F1 2017 (PC) Review

By Tomas Barry 21.08.2017

Review for F1 2017 on PC

Last year's F1 2016 was a stellar entry in the officially-licenced series, a licence that Codemasters has now held for around a decade. That iteration was praised for drastically improving the simulative aspects of the experience, such as having practice sessions with useable data to extract, proper tyre-wear to be mindful of, improved handling and force-feedback, real formation laps, as well as a ten-year career mode providing single-player depth. While, due to some flaws noted in Cubed3's review, it wasn't quite the perfect F1 release, it certainly made some very significant strides in the right direction. Understandably then, there are high hopes for this year's F1 2017. This will be Codemasters Birmingham's ninth instalment, which makes it veteran gate-keepers of the F1 brand. The team is wise and knowledgeable, like Fernando Alonso in other words, which is helpful, since there's plenty of healthy competition out there this year.

When a licenced franchise releases annually, there's a certain standard of progression that dedicated fans want to observe over the course of several instalments. In fact, often when a licence has been held for as long as Codemasters has had the official F1 rights, one can observe and even trace the differences in gameplay mechanics and content, as new development cycles begin and end, each one bringing in a new ethos and new mantras to re-shape the experience.

In the case of this brand, F1 2015 could be seen as the start of a new cycle of emphasis, since it overhauled the fundamental gameplay towards a more authentic race experience, but fell short of delivering that, with overly-simplistic handling and a lack of the kind of content that fans would expect. The following entry, last year's F1 2016, made a concerted effort to course-correct and fill those gaps, with vastly improved gameplay mechanics and far more single-player content. All the same, it, too, came up a little short, due to some quite specific problems, such as unrealistic, and occasionally dodgy, AI breaking the illusion.

Screenshot for F1 2017 on PC

Hence, it's easy to see how the very polished and impressively authentic driving experience offered by F1 2017 is a slow-boiled product, based on many years of progressive changes and additions across iterations. However, while Codemasters has been making these amendments, sim-racing linchpins, such as Assetto Corsa and rFactor 2, have dabbled in the F1 universe with quite a lot of success, as far as capturing the visceral experience of being behind the wheel of an F1 vehicle goes. While there's no doubt, then, this franchise will continue to blossom if it continues to pursue more simulative standards of race experience, the onus was particularly on Codemasters this year to accentuate every unique facet that makes Formula 1 such a popular racing discipline, and provide the authentic content that core fans can't get anywhere else.

The career mode certainly answers the call. The full 2017 racing calendar is available here and only here, with every track, team, and vehicle detail well represented, and with impressive aesthetic enhancements in the way of TV coverage and visuals to boot. The ten-year career cycle, established in last year's iteration, is also back with several improvements in place. There are 115 research and development upgrades available this time round, covering four key areas in powertrain, chassis, aerodynamics, and durability. There's also a more searching open-access form-factor that enables more variable strategies to be employed across seasons. This is a plus for player freedom, and while such a system may seem a little derivative to some sim-lovers, when you consider how many seasons you can reach in this mode (ten), concerns about accessibility are quite rightly counter-balanced by a more time-consuming but realistic system. For those who don't want to be bothered by such tasks, there's an advisory setting players can go with instead. It's possible to abuse this progress tool for the sake of fun, or to make outlandish ploys to turn a season around, such as making a significant design change to a vehicle that lets the driver and team down. These don't always pay out, though, adding a realistic sense of wagering to every step in the R&D sphere.

Elsewhere, there are some in-depth improvements in the practice session department, with new programmes to exercise different race strategies, which really expands the horizons for those who haven't fully considered different or perhaps more appropriate reactive strategies. On top of that, there's also quite an impressive car management and reliability system, chiefly concerning the monitoring and maintaining of engine and gearbox elements. This can also be streamlined should it be deemed an arbitrary addition, but for fans of the sport, these advances in detail, while a little overwhelming initially, provide a much greater sense of scope. The investment in strategy, purposeful practice sessions, and empowering upgrade systems help players get the most from the ten-year career mode. While it's not a revolutionary step-up by any means, there's a continued search for authenticity and scope here, which bodes well for the next development cycle.

Screenshot for F1 2017 on PC

In terms of handling, F1 2017 has improved quite substantially. Tested with a Logitech G29, the modern cars seem quite a lot easier to interpret via the force-feedback. When set to elite (in other words as simulative as it gets) a very visceral sense of the forces was provided through the wheel, with a much more pronounced sense of the back-end of the car, downforce, and elements of weight transfer. Of course, some of this may be owed to 2017 rule changes, but it makes this version feel better than ever. It helps to pronounce the drastically different handling of F1 vehicles in different weather conditions, too, which has been an under-played element in the franchise for some time. A lot of tracks seem to have notably more realistic camber, too, such as Suzuka, which seems to have been treated to a complete remodel, along with several others. Another small detail worth mentioning is that the pit limiter can now be operated manually, bringing even more realism to the table.

Last year's nicely detailed tyre-wear models have been refined further, also benefiting from the much improved and more powerful force-feedback, since the signs of wear and tear are more discernible as a result. If pushed on the physics and handling, it still has to be said there are more unforgiving (and, therefore, more realistic) sims out there, which encompass the harsh unforgiving reality of real F1 physics slightly more appropriately. However, considering how many other ways this franchise improves itself with this instalment, invested fans of the franchise will undoubtedly be more than satisfied with these physics and handling improvements. It all lays the groundwork for even more detailed and simulative territory from future iterations. Make no mistake, with all assists turned off, this will be a challenge.

Another factor that improves the single-player experience drastically is the quality of the AI drivers this time around. In F1 2016, one grievance cited with the race-experience in general was that the AI drivers seemed to be mechanical and not particularly aggressive, yet often they still ended up ruining a calm and patient player's performance through sheer stupidity and unrealistic behaviour, especially late in a race. This time around, the CPU drivers have much more realistic human reactions. They may well still divebomb and act with aggressive intentions, and different personalities will still be discernible on the track that players must be mindful and aware of, but, crucially, crashes and incidents feel like genuine mistakes and errors in judgement, rather than random CPU malfunctions that break the sense of immersion. Players will now see other drivers turning into the pits much more regularly due to malfunctions, or locking up their brakes and causing havoc in the process. Things feel more dynamic and unpredictable and, therefore, more reflective of real racing. On top of this, it's worth noting that the AI difficulty is much more scalable (from 0 to 110, instead of a choice of seven pre-sets), which is bound to help learner drivers find their precise sweet-spot.

Screenshot for F1 2017 on PC

The major big addition in the way of single-player content is the new Championship mode, which is comprised of shorter championship seasons, each with a distinct focus. This includes themes such as classic cars, street-circuits only, as well as those with emphasis on extreme weather and hot-lapping. These events seem more playful, and while they don't offer the same extension of detail over multiple seasons, it's a pleasant contrast to Career, which is far more suitable for short-burst consumption. Furthermore, it's just a good injection of variety, too, especially for those who don't want to simulate the 2017 season and beyond in the main single-player experience. This arena provides racers with a good opportunity to sample everything on offer.

Another significant addition to F1 2017 is the introduction classic cars. These range from the 1991 McLaren MP4/6 to the 2010 Red Bull RB6, and while it's certainly a cherry-picked cast, which could have been more extensive, it's still a great addition for this year. The improved handling helps them to feel suitably distinct, with a notable difference in the aerodynamics and behaviour of all these classics vehicles compared to their modern equivalents. They must be treated with far more care, and especially with all assists and aids off, drivers will be authentically reminded of how much of a handful some of these gems were. The classic vehicles can be used sporadically across the career mode, too, in the form of invitational special events. It would have been amazing to have had an entire classic championship mode with the same depth as the career, but you can't have everything.

It wasn't possible to test the online multiplayer side of the game, but it appears there are improvements to presentation and lobbies there. This time there's a maximum of 20 drivers in public and private sessions, as well as dedicated spectator spots, which will no doubt enhance its ability to be streamed. Ultimately, though, while online play certainly extends the longevity of any racing game, this is one of the rare racing franchises that can afford to be more single-minded and focused on single-player content above all else. There's nowhere else an F1 fan can simulate the season, re-write the history of a race they didn't like in real life, or simply get the full race-weekend experience, which F1 2017 captures quite admirably. It certainly feels like a much more stellar, robust single-player experience than last year, particularly since the dodgy AI, which damaged the sense of immersion considerably, has now been fixed.

Screenshot for F1 2017 on PC

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

F1 2017 feels like the final realisation of several years of work, but it also ushers in another phase for the annual series. In terms of core gameplay, the handling models, the force feedback, and the physics engine have all been drastically improved, resulting in a greater sense of control and a much better chance of interpreting the car when its forces are out of balance. Improving this core gameplay aspect alone, whilst addressing the major bugs of last year (like the dodgy AI), leads to a much more immersive and authentic driving experience. Overall, considering the impressive amount of additional content - especially new short course variations, the introduction of classic cars, the new championship mode, the redesign work on many existing tracks, and the improvements to presentation and cut-scenes - F1 2017 certainly is an impressive package, which hardcore fans will find difficult to resist.

Developer

Codemasters

Publisher

Codemasters

Genre

Driving

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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