I’ll hold my hand up and admit that I’ve never been in a Formula 1 car (though I’m willing if Williams, McLaren or any of the others are listening out there!) but I can say that never has an F1 game come so close to emulating the feeling of watching the sport and the idea of what it must actually feel like to be in the car from a spectator’s point of view.
Codemasters have had plenty of experience in the field of Motor Racing games, of course, so this should come as no surprise, but after the rather lacklustre effort last year, many were waiting to see if they could bring the F1 videogame show back on the road. Thankfully, they have and then some.
They’ve had their work cut out for them, too, thanks to a huge set of regulation changes that affected both the physical car and the rules that the teams need to race by. It’s a tighter race now in the real F1 and that actually helps provide a more thrilling race in the game by emulating this.
You start off, as usual, as a new driver, picking a team to sign you up with and then getting to work on testing the car. This is where the game has expanded a lot on previous years, with more emphasis on track testing and research and development. It’s as much a race off track to get your mechanical side competing with other teams as it is driving against them on race day. For those with an interest in the technical aspects of F1, this is an interesting development which allows you to micro-manage the team while still experiencing the thrill of the actual driving. Thankfully, if you haven’t got a clue about engines and gearboxes, there are recommended settings and research elements to blag your way through this side of the game.
Back on track, the AI has been greatly improved and it really does feel like you’re racing against some of the world’s finest drivers at times. When things get slippy in the wet, you’re forced to confront spinning cars in front of you and even in the dry there are big risks to taking a corner with another car alongside you, both aiming for that same important place. The career mode feels comprehensive and even practice sessions matter to your overall setup and your ability to work out fuel consumption. Yes, I’ve run out of fuel on track and it’s pretty embarrassing. Dynamic weather plays its part in making split second tyre decisions that could see you head to the podium or find yourself right at the back of the pack, as do pit stops and (if you have it turned on) any damage that could potentially end your race.
There are a smattering of classic races, where you’ll get to take some real classic cars for a spin as part of an invitational in the career mode. There are also scenarios that are regularly updated and, in a touch of genius, have been playing out events from actual F1 races after they’ve happened. Watching the Japanese race with the building tension of the wet weather after a safety car and then going on to play a snippet that same scenario, competing against others online, was a great feeling.
It’s not perfect, there are some screen tears while racing when things get hectic, not that they’re really all that noticeable when you’re deep in a race, and the face models off track aren’t fantastic, but these are little niggles. Aside from these, F1 fans will be well catered for with F1 2017 and it deserves to be up there with the best racing games this generation.