For fans of Formula 1, there’s often as much intrigue, speculation and news between the races as there is within. There’s the rumour and counter rumour around what it is that Ferrari have done to amp up their power units this year, the invariable recriminations from the last race, the ins and outs of drivers’ contracts as everyone vies for a more competitive drive. Outside of the mandatory summer break, it never really seems to end.
It’s not like racing sports games haven’t tried to capture this in the past, and Codemasters’ F1 series included media relations when it debuted in 2010, but F1 2018 is bringing it back in what seems to be a much more integrated fashion. After various sessions, and after races in particular, you’ll be cornered by Claire (which is a funny way of spelling Lee McKenzie), who seems to be the one and only journalist allowed to talk to drivers in this rendition of F1.
There’s a hint of Telltale in how you’re given a handful of different answers to her questions, whether it’s something innocuous like how you’re feeling ahead of your first race weekend, quizzing you on a lack of performance, a mistake, or celebrating your success. Your answers can heap praise on yourself, share it with your team, blame others, and so on, but these will no have deeper links into your career progression. Some teams might be looking for that strong, self-aggrandising attitude when looking for a driver, while others will want the team player, and this determines your standing with each team in the paddock as well as what perks you might be able to get on your contract. You also have to think of your car. Blaming the aero design for poor performance might knock the team morale and lower the rate and efficacy of upgrades coming to the track, or it could spur them on if you call upon them to redouble their efforts in a more magnanimous fashion.
It’s interesting to see something like this returning to F1 games, and it does feel like it’s time for Codemasters to be doing so, expanding the game’s focus away from just what happens on track. Since F1 2015, they’ve built some really solid foundations for their game and the career each iteration contains, first with 2016’s practice sessions feeding car upgrades with more engaging tasks, and then with how last year added a more engaging R&D tech tree and the classic car events.
With 2018, they’ve tweaked and reconsidered much of this progression. For one thing, you can now simulate practice sessions to still get some of the R&D points kickback but without the monotonous drudge that could seep in after a while, and you’re also rewarded for you performance in races. Upgrades will be easier and quicker to unlock, but you now have to contend with different tech trees for each team. These are based around the real world needs of each, but there’s also now an element of guesswork as you’ll not be able to see the entire tree and could find yourself down a development dead end.
For the die hard fans that will sink dozens of hours into running through several seasons in the career, there’s now the distinct possibility of facing a rule change. Sadly it won’t manifest itself in physical changes to the cars – it’d be lovely to be able to start with 2015’s cars and shift through the years, I think – but you’ll be warned when the rules are changing and all the possible work you might lose, then deciding how many of resource points you’re going to spend to try and preserve your current performance. Do you spend more points on this year’s car or potentially sacrifice the championship to get an advantage next year?
None of that will matter if you step into one of the classic cars, with the new additions predominantly taking players back to the 1970s. The main exceptions to that are the 2009 Brawn GP-001, which was recreated off the back of visiting Ross Brawn’s garage, and the 2003 Williams that Juan Pablo Montoya won a couple of races in. Outside of that, it’s classic Lotus cars and Ferraris, with Niki Lauda’s 1976 Ferrari 312 T2 joined by James Hunt’s McLaren M23D. It’s this pairing that I think really highlights the lack of championship rivals through the classic car roster. It’d be great to see more of the cars that pushed the eventual championship winners all the way and not just the eventual winners, and hopefully that’s something Codemasters can do in future.
Heading online and Codies have (finally) taken steps to sort players and cut out a lot of the wham, bam, thank you ma’am first corner calamities that plague their games. Now your online performances go to creating your super license, named after the real license F1 drivers need, and ranked matchmaking is there to not only put similarly skilled drivers together, but also similarly minded racers. With a lot of racing games gearing themselves towards esports, and the F1 games being no different in that respect, it’s a good step to add a more serious edge to the game. Hopefully it has a tangible impact for those braving the online matchmaking.
The last few years have been building up a head of steam, whether through making practice sessions more meaningful or adding variety to the career, but this game’s really about refining that. Bringing back the idea of media interviews adds a little something off track, but F1 2018 is shaping up to be a great all round evolution of Codemasters long standing series.