As a huge F1 fan, the latest F1 game is something that I do look forward to arriving every year. Since Codemasters acquired the F1 license back in 2009, the series has evolved into something of a complete package, with the latest installment being better than ever.
Diving right in, the game feels fantastic. Cars handle brilliantly and as you’d expect them to. They feel heavy. They feel nervous — especially when you turn driver aids down or off completely. It feels like you’re sat in a car considered the pinnacle of motorsport, and for that you have to give Codemasters a lot of credit. Driver AI has been under the microscope in recent years and my experience in F1 2018 was that it has been greatly improved. Even on easy settings you can watch as they dice with each other, and if you dial the difficulty up you might as well be sharing a track with the real pros.
Naturally the weather plays a big part in how your car handles as well. When it’s raining hard at Silverstone, just keeping the car on the track is challenging enough. The difference is extremely noticeable and I found myself sat on the edge of my seat, not blinking as I navigated my way into Maggots and Becketts, all whilst trying to keep home favourite, Lewis Hamilton, behind me. If you think the modern cars are a handful in the wet, try taking the 1998 McLaren out for a spin — but be careful with that throttle!
Just like real world F1, the tracks are plentiful and varied. The detail — especially on some of the closed street circuits like Monaco and Azerbaijan — is flawless. The car models are also a work of beauty and the observant F1 fan will be able to tell the differences from car to car instantly. The presentation in general in F1 2018 is of an extremely high standard, from the new race intro graphics to the pit crew, it all feels very real. F1 2018 also performs wonderfully on both Xbox One S and the X, the latter offering HDR and 4K support to make things look even more lifelike.
Career mode is the main focus in F1 2018, allowing you to compete in the World Championship for a team of your choice. An extremely lacklustre avatar and helmet selection starts things off with a disappointing choice of a few dozen pre-designed characters and helmets. Without an actual character creator or helmet designer (from scratch), I always find it really difficult to be “myself” in the career mode — so why even bother with it and just have you select from one of the current drivers instead?
Thankfully, the personalisation options are the only damper on a otherwise fantastic career mode. Once you’ve settled into the team you’re introduced to Claire, the new press officer and one of the big new inclusions over last years’ title. She will be interviewing you on a regular basis and your answers can affect not just your overall relationship with the team (and others) but also what each department within the team think. If you talk openly about how much power you’re lacking — like a certain Fernando Alonso’s disdain with Honda — the engine department are likely to be less motivated when it comes to upgrading your car.
Upgrades are an integral part of career mode and to upgrade your car you need to earn Resource Points. Thankfully, there are many different ways to do this, ranging from achieving certain goals in practice sessions, completing a certain amount of laps over the race weekend and simply by performing relative to your expectations. With Resource Points in your pocket, you can select different areas of the car to invest in such as Aerodynamics or Durability. Your engineer can recommend areas for you to focus on based on your performance and some may be at a reduced price depending on if you’ve been saying nice things about that department.
The one feature that I’m still disappointed doesn’t exist in career mode is an active driver market. Yes, you can move up and down the grid by responding to the various offers that come your way, but that is it. No other driver moves take place, even if you end up running a dozen seasons. Honestly, it gives me little incentive to keep my career going beyond the first couple of seasons because there is just no variety. I’m sure there are some potential licensing issues blocking this (although earlier licensed F1 games, such as EA’s F1 Manager managed it without any problem), I can’t stress enough how much more absorbing career mode would be for me if the driver market shook things up now and again.
An area which I give great credit to the design and development team is just how excellent the classic F1 car integration is. It would be easy for them to simply include the classic cars for use in time trial modes, but they are fully integrated into your career progression as “Invitational” events. Ranging from overtake challenges to checkpoint races, do well in these events and your driver reputation will increase. You can use the classic cars in time trial outside of career, of course, and you can even create a custom championship to recreate Damon Hill’s 1996 title winning season, should you want to. The classic cars themselves look great and most of all sound wonderful. So much so, going back into a modern F1 car makes you tear up just a little at how much nicer cars of yesteryear were on the ears. All of the classic cars from F1 2017 are included as well as a handful of new ones for 2018, including Jenson Button’s 2009 title-winning Brawn GP.
As well as online multiplayer, a few other modes are also available. Time Trial as you’d expect allows you to go testing to perfect your racing lines on any of the available tracks, in any car of your choice — modern or classic. Championship mode sees you control your favourite driver through an entire season, and Grand Prix mode allows you to take part in a one-off race weekend. Event mode is probably the most interesting distraction outside of Career; it’s a weekly online scenario that you can undertake for a spot on the online leaderboard. You can change the difficulty to whatever pleases you but it has an impact on your overall score. I’d like to see this evolve into real world scenarios as the real season progresses and give you a chance to change the history books of the current season.
F1 2018 is another progressive improvement for the Codemasters’ series and, despite the odd annoyance here and there, is extremely enjoyable. Casual players and F1 anoraks will find plenty on offer here, regardless of their skill level. You can pick up and play in a fifteen-minute session, or you can spend hours running test laps to perfect your setup. It’s all here, and it’s exceptional.
Now, if Codemasters could apply the same format to a new British Touring Car Championship game, following on from their TOCA series in the late 90s, that would be just fantastic!
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