Arguably, 2018 has not been a stellar year for racing games on PlayStation. We’ve had Burnout Paradise (old), Crew 2 (meh), Onrush (excellent, but not actually a racing game), plus a few lacklustre bike games. I’m looking to F1 2018, then, the latest entry in Codemasters’ licenced series, to give the genre the fillip it so badly needs. Allow me to give you a ‘spoiler’ – F1 2018 fills the void and then some.
It’s easy to be cynical about annual iterations of big-name franchises, and, admittedly, on first glance F1 2018 looks very much like business as usual. Dig just a little deeper, though, and you will discover some fairly substantial and appreciable enhancements over last year’s game which more than justify the upgrade.
Let’s talk visuals first. Codemasters recently tweeted an in-game image which prompted debate about whether it was sourced from real life F1 or game footage. That probably sounds a touch hyperbolic, but the devs are right to talk up the graphics, for the game undoubtedly looks better than ever. It looks consistently crisp, bright and detailed. The biggest upgrades lie in the more subtle effects- we’re talking minutiae like shimmering heat haze from the engine and the way debris was thrown in the air when you strike a barrier – but the cumulative effect is a level of polish that represents the series best so far. It greatly increases the levels of immersion. The cars look beautiful as you survey them from different angles using the right stick. During an intense race, the visual cues are so powerful that you can almost feel the heat generated from the screaming engines and screeching tyres. There’s still a slight whiff of woodenness and ‘uncanny valley’ around the human character models, but it’s improving, and to complain about this is really in nitpicking territory. Overall, the production values and sheer craft on display from Codemasters are deeply impressive.
Switching to the cockpit view in the modern cars will immediately reveal one of the biggest and most contentious talking points for the 2018 season: Halo. Thankfully unconnected to that ‘other console’ we don’t speak of (only kidding), Halo is, in fact, the name for the titanium bar above the driver’s head. It’s a new and mandatory installation for 2018 season cars, protecting drivers from flying debris. Initially, it does look a little strange in-game, splitting your view with a slim central bar. Some players may feel it impedes the view too much, and your eye is certainly drawn to it for a time. If you can’t make peace with the distraction of Halo, there is a raft of alternative camera angles available – as always – including the chase cam which can be switched during a race via the pause menu. For the pure experience, however, try to persevere with that cockpit view. The interface and menu seem largely unchanged, and that’s a good thing. Despite the abundance of customisation available, everything is logically ordered and easy to navigate.
Once on the track, you’ll find the subtly tweaked handing is a revelation, with forceful rumble through the DualShock accompanying a fully convincing sensation of speed. Successfully stringing together a clean sequence of corners is thoroughly rewarding. The difference in handling between cars is as pronounced as you would hope, even within cars of the same class. The classic cars, meanwhile, add another layer of challenge. They feel much less planted – in some cases, downright wayward in comparison- and lack the immense traction and punch of the more modern machines. It’s fun, tense and exhilarating, whether you’re jostling for position with aggressive A.I or simply chasing a ghost in a time trial. Many cars respond instantly to inputs, feeling twitchy on the ragged edge of handling. I played with a DualShock, but those of you with access to a racing wheel will doubtless enjoy a heightened experience. The weather has a profound effect on racing, and a wet track presents a formidable challenge, especially with the classic cars. Mercifully, the flashback option is up your sleeve to undo any crucial mistakes, as there’s nothing worse than a single error costing you a race. As the icing on the cake, the sense of authenticity is bolstered by the hugely convincing and realistic sound effects. So often the pretty visage of a racing game is undermined by weedy engine noises and feline-like tyre screeching, but not here.
But what if you don’t know your DRS from your elbow? F1 2018 has you covered. The difficulty is easily tailored, so newcomers can start with maximum assists and racing lines, while some processes can be diluted or automated, suppressing some of the more esoteric management stuff. The game prompts you to activate Drag Reduction System (DRS) via an audible beep and green flash in the corner of the screen. With a tap of the triangle button, your spoiler is temporarily opened to reduce drag – a really elegant and simple solution to controlling this. Naturally, F1 veterans can opt for the hardcore experience instead, right down to manual management of the new Energy Recovery System (ERS) in order to strategically maximise performance. It’s rare to play a title which so comprehensively carers for such a wide spectrum of abilities. You can grow with the game, gradually tweaking the difficulty as you gain confidence. There’s loads of longevity here as you move along the learning curve, developing your skills and progressing gradually to the full simulation experience.
In terms of modes, the suite of time trial, Grand Prix, championship, event and multiplayer share the podium with an enhanced career mode, which has seen the most development since last year. There’s even a photo mode shoehorned in there, which can be triggered with a tap of the touchpad. Time trial mode serves as a great training ground. Nothing appears to be locked away, you can pick from the range of modern and classic cars from the outset, dipping in and out of tracks as you please. You still need to drive with precision as you chase your best times, though. Hit a wall or stray too far from the track and you’ll find your time invalidated. It is F1, after all, and it frequently waggles an admonishing finger at any unsporting behaviour.
The other modes are positively replete with content. In championship, you can compete across a range of disciplines and goals, for example, checkpoint chases, time attacks and overtaking challenges. Event mode is based around a specific scenario featuring bespoke objectives. There’s an overwhelming amount of things to do, and that’s before you even think about delving into the new career mode.
Fortunately, you can even tailor the difficulty before commencing career mode, so it’s still a viable starting option – even for newbies – if that’s your preference. Once you pick a team based on their performance expectations, you can get out there. Practice laps serve as an essential source of technical data for your team, whose observations can be heard through the DualShock speaker – a nice touch. Over the course of your career, you can influence just about every facet of the process, from media management to research and development. It’s deep and expansive, building on the last two games in a very significant way. You tend to think of F1 in terms of pure racing, but career mode gives you a wider range of objectives and insight to the business side of the operation. Being an accomplished driver won’t be enough. F1 aficionados will revel in this mode; more casual players, however, may prefer the other options and feel less inclined to engage with career management, despite (or perhaps because of) the painstaking attention to detail. The important point is that there’s a huge menu of self-contained modes to choose from, and these can be tackled in the order that suits the player.
My advice, depending on your starting skill level, would be to invest the hours in time trial mode to build your experience, before heading into the more complicated and competitive modes later on. It’s not a relaxing game in any mode, mind, and it invariably demands your full concentration and attention. Returning players will notice a few additions to the tracklist, too, which now includes Hockenheim in Germany and Circuit Paul Ricard in France. Finally, the classic car count has been increased to 20, giving you more toys to play with.
The big news this year in terms of online is the introduction of Super Licence mode, which, according to Codemasters, monitors your driving ability and behaviour in order to match you to similar players. It sounds like a great concept in principle. How often have you ventured online only to have the experience marred by idiots messing about? Potentially, this could address the problem; it will be interesting to gauge how effective this proves to be once the game hits the shelves. Multiplayer will offer a choice of ranked, unranked and online championship modes.
So, to recap improved visuals, more classic cars, some new tracks and a fully developed and comprehensive career mode. It’s a genuinely authentic experience, supporting and guiding new players whilst striving to satisfy the passionate fans who buy this game every year. It’s simply not practical to cover every feature this game offers in this review space; suffice to say, it doesn’t want for content and your £50 buys you one hell of a game.
For me, F1 2018 perfectly captures the atmosphere, excitement and unpredictability of the sport. I feel we’ve now reached the pinnacle in terms of execution, where further room for improvement will be pretty limited within the confines of this console generation. Maybe a further reduction in loading times would be welcome, but that’s mostly about it. It will, therefore, be fascinating to see where Codemasters take the series next. Maybe DLC would be more appropriate going forward, who knows? Meantime, whether you’re a casual admirer of F1 or a dedicated follower of the sport, you’ll bring hours of enjoyment from this – the best version in the series so far.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*
- Improved, immersive visuals
- Huge scope to customise the experience
- Deep and markedly improved career mode.
- If I had to nitpick, character models still look a little unnatural
- Halo bar takes a little getting used to for returning players
- Loading times a little longer than is ideal