While not a huge fan of Formula One racing, I find myself on a yearly basis playing the latest F1 game by Codemasters. As a testament to the studio’s talents, I typically have a fun time despite not being the target audience. None of the past racing titles have truly captured my attention, though, as after going through a year or two of grands prix, I find myself moving on to play something else.
This year looks to be different. F1 2017 is the first time that the series really grabbed me in its career mode. This is due to an impressive overhaul where the player’s off-the-track life is briefly shown in cutscenes (such as meeting with their agent before signing a deal, and being with their pit crew before a race). These little touches in presentation help the game feel more like acting out a racer’s career rather than just doing a series of connected races. The bulk of the on-track experience might be the same, but the career is presented in such a stylish way that I couldn’t help but become invested.
Players are also given additional reasons to care about each race as they’re part of a team, and the game grades you on your rivalry with your teammate. While I don’t really get why it designated my teammate as my rival (wouldn’t it make more sense if it was someone from another team?), it did give me a solid goal to do better than in each race. Since we were racing identical cars, there was no excuse if I performed worse. Those that succeed in besting their opponent will be rewarded with experience points that can then be used in a shockingly in-depth research and development skill tree. Dozens of upgrades for the player’s cars can be unlocked, and it’s actually pretty overwhelming at first.
It’s not just the career mode that has seen a boost in production quality, though. The entire presentation of F1 2017 is impressive as players are introduced to race tracks with television-quality featurettes that give the player a taste of the locale, and a look at the other drivers. I’m usually one to skip past these sort of things, but I loved looking at how they made each track feel unique from the others (which makes sense considering how global Formula One racing is).
Sadly, all of this slick presentation disappears during the race. The informative announcers vanish into thin air, and I’m left just hearing the “vroom” of the powerful engines. Normally this wouldn’t bother me in a racing game, but I was such a fan of the presentation that I really wish it carried over to the actual races. Actual commentary could add a lot to the human drama that happens during a race, and could help tell the stories of each grand prix as only so much can be shown via on-screen prompts.
As far as the actual racing goes, it’s pretty much what one would expect from the series. Codemasters always nails the fundamentals for their games (even Micro Machines World Series had a solid base), and this is no exception. The racing feels great, and there are as many assists and difficulty options for players to slowly work their way up the career bracket while also not finishing last in every race until they actually master the many nuances to the racing.
One of the coolest additions of F1 2017 is that the game includes a bunch of retro cars. Admittedly, some of the nostalgic appeal is lost on me, but I still really enjoyed racing the different designs in a game that largely features identical cars. During the career mode special events will occasionally pop up that allow the player to race these cars, and they also can be used in the game’s Championship mode. The latter allows players to participate in different types of events, such as having to overtake a set amount of cars. This gives the racer a lot more variety than it would’ve had previously.
F1 2017 is a content rich experience, but sadly it can be more difficult to get into than it should be. The in-game tutorials are absolute rubbish, and consist merely as videos that barely scrape the surface of the game’s depth. Throw in a career mode that surfaces a gigantic skill tree early on, and the in-depth sections of F1 can be downright scary to a newcomer. That’s something Codemasters will have to address in the future, as simply getting a solid start in a race can be difficult for new players.
While not the most novice-friendly racing game, those who put the hours into Codemasters’ latest F1 title will find it a worthwhile endeavor. The on-track action is great, and the level of customization is rarely seen even in other simulations. Unfortunately, a lot of the finer racing concepts aren’t introduced well and the gigantic R&D tree can be overwhelming when first seen during the career mode. If players can get past that, they’ll have a blast.
F1 2017 review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.