[Disclosure: A review copy was provided for the contents of this article]
Full disclosure; I haven’t enjoyed a Formula One game in about twenty years, when the very first installment of the PlayStation One game featuring Murray Walker and the full ITV Television experience was released. I know that there have been a few passable entries in the same series since then, and that PC gamers had access to Geoff Crammond’s exceptional Grand Prix 3, but for one reason or another, I’ve either missed them or they didn’t click with me.
This may partly be because for various (often life-related) reasons, my interest in the sport itself has waxed and waned. There have been exceptional years for sure, and exceptional cars, and do you know what I like most about F1 2017? It’s the fact that it seems to recognise that, and the developers have duly picked out all of the best moments in F1 since the early nineties and offered them up in bite sized chunks as invitational events sitting within an incredibly meaty career mode.
That career mode, I must say, is genius. For the first time ever in a Formula One game in any series, I felt like I had a compelling reason to be involved in all three practice sessions, rather than just qualifying and the race itself. This is achieved through the inclusion of a dauntingly vast tech tree that allows four key areas of the car to be enhanced over several seasons. Purchasing these upgrades is achieved by spending points, and points are earned by completing test programs in practice and through other driving achievements.
The game also features an accurate representation of the rules changes for the 2017-18 season, which often feel rather game like in and of themselves. For example each driver must maintain four key parts of the car (including the Powertrain and Gearbox, for example) across the full length of the season, with each part only lasting a certain number of laps depending on how it is used (and abused.) Each driver has access to four identical parts of each kind (and can swap them freely within reason) but as the season runs on, the risk of a more worn part failing increases, as does the performance penalty associated with that wear.
This inclusion forces a degree of strategic thinking that has never been included before, and as wear is accumulated in practice sessions and qualifying as well as in races, there is a fine balance between working hard to develop your technology and maintaining what you have. Similarly, late in the season, there are often hard decisions to make about running a worn engine in a non-critical race, so that you can save your optimal one(s) for the last two or three races when things really heat up.
Advancing the vast, Civilization beating Tech-Tree, maintaining the car and tinkering with various other career mode features such as a properly implemented rivals system, a set of clearly articulated team objectives and several other things make F1 2017 feel like a seriously deep game. Enter the classic races mode that I touched on earlier, which offers the perfect antidote to the sometimes overwhelming career mode. Whilst it sounds contrived, this basically works by having random people within the story offer the player opportunities to drive classic F1 cars such as Alonso’s R26, or the even more iconic MP4/6 that Senna drove in 1991.
In each of these races, the player simply drops into an arcade style race that requires them to beat a rival, overtake a number of opponents within a set number of laps, or come from behind to claim a historic victory. The cars are iconic, but the tracks are those of the present day (with a few variations) and whilst it’s a shame that there isn’t a more comprehensive recreation of classic F1 seasons, what is hear is nonetheless exceptional.
This is in no small part due to the way in which F1 2017 reproduces an approximation of what it must feel like to be an F1 driver. I love everything about how this game feels, and a big part of that is how different some of the V8, V10 and V12 cars of the past feel when compared to the modern V6 hybrid units. Using The R26 as the test case because it is the first classic car that many players will access, and the difference is obvious. Alonso’s car is a screaming V8 that often becomes light and unstable if you lift off, and instead requires direct braking input and gradual use of the throttle. Most of the modern-day cars feel much more forgiving, and the sound they produce is much more subdued.
The V10 and V12 cars produce an even more pronounced score, and feature handling profiles that are each as unique as you would expect. I’ve rarely noticed such pronounced and yet instantly understandable differences in car handling and performance in a game even when comparing front and rear wheel drive cars, and considering I played F1 2017 entirely on an Xbox One with an Elite Controller (hardly an optimal setup for feel) I think that is quite an achievement.
Aside from the career and the classic races that pop up within in, F1 2017 features enough modes to satisfy any enthusiast. From individual Grand Prix’s to Time Trials, Quick Races, Classic Races and various supporting races (not to mention a bevvy of online Multiplayer variants – but no split screen) there is simply no shortage of things to do, and nothing obvious missing.
F1 2017 is therefore, in my opinion, the best and most comprehensively packaged Formula One game that I’ve ever played. It has a ridiculously deep and hugely enjoyable career mode that has changed the way I look at F1, and whilst that comes with all the bells and whistles you could want, there are plenty of pure racing modes that allow you to experience the other great thing about this game; the thrill of racing F1 cars around the globe. If you’re a fan already, then buying F1 2017 is an obvious decision, but even – especially – if you’re like me, and you’ve fallen out of love with the sport, then you should most definitely: