And it’s GO! GO! GO! (And buy this game!)
The Formula 1 series has been a fascinating one to watch grow over the past 4 years or so. I’ve reviewed every one of them since F1 2014, which didn’t release on the PS4 and Xbox One, instead dropping on the PC and previous gen machines. Since 2015’s disappointing release, however, the series has gone from strength to strength, layering features on top of systems, which genuinely feel like this year’s iteration is the culmination of years of hard work that Codemasters can be genuinely proud of.
First thing’s first, the new cars and tracks are in the game, with all of the drivers in the correct teams. It’d be a pretty disappointing release if they weren’t, right? The controversial halo is present and correct on all of the cars, which gives you an indication of how difficult it is for the drivers to get a handle on things with a great big line down the centre of your vision. It’s a weird addition to the game, and honestly had me playing mostly using the “TV Pod” camera, allowing me to see the corners and dynamic racing lines popping up ahead of me (yes, I’m that guy, sue me). Faithful recreations of Germany’s tight Hockenheimring and France’s quick but twisty Circuit Paul Ricard are in, keeping true to the F1 2018 season.
Elsewhere, there aren’t a whole host of real gameplay changes, outside of things generally feeling a little bit tighter and deliberate than 2017’s outing. That’s not to say that last year’s was bad (quite the opposite, in fact), but this time out it just feels a bit “snappier”, and it’s all the better for it. Of course, there are the traditional array of driver and vehicle assists, to ensure that you can make it off the starting grid, and through to the end, and there’s an impressively granular level of driver AI, helping you to nudge up the levels of challenge step by step until you’re feeling confident enough to take on the pack without it being a simple case of holding down the accelerator.
The career mode is back once again, after a successful reintroduction in 2016. This time out it feels a bit deeper, with interviews being introduced into the fabric of the already substantial mode. It’s a great touch that really helps you sink into the story, and it’s something other games should take notice of, as it’s implemented extremely well. Also making a welcome return is the “Events” mode. This is one that I didn’t really end up spending too much time with last year, but it feels like an attempt to branch out into the “Games as a Service” model, pushing out scenarios in which you have a series of objectives to hit in order to complete. The one that was live during my review period was one where you had to fight your way into the points from 14th in the pack, over the course of 11 laps, in a Renault that’s got a pace advantage over the majority of the cars in front. It’s a cool mode, and one that I’ll probably hang around in and try to claw my way up the leaderboards going forward.
Honestly, it’s getting harder to review these games each year. The changes that the devs are making are all for the best when it comes to tightening up the gameplay and making sure little technical quibbles from last year’s game are eradicated, to the point where this season’s release feels technically flawless. Visually, the game gets more impressive each year, right down to the way the sun glints off the mottled metal of the Rolex signage adorning the ad boards over the track. The racing is at a solid 60fps (aside from the rear-view mirrors, which are noticeably running at half of that), and the only real jarring moments come in during the post-race celebrations when the frame rate gets a little choppy, but these moments have no impact whatsoever on my enjoyment of the game. (Seriously, I don’t mind if my champagne-soaked Lewis Hamilton avatar is smiling like a lunatic in 20 or 40fps). One thing that never seems to change though is just how much enjoyment I seem to get out of these titles year-on-year. Nothing quite beats the pant-soilingly terrifying moments when you feel like you’re just about to lose control of a microscopically engineered 1000bhp machine as you hit a damp patch on the track exiting a meandering chicane at nearly 200mph. It’s a thrill that I would not want to experience in reality, but one that has caused me more panic than a lot of full-fledged horror titles have managed over the past couple of years.
Some people might well say that F1 2018 is a purely iterative title. While there is only so much that can be done in an annual release cycle for a licenced racing title, Codemasters are really proving that they know what they’re doing when it comes to open wheel racing. Whether you want a deep and intricate simulation, or a quick and easy blast around Silverstone, the series keeps getting better and better, and this year is no exception. You can’t get more real without donning a jumpsuit that smells like Moet & Chandon with a suspicious hint of urine.