F1 2017 Review

By Andrew Ogley, 2 months ago
The thing about the yearly sports franchises is that regardless of the sport, liveries are updated, names and faces are added or removed, and a few performance improvements will be made. Occasionally, yearly iterations will be interspersed with a release that gives the franchise a massive boost and takes it to the next level. Given that last year's outing, F1 2016, was such an improvement over recent years, Codemasters could have been forgiven for taking a year out and giving us the standard yearly iteration, but what they produced this year is one of those 'WOW!' iterations, one that stands out above all of the others and one that will set the benchmark for future releases. Put simply, this years' model, F1 2017, is phenomenally good — so good, it might be the best yet.


Codemasters has used F1 2016 as the foundation for this title and kept all that was good about it. In fact, imagine all of the good points being improved, the faults being fixed, and you're half way to where F1 2017 is... and that's the point, you're only half way. They've fixed the minor bug-bears from last year and made a few small cosmetic tweaks that improve the overall impression. The screen-tearing is gone. The jarring black screen between the formation lap and the race has been removed and it's now a smooth and seamless transition. The colours have been brightened and look sharper, and the menus and screens have been tidied up further. The sound, too, remains a petrolhead's delight, but it's the hybrid F1 2017 cars that show the immediate and biggest improvement since last year.

Mimicking their real life counterparts, the cars are simply amazing to race. Fans will already have seen these beasts in action, with their widened rear wheels, lower profile, and the menacing shark fin. It's easy to understand why lap records have been tumbling this year, and this is brilliantly captured in the game. The driving experience compared to last year is simply astonishing. The amount of grip that the cars have borders on the unbelievable. Even with all of the assists turned off, you can push these cars so much harder. The cars glue themselves to the track and you'll find that you can take corners faster than ever before. Throughout the various circuits, I was consistently able to speed through corners one gear higher than last year, hitting Silverstone's Maggots and Becketts at full speed and Spa's Eau Rouge with no lift at all. It's scary but tremendously exhilarating at the same time. However, there's a price to pay.

The real life cars are massively complex and this needs to be managed both on and off the track. Career mode has been expanded to capture this with the player becoming more involved with the Research and Development and the newly-introduced Engine Management component of the game. The previously rather limited R&D tree has been replaced by something that looks like it's come straight from a Japanese RPG. There are over 100 nodes of R&D components to be unlocked, covering the powertrain, chassis, and aerodynamics. The tree also includes durability and quality control, which become essential in managing your engines and other mechanical parts such as gears and energy units. These parts are now subject to the same wear and tear as in real life and you are only allowed so many I.C.E.'s and gearboxes per season following the FIA regulations.

Take care of the small things ... Take care of the small things ...

This then becomes a new and intriguing part of the player's career. My enthusiastic driving style caused a surprise when the engine first had to be replaced after only a few races. Likewise, according to the regulations, the gearbox has to last six races and it barely made half of that. The degradation of such parts has very real consequences; power fades and top speeds drop. Going into one particular race weekend, the gearbox was on its last legs. Figures showed that it should last the weekend and replacing it would impose a grid penalty, so the gamble was taken. During one-shot qualifying, that gamble failed spectacularly as the gearbox gave up and gear changes were erratic and delayed unpredictably. Not only did I qualify last, the grid penalty was imposed too.

More attention was paid to the multi-function display than ever before, not only watching tyre wear and temperatures but checking the state of the engine and fuel. It brought a new level of immersion to the game, and an increased awareness of the mechanics involved. Everything is juggled together, deciding when to risk more engine wear and burn more fuel by pushing harder, or sitting back, accepting a lower position and sparing the car. Even when out in front, the awareness that something could go wrong mechanically means that there is no such thing as a 'comfortable' lead. To some, this may be frustrating as you can no longer race with reckless abandon. However, for F1 fans this brings some of real life drama and intrigue of the sport to your virtual career. It is a great addition to the game.

You can improve the quality the durability of parts in the R&D tree, but this will cost precious research points. The programs during the practice sessions are back, with track familiarisation and tyre management making a return. There are also two new programs — fuel efficiency and race strategy — that both contribute to the game. The first attempts to train you to lift and coast on corners, saving fuel. The second allows virtual engineers to come up with race strategies based on your individual driving style instead of the usual default two per race from last year. This is another point where the career mode feels more personal. However, there's now a dilemma; whilst every lap in a practice session rewards resource points, it also increases wear on the engine parts, so do you stay out and farm points or dive back into pits trying to conserve your engine.

Wet weather returns.Wet weather returns.

For those that don't want to have to worry about the engine management, there are now 20 different championships that can be unlocked, including the standard season where you play as one of this season's drivers. There are also sprint championships — races over two legs — with randomised or reverse order grids. There are spec-races where everyone has the same car, and various classic races. Additionally, there are 20 different Invitationals featuring overtaking challenges, pursuits, time attacks and checkpoint challenges. They feel a little Forza-esque but they are certainly fun, featuring different classes of cars and sometimes taking place on new shorter versions of tracks. The only catch is that they have to be unlocked through career progression, so you'll have to accumulate points before unlocking them.

The more familiar race modes make a return, including time trials and Grand Prix. It's here where you can have fun with the other new content: the 12 classic F1 cars. Here you jump into a selection of Ferraris, Renaults, Red Bulls or McLarens from the last couple of decades. For those feeling particularly adventurous, you can attempt to drive the McLaren MP4/4 of Ayrton Senna using a manual clutch and h-gate shifter. Each car is wonderfully modeled, and each has very different handling characteristics that will challenge drivers. You can, of course, set up your own race, selecting a track, weather conditions, and time of day, such as racing at Monaco at night. You can even setup races to include a mix of classic and modern cars.

Codemasters has stuck to making the game accessible to players of all levels. There are a multitude of settings that can be used to change the game between an arcade racer and something that rivals the driving and handling of Forza Motorsport. The AI slider has been changed slightly with a numerical range from 0 - 110 giving a little more variation between the different AI levels. The AI too seems to have been improved. AI drivers seem sharper when overtaking and battle each other in a believable way. Occasional touches and nudges are part of the sport, but the AI doesn't seem overly aggressive and certainly none have gone all-out Vettel. If there's a weak-spot then it's defending the racing line, and the AI drivers don't seem to close gaps, giving the player a distinct advantage on some of the tracks.

Close competition as always.Close competition as always.

Human drivers are a different matter and in multiplayer you won't have that luxury. There are three MP modes, going from single races through to a full online championship. As with most MP games, you are at the mercy of your fellow players, but here there is a ranking system that includes bonuses for clean racing and matches you with similar players. The MP sessions were lag-free and the racing extremely competitive. For those who want a little more competition, there is a weekly challenge — a particular race scenario — that will provide an unusual challenge and will post times to global leaderboards.

As with other recent titles from Codemasters, the title is aimed at playing with controllers in one of the various third person camera views, but it is also playable using FFB wheels and pedals. For the first time, the game recognises manual gearshifts such as the Thrustmaster TH8A. For those using wheels, the force feedback is a little intense by default but there are many settings to tweak to match your own preference.

The achievements are fairly standard, including some for career progression, some online and some for running particular scenarios. Whilst most will be unlocked by progression, it's hard to determine a completion time as trying to unlock 75% of the research tree will take a serious amount of resource points to complete.

Summary

Building on last year's already successful iteration, F1 2017 has been tweaked, polished and refined. On top of all that, a whole load of new content has been added making it feel that there are almost two games in one. There's more to motorsport than just driving speedily around tracks and this year's installment has done its best to capture this. The massively expanded research and development tree and the new engine management system bring an extra level of detail that might frustrate the more casual player but that no doubt delights true Formula 1 fans. The racing remains as good as ever for all levels of drivers and with all of the new championships and invitationals, short track variants and classic cars, there is plenty of racing to be done. In short, this is possibly the most complete F1 title for a long time, and arguably the best in the franchise.
4.5 / 5
Positives
  • 2017 Hybrid F1 cars are stunning to drive
  • Classic cars make a return to the franchise
  • Tons of additional content
  • Engine management and R&D add extra level of immersion for fans
Negatives
  • Engine management may be a little too much for some
  • Unlocking all R&D modules is going to take some serious time
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent over 20 hours trashing engines, thrashing gears and generally mismanaging every single component possible whilst pushing both the old and new cars to their limits. 17 achievements were unlocked during the review period. The Xbox One download code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of review.
Andrew Ogley
Written by Andrew Ogley
Andrew has been writing for TA since 2011 covering news, reviews and the occasional editorials and features. One of the grumpy old men of the team, his mid-life crisis has currently manifested itself in the form of an addiction to sim-racing - not being able to afford the real life car of his dreams. When not spending hours burning simulated rubber, he still likes to run around, shoot stuff and blow things up - in the virtual world only of course.