It’s been a year and Codemasters is back with another installment in its long running F1 franchise with F1 2017. The return of classic cars is the headline this year, as well as a revamped career mode. How will the game stack up against past F1 games? Will it be able to hold its own against the other big hitters releasing this fall? We hopped behind the wheel to find out.
Codemasters provided us with F1 2017 review codes for all three major platforms. This review largely focuses on the PC and PlayStation 4 versions unless otherwise stated.
Content and Value For Money –
From the beginning, F1 2017 seems like a big game compared to what’s come before in the franchise. There’s so much to distract yourself with that describing the content as generous would almost be an understatement. What is evident right from the start is the amount of modes on offer: Career, Grand Prix, Multiplayer, Time Trial, Event and Championships.
Championships mode is new for this year, with no less than 20 different series available, from the Double-Header Tour featuring a Sprint Race and Feature Race at every round, to the Classic Street Series that includes a reverse championship grid. You can spend hours in this mode alone, way before you even scratch the surface of the rest of the game. You can also replay Invitational events that you took part in throughout your F1 career in this mode.
The classic cars make a return from F1 2013. There’s twelve of them, ranging from the early 90s McLaren MP4/6 to the 2010 Red Bull RB6. The classic cars can be raced in a plethora of modes, too. Create a custom championship with them in Grand Prix mode, tackle some challenges throughout your career in Invitationals, or simply hot lap them in Time Trial.
Racing the classic cars in Grand Prix mode is a blast. You can choose single class, multi class or spec racing. The multi class racing is analogous to living out an F1 fan’s wet dream. Think Le Mans with F1 cars. The cars are split into two classes: “C1” for the newer, faster machines and “C2” for the older cars. The game even shows what class position you’re in, as well as overall position.
Driving a 2008 McLaren MP4-23 alongside precious relics from the 1990s is a truly unique experience. It’s not just one race either, you can create a whole 24-event championship season complete with full practice and qualifying sessions.
The four new tracks on offer are a welcome addition. These are bite sized versions of Britain, Bahrain, Japan and the USA. Fans of Gran Turismo will recognize the shortened version of the Suzuka Circuit in Japan as “Suzuka East Course”! Each track can be experienced in dry or wet conditions at various times of the day.
Career mode is truly this the crux of F1 2017, however. Once you’ve mulled over which team to drive for, it’s time to set up the structure of your season. You can set numerous options including the lengths of each session and various levels of simulation. New for this year is an AI difficulty slider with 110 increments instead of the seven available in last year’s game.
One of the ways F1 2017 sets itself apart from this year’s upcoming slew of racing games is the Practice Programmes. Participating in these programmes allows you and the team to set you up for the race. There’s five different programmes on offer, each one as crucial as the other.
All the programmes from last year return, with two new additions. Fuel Saving hones your driving style to help you manage fuel throughout the race. Race Strategy requires a five lap run, simulating race conditions. The team will take the data from this programme to craft you a personalized race strategy. What’s cool about these programmes is they feel tailored to you.
When you go back and analyze the data, you can see where your strengths and weaknesses are. You can pinpoint which corners you’re using too much fuel in or where you’re wearing your tires too much.
The team will also relay feedback to you based on your performance. You’ll get predictions on where you might qualify, how much fuel you’ll need for the race, how long your tires are expected to last. You’ll understand how much fuel you use per lap and a percentage of how much you wear your tires.
There’s no other racing game on the market that offers this level of driver analysis and feedback. Even if you’re not into F1, the feeling that you have team behind you, analyzing your every move so they can construct you an entire race strategy is liberating.
But it goes even deeper than that with the introduction of Resource Points (RP) and Research and Development (R&D). Almost everything you do in F1 2017 awards RP. These points can then be used in R&D to develop the performance of your car. These points are precious and, over the course of a season, can be crucial to how your car performs against the competition.
The RP system really drives you to compete and take part. Sure, you can skip a Practice session or ignore the Practice Programmes, but doing so will mean potential points lost. It’s a smart system that rewards you for your hard work. Some of the driving in F1 2017 can feel like a chore, but knowing that there’s RP at the end of it gives you motivation to keep going.
Points accrued, it’s time to spend them! R&D adds a new facet to the game and with four times more upgrades over last year’s game, you’ll be plenty occupied. Choosing which area of the car to prioritize is crucial. Of particular consequence are the waiting periods, adding a very real sense of authenticity. Upgrades don’t magically appear overnight — or even the course of a weekend — and they won’t in game either.
It adds an RPG element to an otherwise formulaic genre and it would serve racing games as a whole to emulate this sooner rather than later. While it may appear cumbersome at first glance, everything is explained as clearly as possible. The only defining characteristic is your choice.
Fans of the sport have a leg up on knowing each car’s individual weaknesses and strengths, and the game rewards this know-how. That isn’t to suggest those not versed in the finite details are punished; in fact, it’s just the opposite. Those looking without prior knowledge can benefit from the the recommended upgrade feature.
Vehicle Management is also new for this year. Just like in real life, your engine and gearbox will only last so long. You can analyze how long each part has left, working out when to put in a new part to keep things fresh. But you only have a limited number of fresh parts available, so strategizing when’s best to use them is crucial.
It’s a part of the game that can be too much, even for die hard F1 aficionados. In the real world, things like this are left up to the team. The driver drives the car, he’s not a mechanic or off-track strategist. An option to leave Vehicle Management up to the team would’ve been welcomed.
Perform well enough during the season and you’ll earn “Invitational” event opportunities. These are one-off challenges featuring the classic cars. One such challenge is “Pursuit”. Your opponents are in slower cars and it’s up to you to overtake them all before you run out of laps.
Within a game that’s on an annual release cycle, Codemasters has done an astonishing job of including a huge wealth of content in F1 2017. Finding time to devote to this game, in addition to all the other racers coming out this year will be a fun challenge!
Online Features –
The multiplayer mode in F1 2017 is as versatile as ever. Similar to last year, you can create an entire online championship or join a public game. New this year are milestones which will reward you with XP when you reach them, thus increasing your level. You can also view other driver’s stats to get the leg up on the competition.
Event mode was out of commission at the time of testing so we couldn’t try it out. However, the mode sounds very similar to DiRT Rally’s “Online Events” mode. New challenges are uploaded every week for everyone to compete in. Event mode will go a long way to keeping things fresh in F1 2017, even months after release.
Multiplayer accommodates up to 20 players in both private and public lobbies. Two dedicated spectator positions fill the remaining slots. Spectators are of particular interest here and may serve toward the game’s future. Acting as race stewards, players can enforce rules during an online race as in real life.
Additionally, the spots can be use for live commentary giving an authentic feeling to online racing. Players will have access to the 2017 cars and classic machinery in all multiplayer modes. Server lists return from last year, now expanding to Xbox One allowing players to find suitable games.
Driving Physics and Handling –
With steering wheel in hand, this year’s game turns into a different experience. Being able to feel the rear tires slipping, or the almost tangible feeling of understeer adds to the polished feeling. The 2017 cars have monstrous levels of grip, so much so that going back to last year’s game proved a chore. This year’s cars feel fast, they feel nimble and attack-ready. It leaves little to wonder how many of the sport’s lap records have been broken.
All the cars in the game — both classic and modern — are a thrill to drive. The extra grip from the 2017 cars means corners that you’d have to lift for before are now flat out. This is a godsend on gamepad. It’s true that the 2017 cars are more difficult to recover when the back end comes around. The game simulates this brilliantly – when you get it wrong, that’s pretty much it.
Each classic car feels different. The earlier cars are less of a hassle in some ways due to their simplicity and lack of power. The newer cars — with lots of power and grip — are very pointy. You need lightning fast reactions to catch mistakes. But when everything goes to plan and you feel the raw power of the V10s, you feel unstoppable. There’s a real sense of feeling whether or not you’re outperforming the car or not living up to its capabilities.
With ABS turned off, locking the brakes proved easier than expected. We found this to be true regardless of using a wheel or controller. While wheel users have more freedom in the amount of pressure used, it’s very easy to snatch a brake, whatever era car you’re driving.
Naturally the game comes into its own when the skies open up. When the rain comes down slowly, you feel the grip slowly fade away. When there’s a sudden downpour and you’re on slicks, panic sets in as you need to tiptoe back to the pits for wet weather tires. The changing conditions feel gradual but consistent, just like they should.
Some parts of the track even have different levels of rain coming down, causing you to adjust your driving accordingly. It could be raining hard out the back of the track, but only a light drizzle on the home straight. This isn’t Live Track 3.0 from Project CARS 2, but it’s still a seriously in depth weather system that involves careful thought and planning to tackle.
When it comes to starting the game, players will find F1 2017 to be a familiar affair. Players can jump straight into the action without fear of losing themselves in the main menu. Set up the in-game driver avatar and you’re off to the races — quite literally.
F1 2017’s visual fidelity is unquestionable in the grand scheme of things, even more so on PC. We won’t mince words here: there are better looking racers on the market, but that alone doesn’t hinder the game from being a pleasure to look at. With everything turned to max, the differences between this and last year’s game are unmistakable.
The game’s color palette is more vibrant and lively thanks to no small part of improved lighting. Dynamic weather assists this year’s game in looking its absolute best. Driving in intense wet weather conditions drapes the player in convincing screen effects that elevates the sense of danger.
Dynamic skies further the immersion as rain clouds roll in overhead signaling an incoming downpour. Should you be lucky, the clouds will dissipate and a dry racing line will form allowing you to take in the sights. Environmental details see noticeable improvements over last year’s game as well. Grassy areas are both more vibrant and full, and track details are sharp. The game looks stunning, so much so it’s almost criminal that some of the finer details will go unnoticed.
The good news is there’s a solution to that problem: the PC-only photo mode. If you have a capable PC you’re able to take pictures up to (and beyond) 4K resolution. As any photo mode junkie will tell you, the feature adds enjoyment beyond what the game offers on its surface. Moreover, there’s clear inspiration from Driveclub’s own use of the mode, down to the variety of available filters.
Monaco at night is this year’s treat. The race itself has never run under the stars and this is a “what if” scenario to that degree. Under the veil of street lamps we’d dare suggest the circuit has never looked as appealing. A feeling enhanced further when wet conditions factor in. With lights reflecting off the wet tarmac it creates a unique experience we’d love to see in the real world.
F1 2017 runs at a smooth 60fps more often than not with the occasional mild hiccup. On PS4 we’ve noticed textures appear blurry upon closer inspection, while those on PC will have no such qualm. That isn’t to say the game doesn’t appear a little rough around the edges at times. During our brief time in career mode both platforms were subject to visual flickering at Australia during replays and gameplay.
Character models are a hit or miss affair. Some look identical to the real McCoy — such as Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg — while others appear as caricatures of themselves. A small quibble that’s more likely to bother fans of the sport than the Average Joe.
Sound Design –
Codemasters’ games rarely disappoint in sound design and this year’s F1 racer isn’t one to buck that trend. While modern V6 engines aren’t as loud or visceral as past formulae, there’s plenty of bite to their bark. Although sharing the same engine regulation, every car sounds unique.
That is to say the Mercedes W08 sounds like a different beast when compared to Red Bull’s RB13. The differences between them as well as the rest of the 2017 cars comes down to the subtle differences. It may not sound like much, but the RB13 has a noticeably deep tone when changing gears whereas the W08 is cleaner.
Of course the game’s sound design really comes into its own when the classic cars factor into things. Those anxious to relive the days of Formula One cars having vicious engine notes will be in good company. Getting behind the wheel of the Williams FW18 or Ferrari 412 T2 is an eye-watering experience. You’ll soon be watching every replay to listen to the bellows of F1’s past.
The environment plays a suitable role as well with engine tones bouncing off nearby barriers and echoing accordingly. Reverb adds another element to enjoying the game’s audio. No doubt the modern era cars may be quieter than others on the approach, but passing by is another story. Monaco is a prime example of this — one pass through the circuit’s tunnel section results in an engine symphony.
While we’ve focused on the engine notes, the game’s ambient noises add to the immersion as well. F1 2017 has range, and when you’re sitting in the pit box you’ll hear the track commentator relaying genuine real-time information. A new feature for this year’s game and a welcomed one at that; it adds to the experience in a way we didn’t realize necessary until now.
Another of those ambient noises adding to the experience are mechanical failures. There’s no more gut-wrenching feeling than barrelling down a straight only to suffer a failure and hear your car drop revs and slow to a steady crawl.
When it comes to game’s soundtrack there really isn’t one. Make no mistake, there is music but for the most part it’s forgettable. You’ll spend most of your time concentrating on race strategy and setting blistering lap times to ever notice more than the main menu jingle.
The end result is a recipe for what is perhaps the series’ best sound direction to date.
What Codemasters has produced with F1 2017 is one of a kind. This is a game that is geared towards F1 fans more than ever before, but still retains modes that any player can enjoy. The bumper amount of content on offer means players of all skills levels will constantly be coming back for more.
A few glitches and dodgy textures here and there don’t detract from the overall experience. The 2017 cars look, feel and sound just right. The classic cars are spot on and the new career mode is a joy to behold. The only caveat is the remainder of this year will be dominated by rival racing games, catering to a much wider audience. However, F1 2017 could be considered in a league of its own.
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