Formula One is back for 2017 and the upgraded cars with their wider tyres and shark fins are now available to race around the globe. The latest in a long running franchise, F1 2017 is the official game by Codemasters with support from the sport’s governing body FIA. This means you get all the official logos, drivers and teams which actually makes the experience feel more real and this year that’s a key component of what’s on offer, feeling like you’re really a driver in the sport, competing against the best on the planet.
The cars are absolutely gorgeous, but they may be overshadowed by environments that have substantially more detail. Tracks like the famous Monaco almost feel like a completely different track as you see new and exciting elements, making it at times hard to keep your eyes on the road.
There’s so much to like about this year’s implementation of the game, the developers really have invested in making things interesting, something not easy given the recipe is essentially the same year in year out.
In F1 2017, you start by setting up your driver and this year, you can select a female. While there’s not actually any females on the grid of F1, its fantastic to see players being given the option to select a female to race with. There’s a lot of aspiring racers out there and being able to not just imagine yourself, but to see yourself (digitally) in behind the wheel is an awesome addition.
The one complaint I have about the driver selection choices, is the fact the ages of the avatars you have to choose from, aren’t representative of the youth the sport relies on. I imagine my 17 year old self, the same age Max Verstappen was, I’d really struggle to find a head that resembled my own. There’s a great diversity of ethnicity, but age seems forgotten about. In the future, I’d like to see Codemasters offer a more advanced character configurator rather than choosing from a preset grid of characters.
The next item you select is your player number, the number on the side of your car. These are restricted given the famous drivers along side you on the grid have already locked theirs away. Next you’ll choose your country as you’ll be representing your country on the world stage as you compete in the top-tier of motorsport.
After setting up your profile, you’ll get started by getting a contract to race for a team. Naturally you’ll want to lean on your favourite, but if you’re any good, you’ll attract offers from rival teams. This year, you’ll spend more time in the trailer as you work on R&D with your team to improve your car. During each race you earn Resource Points which are used to unlock upgrades in 4 key areas. They include reliability, aerodynamics, powertrain and chasis. By the end of the season, your can may be up to a couple of seconds faster per lap, representing the relentless development achieved by teams in real life. While the matrix of options looks daunting at first, it actually makes plenty of sense and while reliability doesn’t sound like a fun place to invest, you’ll find you have to if you want to avoid penalties for going over allocated amounts of engine and gearbox components. Thankfully things are made easy by a simple ‘recommend upgrade’ option for novices that just want to drive and play less of the engineering role.
As you go about racing through the events of the season, you’ll find something new this year. There’s a big focus on invitational events where you have the chance to take a break from the 2017-spec cars and race some the classics. At first I thought I’d have no interest in this and just skip it, but actually its refreshingly new (albeit in older cars). What it does is reset you as a driver, ensuring you can adapt to cars that not only sound different, but also handle, brake, accelerate completely differently.
Classic cars include the 1995 Ferrari 412 T2, 2002 Ferrari F2002, 2004 Ferrari F2004, 2007 Ferrari F2007, 1988 McLaren MP4/4 (available as DLC car in F1 2017 Special Edition), 1998 McLaren MP4-13, 2008 McLaren MP4 -23, 1991 McLaren MP4/6, 1992 Williams FW14B, 1996 Williams FW18, 2006 Renault R26, 2010 Red Bull RB.
As further evidence of the focus on a realistic F1 driver experience, you can customise the Practice, Qualifying and Race lengths. If you’re hardcore, you can complete the engineering challenges which provides setup data for the team, or alternatively, you can cut a few laps to get familiar with the laps, then proceed to qualifying. In the shoot out for pole, you once again have the option of a 1-shot hot lap to set a good time (lots of pressure) or longer runs that could see you returning to the garage for another set of boots.
Once you’re ready for racing, you’ll notice the broadcast race introductions. This includes the Sky Sports F1 commentators explaining the track layout and DRS zones. Even These are the same, familiar clips as you see on TV when you watch F1 as a fan of the sport. This is fantastic and delivers a further sense of realism.
Alternative track layouts
For the first time in an official F1 game, you’ll be able to race the official 20 circuits, as well as four additional track variants. These are Britain Short, Japan Short, USA Short and Bahrain Short. While new track variants are appreciated, easily the best addition is the ability to race Monaco at night which looks fantastic and is one hell of a challenge. The thing about racing F1 is that challenge is immensely rewarding when you overcome it.
Vehicle models had to change substantially this year, as did the correlating physics. With larger tyres, comes more mechanical grip which delivers higher mid-corner speed and for you, the driver, that means you need to reset your braking markers and gear selections from last year. There’s also that controversial shark fin that rides on top of the engine cover. While its weird to look at, its on the cars, so needs to be there and does help deliver the air flow to the rear wing in a controlled fashion.
In terms of visuals, the cars look fantastic and something you need to do when you get this game is take a look through the diversity of aero parts and even steering wheels that each team uses. While other games get away with a single F1 car and address team differences with liveries, the official game models every car with amazing detail.
For me, the tracks and the environments and buildings, trees and crowds around you are the real significant leap forward in this year’s game. There’s just a density that wasn’t there before and all of that adds up to a better fooling of your brain to make you feel like your actually there.
In years gone by, you had to select the weather setting ahead of the loading screen and then you’re committed to a consistent, sunny, overcast, light rain or heavy rain. Thankfully now that’s more realistic. As you’re racing away in cloudy, but dry conditions, a single rain drop hits your visor. The geforces push it to the side and out your vision, quickly replaced by more drops. This transitions gracefully to light rain in which your traction can be maintained as your tyres are warm enough to counter the drizzle. Things go south quickly as drops turn to puddles and the rain sets in. Its time to pit for intermediates or even full wets.
When racing behind a full grid of cars, your visibility is destroyed, you can barely see from the spray off other cars. This is ridiculously hard to see, as it should be, because that’s what its like in reality. In F1 2017, Codemasters have done a stellar job of making rain feel real and having dynamic weather delivers a strong challenge that’ll have you adapting your driving style between laps, or risk paying a visit to the barriers.
The new, louder engine notes are present this year, but its perhaps the DRS sound that impressed the most. As the driver activates DRS and the rear wing opens to decrease down force and increase speed, you can actually hear the wind wizzing past your helmet. While I’ve never been in an F1 car with DRS to know for sure, this is something I imagine is feedback from real drivers and something I’m glad Codemasters nailed. Depending on your monitor configuration, you may find some of the side mirrors aren’t particularly useful, so if you were using that as a reference to check if your remembered to hit the DRS button, the sound can be a nice alternative confirmation method.
The one negative in terms of sounds is the track announcer seems to be incredibly repetitive. This is a small criticism as you won’t spend long in the pits, but certainly leaves room for improvement.
The game supports many steering wheel and pedal configurations for those of us who’ve investing in a simulator at home or in the office. Personally I’m the Logitech G920 and the setup experience was pretty seamless. The device was automatically found by the game, so the abilities and limitations were automatically understood without user-configuration. Then it was a simple matter of customising the input sensitivity for personal preference. I personally like the steering saturation around 45-50 which with this wheel, allows you to take the tightest turn on the Calendar with full lock, hands crossed, without removing your hands from their original position.
When you’re into customising, you’ll find your way to the settings menu which gladly allows almost all customisation on the fly, in the middle of session, so gone are the old days of having to return to the main menu to change assists and other fiddly options.
In the Settings menu, I discovered that F1 2017 actually support Tobii eye tracking, a hardware accessory that Microsoft recently added support for on Windows 10. While I unfortunately don’t have access to this, those that do, will be able to enjoy – Extended View. This allows the camera to pan when your eyes hit the edge of the screen, like when you look out for the torpedo coming at your right rear tyre. It also supports ‘Clean UI’ which can hide most of the on-screen interface until you stare at a particular piece, such as a track map or speed/gear selection. This can add to the realism (given drivers have no hud) while still giving you quick access to data when you need it.
Most of the game I absolutely love, but being a big fan of the sport, there’s still room for improvement. While you spend a fair bit of time customising your avatar, there’s no selection screen or text to audio conversion of your name. This means as the grid is read out by the commentators, it simply references your team for your position, not you, the person driving. This is a fairly big omission given there’s so many other aspects of the development of this title, spent making you feel like the important piece of the F1 puzzle.
In terms of graphics, I mentioned the cars are great, the environments are fantastic, but the people models and animations still need work. Particularly of focus is the contract managers, likely a result of you having little else to focus on while they’re giving you a speech. Strangely you can turn the wheel to look beside you, but you end up looking at an empty desk, or a wall, there’s literally no reason for it.
The final note is the interaction with voice mail. This is used as a method to communicate information about your rival. This gets repetitive quickly and is always, an instruction to beat your team mate. Ok, that’s a fine goal, but being told the same thing race in, race out is unnecessary.
No VR support. 2017 is supposed to be the year of VR and with a newly priced Oculus Rift bundle, its a seriously disappointing miss that F1 2017 doesn’t have any VR support. Racing titles are among the best uses for VR to deliver that immersive driving experience and will likely save some people the expense of a triple-monitor setup. Its not out of the question that support could arrive in the future if the community feedback is loud enough, Codemasters I hope you’re listening. This decision seems even stranger given Codemasters have already made a racing game, Dirt Rally that did support the Oculus.
With the negatives out of the way, here’s a chance to take a look at all the game options with a walk through of the menus in F1 2017.
Price and Availability
F1 2017 is available on PC via Steam (review platform) as well as Xbox and PS4. The game is released this Friday, on the 25th August and will cost A$89.00 at JB Hi-Fi or A$99.95 at EB Games, or grab it on Steam for US$59.99.
That’s a fairly typical price for a new game and well worth the price of admission if you’re a fan of the sport, or racing games in general. Keep in mind, this could be the last year we race without that awful Halo in our face.
There are however a number of other racing games about to drop in the next couple of months.
This years Formula One game by Codemasters is their best work yet. There’s stunning graphics, dynamic weather systems and a more realistic championship experience. The invitational events to drive classic F1 cars is a surprisingly great experience and one that’ll actually make you a better driver. Like all F1 games, if you’re half-way serious about feeling like a rockstar racer, grab yourself a wheel and pedals, I promise you, you won’t regret it.
Its unfortunate they missed VR support, I really hope that gets added post-release and to be honest, Oculus and Vive should both be campaigning all racing title developers to support their platforms.
If you don’t watch the sport, you can skip on the game, but if you have even a fleeting interest in the top tier of motorsport, this game is an absolute stellar chance to drive cars with breathtaking performance, ridiculously complex aerodynamics across a range of world-famous circuits, what’s not to love.
Perhaps the best explanation of why its fantastic to finally get F1 2017 is what happens at my house each F1 race weekend. I jump in my racing simulator and race the tracks, trying to see how close I can get to the real lap times achieved by the professionals. Given the dramatic changes to the cars this year, F1 2016 to date, hasn’t provided the ability to head-to-head with last years cars, seconds off the pace. Now, with the right equipment under you, there’s now excuses left.