multiplayer modes, championships and the opportunity to customise specific racing weekends, too. I’ll add my thoughts on multiplayer mode once I’ve had more time on it.
However, while it might look similar to last year’s game, F1 2017 adds some vital improvements to the fold, and it’s a much better racing game as a result. The first, and probably most important, new area of the game is the enhanced Career mode. In 2017, being an F1 driver is about managing your engine parts, testing, signing contracts and doing PR activities – not to mention racing. And F1 2017 tackles this new side of the sport with vigour.
The new Career mode will probably be the first place you start, and Codemasters has injected an RPG-esque level of interest to it. You can be either a male or female rookie, sign and negotiate a contract with the lower teams and then work your way up through the field. You can take part in testing, and even help with the development of your car.
The testing challenges are actually quite challenging, and the ability to manage your engine components and help choose the direction of your car’s improvements really immerses you in the sport. The character modelling is still pretty rough around the edges, and F1 games have had Career modes before, but F1 2017 goes bigger and deeper.
Codemasters says it has improved the handling of cars in this year’s game, and I think it’s right. Because of new rules, this year’s cars are far grippier and more stable at high speed, but when you do push them to the limit, they’re surprisingly engaging. If you take a little more speed through a corner than your 2017 cars will allow, you’ll find yourself sliding – and if you put the power down too abruptly, you’ll need to correct for oversteer.
There’s a floaty aspect to these slides sometimes, and it’s nowhere near as realistic as Assetto Corsa – but on the whole, F1 2017 makes cars rewarding to drive. Correcting oversteer during a high-speed corner makes you feel like a hero, and on default settings, F1 2017 gives you enough feel and enough warning to do it.
Codemasters has actually included a mode that makes oversteer more obvious – ideal for those playing with a pad – so I’ll turn it off and then update my review.
After a brief appearance in F1 2013, classic cars are back in F1 2017, and they couldn’t have come at a better time. There aren’t a huge amount here – the 1988 McLaren is annoyingly a DLC item – but the 12 strong line-up is everything a fan could want. F1 2017 has managed to squeeze in key cars from F1’s recent history, so there’s everything from Lewis Hamilton’s 2008 McLaren to Nigel Mansell’s championship-winning Williams FW14B.
Each car sounds distinctive and, because the handling is actually quite good, really lets you compare the different eras of Formula 1. Cars such as Damon Hill’s 1996 Williams give you less grip, while Mikka Hakkinen's 1998 McLaren produce an amazing V10 symphony. What’s more, the Career mode also includes PR events that require you to race the classic cars, which is a really nice touch.
A better Career mode, classic car content and better handling propel F1 2017 higher than any recent Codemasters F1 game – but it still isn’t quite there with games such as Assetto Corsa and Project Cars.
The first problem is that the graphics aren’t particularly impressive. Codemasters’ F1 games aren’t awful looking, but they have never been known for their presentation – and F1 2017 continues that trend. Simply put, the lighting isn’t as good, the cars aren’t as convincing and something just looks a bit off whichever car or track combination you pick. Rain does look good, but again, there’s an element of polish missing.
The game has graphical issues, too, and on PS4 you’ll find certain cars are lumbered with sharp, pixellated edges. Worst of all is tearing, which you’ll see on faster corners, and usually with a richer background. This basically happens when one frame of the game doesn’t refresh properly and, say, the top of the screen updates slower than the bottom. The result is a rather off-putting “tear” in the scenery, and it’s not what you expect from a modern PS4 game.
The game is still pretty touchy with track limits, too, and even putting a wheel over the kerb will see your time deleted on Time Trial mode. Hopefully it can be fixed with a patch, because it’s a little too harsh right now.
And, as the time of writing, the game has a difficulty problem. With a Fanatec CSL wheel, I was able to win on 90/100 difficulty within an hour. And while I may be more used to playing racing games than the average gamer, and while a wheel does help, it’s still much easier than I’d expect.
The AI tends to be very slow in the first corner, but on the right difficulty level, racing is really fun. Racing can get very close, and the CPU cars usually make room for you, too. That means you’re able to go wheel-to-wheel with your F1 heroes in corners, without necessarily being punted off by them.
F1 2017 offers a decent step up from last year’s game, and has clearly been made with Formula 1 fans in mind. It takes a thorough look at modern F1 in 2017, and gives you access to all the new tasks a modern driver has to do – from managing engine parts to testing cars. Classic cars are a great addition, too, and really make make F1 2017 the most complete F1 game in recent times.
However, it’s still not in the same league as the best racing games around. Perhaps it’s because it has to be made in around a year, and because it has to appeal to a wide number of gamers – it has to compromise. The AI is a little strange sometimes, but the main issues are the handling and the presentation. Even with assists off, there’s still a whiff of arcade in the way the cars handle – and that’s not ideal for more hardcore gamers.
But the biggest issue with F1 2017 is the graphics. With games such as Project Cars 2 and GT Sport around the corner, F1 2017 needs to look amazing – and it doesn’t quite get there. The result? If you’re a F1 fan, you need to buy this game, but if you’re just a racing fan, there should be other games on your list before F1 2017.