If F1 2015 laid the barebones foundations on current consoles, then F1 2016 saw Codemasters starting to innovate and bring new ideas to the series in their charge. F1 2017 could quite easily have relied on the single hook of having new cars and regulations for this season and the excitement of the battle between Ferrari and Mercedes, and between Vettel and Hamilton. Instead, Codemasters have pushed even further, creating what is their most interesting and dynamic F1 career mode yet.
It builds upon what last year’s game did so right in creating a real reason to play through a full race weekend, giving you more engaging goals and exercises to complete in the three practice sessions. Those trials return, but they now feed into a much more expansive R&D tree with over a hundred things to research spread across the power train, aero, chassis and general reliability, as you try to improve your car faster than the other teams. You start with a few thousand points to spend, depending on the team you’ve joined, but have to earn the rest as you progress.
Codemasters perform a tricky balancing act with the inclusion of R&D projects that fail and having to look after your car’s reliability. The former might see a project not meeting the performance expectations, forcing you to redevelop the part for a lowered cost, or choose a different upgrade path, while the latter tasks you with managing the gradual deterioration of your various engine parts, trying to juggle the allowances you have across a season to avoid incurring penalties. It’s something that happens in real life, as teams put older engines in the cars for slower tracks like Monaco, and alongside being able to drive the formation lap, manually hitting the pit limiter and pulling away from the pit box, there’s even more authenticity to the technical details of the real sport.
However, it’s ironic that when you have the 2017 cars in the game, a lot of the progress that Codemasters have made is with the reintroduction of classic cars, picking some of the most famous cars from the last 30 years. With a dozen championship winning and iconic cars (the Ferrari 412 T2 is literally in the game for its V12 engine sound), it covers several eras, but there’s no direct head to head cars from a single year. Instead you have the 2008 McLaren MP4-23 against the Ferrari F2007, or the 1991 McLaren MP4/6 against the Williams FW14B. Loosely, the twelve cars are split up into two speed categories, whether they’re from before or after the turn of the century.
That would be all well and good having them in the game and tucked away in some secondary mode, but where F1 2013’s rendition of classic cars had you facing off against real world drivers, here they’re woven directly into the career mode in the form of invitational events. Introduced by a curiously awkward looking guy named Jonathan – the human character models in this game still look like weird animatronic wax works, sadly – they diverge from the standard racing and introduce time trials, pursuits, overtaking challenges and so on, generally doing so around the four shorter ‘sprint’ circuits in the game for Silverstone, Suzuka, Circuit of the Americas and Bahrain.
There’s a playful side to the game because of this, as Codemasters explore different ideas and ways of mixing up the rather technical and rigid Formula 1 sport. Diverging from the career, you could run a full F1 2017 championship, race a season with classic cars, revisit invitational events or take on a series of smaller, more bite-sized themed championships. The rules might be different, with qualifying awarding points, a sprint race followed by a longer race, reversed grids, and so on. In essence, you can play with many of the mixed up rules that commentators and pundits have speculated about over the decades. You can even race Monaco at night, if you like.
The handling in the game can be a lot of fun, with the different eras of car having different feeling as you race them. Force feedback has been amped up quite significantly to try and give more detail to the racer, and this is especially true when racing with a wheel. We’ve still got the Fanatec Elite Racing Wheel to play on, and it’s one of the few times where I’ve considered turning the feedback down a bit. It’s a loud wheel at the best of times, but when the main track itself can make it shake and rattle for going off the racing line or achieving high speeds, it’s both a bit much and wonderfully in depth at the same time. It’s just one of many things that you should tweak to your desires.
It’s open to players of all experience levels, as well, both providing enough assists and difficulty options to make it accessible for newcomers, and featuring the challenge and difficulty that the most experienced drivers will be after. In fact, the AI difficulty options are now on a slider, letting you shift it incrementally up or down to find the exact challenge you’re comfortable with, and letting you push it to a new extreme for the fastest players.
Personally, I find something of a mismatch between the two sides of the difficulty curve. On the one hand you can make the cars much, much more difficult to drive by taking away ABS and traction control, and on the other, you can make the AI drivers faster and faster. Striking that balance is hard to get right as the player, and my first race saw me not far off a podium place in a McLaren, easily outperforming the mighty Fernando Alonso. While you can adjust assists on the fly, you can’t seem to adjust a career’s race settings – the ones that determines race weekend length, AI difficulty, safety car and penalty settings. Choose poorly, and you’ll have to throw away all your good progress.
There also seems to be a large gap for me in the performance I can get with traction control and ABS turned on and those assists turned off. You can still push the car too hard and spin out, but it’s also much, much easier to consistently hold together a fast lap and I was over a second faster around Melbourne in the process. Having TC turned on will likely give a serious edge in online racing as well, which has been true of the entire F1 series since 2010.
All of the settings that can be tweaked for single race events also hold over to the online side of the game, which once again features up to 20 racers at once, but with the addition of two slots for spectators, as Codemasters provide a few more tools for those that would like to run and potentially stream online competitions.
There’s also rough edges on a technical level. The game targets 60 frames per second, but struggles even at the best of times with screen tearing, which worsens when there’s more cars and weather effects. Though there’s some lovely touches, like the confetti cannons at the end of the Mexican GP, tracks can look a little bland in certain weather conditions. There’s also the aforementioned human waxworks being joined by an equally wooden set of voice overs from Anthony Davidson to introduce each track as part of the fairly realistic broadcast stylings, though that’s not something that better optimised code can fix.
F1 2017 is more than just a steady continuation of Codemasters’ racing series, it’s a major step forward that isn’t content to simply rely on this year’s new cars and regulations. From adding more R&D options to the career to having classic cars and invitational events help break up the long racing calendar, there’s a lot to keep you engaged here. Not only that, but you can see that Codemasters have plenty of ways to continue to grow the series over the next few years.
Version tested: PlayStation 4 Pro