- More customisation over last year's model
- Hockenheim is in
- Overhauled sense of physicality
- Pit media interviews are a confusing and unnecessary addition
- Review Price: £39.99 (PC)
- Developer: Codemasters
- Genre: Racing
- Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
- Release Date: August 24, 2018
Eight years into its licensed F1 franchise, developer Codemasters continues to explore new ways of enriching the off-track experience as well as on it. The headline feature for this year is the column inches themselves. In the shadow of narrative-driven modes in sports titles like FIFA 17’s The Journey, F1 2018 asks: will you be a sportsman or a showman?
For years now, the F1 games have been objectively very good racing titles – slick, fast, refined packages that deliver a virtual representation of the world’s fastest sport. Where gaps have appeared, Codemasters has filled them. Features like classic cars deliver appropriate fan service, and there have been consistent improvements made to everything from the looks, to the drive-feel and the opponent AI.
With the addition of headlines in particular, though, I find myself wondering: who cares?
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They slot seamlessly into the championship career mode, at least. It’s pretty standard stuff in that department – pick a team from the grid, complete practice test sessions to unlock points to upgrade the car, earn rivalry points through qualifying and race results, and aim your way toward a championship win.
I always think that the F1 games give more back the more you put in. Best advice? Play it on harder settings than you’re perhaps used to. Ditch the assists so you’re not helped out by restrictive ABS brakes or traction control; get rid of the fluorescent driving line that guides you into each corner and gives you visual cues on when to brake.
Abandon as many safety nets as is feasible for your skill level and F1 2018 is a rip-roaring racer. It has drama and soul in its best moments, turning the most mundane of things into potential game changers. Drops of rain can change a race entirely; an inopportune virtual safety car can turn your well-earned lead into a second fight for the finish line; get the strategy wrong and you’re stuffed. Play races on longer lengths, and you’ll see the organic tyre degradation and other mechanical underpinnings of the sport play out their natural course.
Niggles with F1 2018 are pretty much similar to previous games. The AI is much more aggressive now, which results in some excellent wheel to wheel tussles, but it’s still inconsistent at times. AI racers too often follow clearly dangerous lines when you’re overtaking or defending, and you almost always come off worse from any unwanted shunts or bumps.
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The rules and regulations can raise eyebrows, too – they hand out penalties and warnings for everything from collisions to corner cutting, but you’ll get warnings for things that clearly weren’t your fault. A good example was a rear-ended shunt up the backside by Esteban Ocon in the run into the first corner in Singapore. I ended up with a warning.
Sat in front of the screen at home, that moment had me seething. But in a press interview post-race, it all feels too inconsequential. Interviews are short, thankfully, but none of it really feels like you’re imparting your own personality onto the pitlane press paddock. You’re just manipulating an invisible meter that slides from one end to another depending on your responses.
It’s morality at its most basic. I’m sure avid role players could imagine themselves doing this for realsies but in the grand scheme of what F1 2018 offers – the depth, the precision, the sheer speed of it all, this all just feels distracting. I found myself not paying attention to any of it, so much so that F1’s new halos had more of an impact on my experience.
Thankfully, the depth of strategic tinkering has been built upon elsewhere. Progression has been made more legible and easier to understand, which reduces the sense of overwhelming complexity that pervaded the last game a little bit. I was much more invested in improving my car this time around.
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What I like most is the on-the-fly management of F1. The stuff that really matters while on track, and which affects moment to moment play most drastically. The game retains the intuitive method of communicating with your engineer from the cockpit, as well as the ways in which you can alter the car on the fly.
Meanwhile, the addition of features like ERS, which stores up kinetic energy under braking to then unleash it during acceleration, means you’ll be altering settings more regularly in order to manage the onboard battery. It’s not complicated in execution but it adds that extra level of thought in order to use those moments of respite on the straights to tinker with the steering wheel.
Of course, for any F1 fan, it’s the new drivers, updated car liveries and new tracks that really make for a fun new game. The marquee track this year is France’s Circuit Paul Ricard, as well as Hockenheim, which was absent from the last F1 game.
Paul Ricard makes for a calendar spectacle; its tough-to-master turns render it one of the more challenging tracks in the championship season. It gave me a brilliant reason to work through those practice sessions in order to identify places I needed to improve before qualifying and race day. Eight years of F1 games have left me knowing practically every track on the circuit by heart – having a lesser known one is a delight.
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Other updates, like an increase to the refresh rate on the car suspension, makes for the most satisfyingly smooth game to date. Even with a controller pad, it relays a sense of physicality that’s really impressive whether you’re racing with a fresh set of boots or 15-lap old rubber.
F1 2018 is still a game that shines on the track, then. Forget speaking to journalists in the confines of a press paddock – this is a sport about being at the cutting edge of technology, inches from a solid metal barrier, in the sunny streets of a tax haven. And god bless it.