Release Date: Out Now
Online features/Players: Single Player Challenges, 2-20 Online Multiplayer
It’s been a few years since I've played an F1 game and while some things in Codemasters sparkling licence feel familiar and comfortable, there are a lot of new features that really lift this game out of the rut that so many annually updated titles get stuck in. I should probably say that I’m an avid fan of F1 and that may sway my opinion somewhat on this game, as may Lewis Hamilton’s remarkable season, in which he recovered from a points deficit to win the driver’s championship comfortably in a car which was sometimes clearly not the fastest on the grid.
In comes the ugly Halo safety device, which you probably won't notice unless you play from the cockpit view (see above), I thought it would be a major distraction but frankly after one practice session, while I still hated it, I'd gotten used to it. If you can’t get on with it there are six other views to choose from. Gone is the familiar “rookie drivers school,” which was kind of fun and probably educational the first time you did it, but became a chore after a couple of outings. What the designers came up with instead is a much better idea; giving you goals during each Grand Prix weekend’s 3 practice sessions (such as required lap times, accurate or smooth driving) which, when achieved, are rewarded with points to put toward the improvement of your car's powertrain, aerodynamics, chassis or durability. This adds depth previously unknown to me in an F1 game and plenty of micromanagement, which includes keeping the team's morale up by mentioning their contribution in the animated TV-style “interview” after each race session - and not hogging all the glory to yourself. This definitely succeeds in varying the pace and gameplay during a season, as do the occasional offers you get to race a classic car at a certain track outside the normal fixture list which are rewarded with XP (experience points). If all that sounds like it’s not your thing then it doesn’t matter as all sessions, tuning and the other fiddly bits are optional; you can skip sessions or even simply simulate them! Rather than having difficulty presets, F1 2018 also allows you to tune the game's difficulty precisely to your own requirements via a slider gauge - while it’s never going to be as easy as some racing games, F1 2018 can literally be as easy or hard as you want it to be, and unlike some past F1 games you can adjust the challenge level during a championship season too, so you won’t find yourself in the irritating position of having set a championship up, getting a couple of races in and finding that it's far too easy or difficult to be enjoyable.
Each race can be played with the same timetable as a real Grand Prix weekend; with 2 practice sessions on the Friday (except Monaco when P1 & P2 are on Thursday), P3 and qualifying on Saturday, and the race on Sunday afternoon. Any session can be skipped or you can use 'accelerated time' to speed up the sessions.
I haven't played an F1 game seriously in 5 years and so many of the tracks were completely new to me. I found that around 80% on the AI slider was about right for me, it meant pole position was attainable with a really tidy lap and overtaking possible on most long DRS (Drag Reduction System) assisted straights and most corners that involved hard braking. The AI seem to behave reasonably realistically, but I'd still like to see more AI accidents and spins. When analysing their performance closely during several replays I also noticed that faster drivers often didn't take obvious overtaking oportunities, which was disappointing.
Codemasters Flashback system also means that you can call up a 15-second replay and reverse time to any point during that time, and undo any damage you may have done, or just take a corner slightly better, which is fine in practice, qualifying and races but not possible online and will disqualify any time trial lap time set. You can also enter the photo mode from the replay screen, and select a number of preset cameras or move/zoom the camera almost anywhere you want, and add countless effects (depth of field, shutter speed etc) to achieve some spectacular snapshots.
Overall, the game looks absolutely gorgeous. The scenery whizzes past at a realistic yet dizzying pace, and you get an amazing sensation of the speed and brutal cornering ability of the modern F1 car. In replays the cars still don't trick the eye into believing they're real cars quite like Forza and Gran Turismo do, and I don't really understand why the impression of speed from the gameplay views don't really carry over to the TV broadcast-style cameras in the replays either. But...the game is never less than sumptuous to look at, and the detail levels of the cars and drivers is amazing. You can witness this by pausing a replay at any time and entering the photo mode, and zooming right in on the cars and drivers - and I mean RIGHT in. There's plenty of trackside detail too, with animated marshals and pit crews, but the pit lane never looks quite as busy as the real thing.
In addition to the career mode you can do individual Grand Prix, a Custom Championship, a Time Trial or an Event, which is a on-off downloadable race scenario with an online leaderboard. As ever, online multiplayer racing is as good/bad as your connection and the drivers you're competing with. You can compete in individual, ranked or unranked races or a custom championship, and a new ranking system, safety rating and overall XP level will try and match drivers of a similar standard. We did look for the co-op team mode that we played 5 years ago, but that seems to have been dropped, so I guess that Peter ‘Mario’ Dixon and I were the only ones who enjoyed it.
F1 2018 honestly gives you little to complain about, but I will, so: the font could be bigger... I usually sit closer when playing racing games but sitting across the room from a 42-inch TV I struggled to read some of the text, and if you're going to take F1 2018 seriously there's quite a lot of interesting info to read. Game designers need to realise that we’re don't all play games sitting with our noses 18 inches away from a 32-inch 4k monitor and don’t all have perfect eyesight either. As previously mentioned the replay mode is great, and allows you to view the action from any car's point of view, but you can't watch an entire (full length) race and there's no race data or telemetry (lap number, position, lap time etc) on-screen.
As well as all the current F1 teams, F1 2018 has a magnificent line-up of classic F1 cars for you to race around in. At the time of writing there always seems to be plenty of online races and mini-championships set up featuring the classic cars, but just practicing and comparing the handling, the speed, potential lap times and even the noises the engines make is a fascinating business, as is imagining how dangerous F1 used to be. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed just ‘hot lapping’ with a racing sim so much. The handling of the cars is believable and challenging, and the feedback through the joypad’s vibration is excellent, it really lets you know what the car is doing in terms of grip - anyone who plays with vibration off is going to be at a serious disadvantage...
Classic Car list (20)
It would have been nice to see some classic Grand Prix circuits of the past to run these classic cars on, and I think I’m right in saying that Codemasters have modelled many of the following list in the past; Brands Hatch, Donington, Fuji, Imola, Kyalami, Nurburgring, Watkins Glen, Zandvoort, Zolder – heck, even Magny Cours (which is a lot better circuit than the current site of the French GP, the awful Paul Ricard-which looks like someone had a LOT of tarmac and paint to spare, but not much imagination.) would have been a great addition-potential DLC maybe…?
So then, there are no real surprises here for this well-established and polished licence. All the cars look right (although there are obviously changes to liveries that can't be updated in the console versions). The driver and team boss likenesses are also really good and the pit crew animation during pit stops is a wonder to behold. The tracks look and feel right and the dynamic weather can change from clear and sunny to heavy rain in such a subtle way that you'll believe you're really there. Finally, the handling - which has been a bone of contention with every racing game since year dot - is very believable, with just enough power apparent and grip and assists available to make the game challenging for racing game aficionados and the lesser talented among us too.
- Looks great throughout
- Comprehensive difficulty settings
- Believable but challenging handling
- Sounds amazing!
- Text can be hard to read
- The AI still fails to convince