F1 2017 review: The most immersive racer to date
Vehicle handling improves for gamepad users, but players should expect to be 'challenged'
The launch of the F1 2017 video game is just days away, but critics are already praising the fast-paced racing game.
Developed by Codemasters, F1 2017 follows all the drivers, teams and circuits from the real-world Formula 1 season, allowing players to get behind the wheel of Lewis Hamilton's W08 F1 car and battle it out with Sebastian Vettel for the driver's championship.
This year's game sees the return of classic cars after a four-year absence from the series. Players can choose from a selection of 12 old F1 cars from the past 30 years. These cars include Ayrton Senna's McLaren MP4/6 from 1991 and Fernando Alonso's 2006 championship-winning Renault R26.
The game also comes with a deeper career mode that forces players to manage the reliability of their car. Driving cars faster will lower lap time and get you to the end of the race faster, but it also can increase the risk of your engine breaking down.
Here's what critics and The Week have to say before the game's launch tomorrow:
The Week reviews F1 2017
Codemasters hit the sweet spot with F1 2016, which introduced an intricate and challenging handling model alongside the return of a much-needed career mode after the feature was scrapped on the previous game.
Many fans wondered whether last year's racer could be topped, but the Birmingham-based studio has looks to have produced another superlative F1 game.
There's a bunch of new features that keep the fast-paced racing game feeling fresh, such as an even deeper ten-year career mode that allows players to take a car as uncompetitive as a McLaren-Honda and turn it into a title winner.
This is through the career mode's revamped upgrade tree, which allows you to invest research points earned in Practice sessions into improving certain aspects of your car. There's 115 different areas to improve, but it will take you several seasons to upgrade your vehicle to be as competitive as front-running teams like Mercedes-AMG and Scuderia Ferrari.
One feature that kept us gripped was the return of classic cars, which include Ayrton Senna's McLaren MP4/6 and Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari F2007. These can either be raced in time trial, or as part of an invitational event in career mode, with the latter pitting you against other classic cars in a series of challenges.
There's also huge potential for this mode and we hope Codemasters can add more cars to the roster of classics in future versions.
Our review copy was on the Xbox One and we did notice a few technical issues with the game. For instance, the frame rate often dips below 60fps and can sometimes feel choppy in races with heavy rain.
There's also a fair amount of texture pop-in, screen tearing and drivers missing from their car in replays until they are closer in shot. None of these issues are game-breaking, but they can be frustrating.
Nevertheless, F1 2017 takes the qualities that turned last year's game into such a hit and made them even better. In fact, this could be the game that finally dethrones Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix 4 as the most immersive F1 title to date.
F1 2017 comes with a host of graphical improvements over previous games in the franchise, including the addition of high-dynamic range features that improve the title's lighting effects. The game also has a higher resolution and more stable frame rate when played on the PS4 Pro or upcoming Xbox One X.
But it's the attention to detail that Codemasters has put into the game that makes the series look like the "most expensive sport in the world", says The Daily Telegraph.
Small design touches such as the builds around the Marina Bay circuit in Singapore glistening at night and the sun shining on the "photorealistic asphalt in Bahrain's early evening desert race" give the racing the same "spectacle" as the real-world championship, the newspaper says.
There are also "graphical tweaks that bring more realistic replay footage and better human likenesses", says GamesRadar.
But TheSixthAxis says the "human character models in this game still look like weird animatronic wax works" and that F1 2017's visual performance can become inconsistent in wet weather races.
The career mode has been tweaked over the one in F1 2016, allowing gamers to upgrade 115 different elements on their car and manage engine components on a race-by-race basis.
"Players must work to maintain every part of their engine", says TrustedReviews. They will need to find the compromise between "speed and durability."
Driving your car aggressively and over-revving the motor will cause engine components to wear out "long before the F1 calendar is over", the website says. Players are only allocated four of each component. Exceeding that allowance will result in grid penalties.
Mechanical reliability and outright performance can also be improved by investing research points into a role-playing game-style development tree, says GamesRadar.
There's a risk that development on an upgrade could go wrong, adds the site, so players may want to invest points on improving development reliability early in the game.
This year's real-world F1 championship saw a raft of rule changes to make the cars look aggressive and allow drivers to take corners at much higher speeds.
It's a sensation that Codemasters appears to have successfully transitioned into the virtual world. GTPlanet says the extra grip from the 2017 cars means "corners that you'd have to lift for before are now flat out."
While the cars are "more difficult to recover when the back end comes around", the website says it accurately reflects the handling characteristics of the real cars, punishing drivers who make mistakes.
The handling model feels like a tweaked version of the one on F1 2016, the Daily Telegraph says, but it has a "smoothened sense of accessibility while retaining the breakneck pace and enthralling challenge" that sets the series apart from other racing games.
It's also significantly more accessible for players using a conventional gamepad, the newspaper says, which makes driving a hot lap on one of the 20 grand prix layouts even more satisfying.
F1 2017 launches on 25 August for the PS4, PS4 Pro, Xbox One, Xbox One X and PC.
F1 2017 game: First impressions and release
The first career gameplay trailer has just released for F1 2017. The game, due out this month, will see the return of classic cars after a four-year absence.
Codemasters, the company behind the F1 series since 2009, has confirmed that players will be able to get behind the wheel of 12 classic cars in F1 2017 after the mode was axed from the franchise four years ago.
Gamers will also be able to play as all 20 drivers in the current F1 field, including three-times world champion Lewis Hamilton and McLaren debutant Stoffel Vandoorne. All 10 teams, from Ferrari to Sauber, will also be present.
More details are expected closer to the game's launch at the end of the month, but here's everything we know so far about the new F1 game:
Codemasters has introduced a wealth of new features in F1 2017. The most significant of these updates is to the game's improved career mode, according to TrustedReviews.
Last year's instalment had an "uninspiring linear list of potential upgrades you could make to your car", the site says, but this year's game comes with a "full-on development spider's web with over 100 different upgrades on offer."It's a welcome addition to the series, the website says, as it could be helpful for players looking to gain the upper-hand on the "always-challenging AI competition".
These upgrades range from "minor" tweaks to "radical design changes that, if they work, could turn your season around."
The upgrades are a welcome addition to the series, the website says, as they could be helpful for players looking to gain the upper hand on the "always-challenging AI competition".
DigitalTrends says the cars in F1 2017 are also noticeably faster than in last year's game, which accurately reflects the changes made to the championship in real life.
The increase in speed can be a "rush", but gamers can gradually build their confidence with the faster cars by practising on their favourite circuit.
Career mode is even deeper
While F1 2016 completely revamped the series's career mode by introducing practice programmes and vehicle development, this year's game adds even more elements into the mix.
The vehicle upgrade system is significantly more detailed, allowing you to update 115 different areas on your car to improve performance and efficiency. There's even a recommended option to help players focus on the areas that need improving.
You can also manage your engine to avoid any unwanted mechanical failures during a race. Engines are divided into six sections, including the hybrid systems, which players can swap out through the race weekend.
However, doing so will cut into your session times, so you will need to change engine components well in advance of qualifying for the race. Exceeding the number of motor components used can also incur penalties, as it does in the sport in real life.
Additionally, you can have up to ten careers running at once, plus there's the chance to customise your helmet after every race and choose the number one on the front of your car if you clinch the driver's championship.
Classic cars are back
Classic cars debuted in F1 2013, although Codemasters revealed in a blog post the following year that it would drop the popular content in the 2014 game due to "masses of changes to the sport itself". The company was also focusing its efforts on its first next-generation title - F1 2015.
However, classic cars are returning in F1 2017, many of which are championship-winning machines from the past 30 years. A total of 12 classic F1 cars, from the series' top teams, will be drivable in the new game.
The oldest car of the group is the McLaren MP4/4 that was driven by Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in the 1988 season. This is joined by Senna's 1991 McLaren MP4/6, Nigel Mansell's 1992 Williams FW14 and the V12-engined Ferrari 412 T2 from 1995.
Players can also drive Damon Hill's 1996 Williams FW16, Mika Hakkinen's 1998 McLaren MP4/13, Michael Schumacher's dominant Ferrari F2002 and F2004, as well as Fernando Alonso's Renault R26 from 2006. Rounding-out the list of classics are Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari F2007, Lewis Hamilton's chrome-painted 2008 McLaren MP4/23 and Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull RB6 from 2010.
Invitations to special events
During the game's announcement, Codemasters has revealed that players will be invited to special events during their career mode that require them to drive some classic F1 machinery.
Details of how classic cars will be implemented into the career mode are scarce, but the company's creative director Lee Mather says that classic content "fully integrates" with the gamers' F1 campaign.
He adds: "As part of your career you will be invited to race in modern day, invitational events in the different classic F1 cars throughout the season".
Alternative track layouts
Along with the 20 circuits on the real-world F1 calendar are four of those tracks with shorter variants.
The company has already shown that Bahrain and Silverstone will come with shorter layouts, with the other two being revealed closer to the game's release.
Circuits that have shorter layouts in the real-world include the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi and Suzuka in Japan - both of which could feature in the final game.
While classic tracks were present in F1 2013, such as Brands Hatch and San Marino's Imola, TrustedReviews says it's "not clear whether that will happen again this time around".
You can now drive Monaco at night
One of the more surprising new features of F1 2017 is that players can now drive the iconic Monaco street circuit at night.
While there has never been a grand prix held at night at the principality, virtual drivers will be able to battle on the streets in the dark. However, it is expected the option will only be available in quick race mode and not in the main career.
A similar feature was available in last year's game, where players could race the Bahrain circuit during the day even though the grand prix itself is held at night.
Better graphics for the Xbox One X
F1 2017 will be optimised for Microsoft's upcoming Xbox One X console, says GamingBolt, bringing with it better graphics and potentially smoother gameplay.
Lee Mather, the game's creative chief, told the website the title was "already running at 4K and 60fps with HDR enabled".
He added: "We're going to see how far we can get to being close to a high spec PC. We've increased the fidelity of the mirrors so they run a higher frame rate and higher detail. Shadows can be better. Reflections can be better."
There's no word yet on how the game will perform on the regular Xbox One, but the last two instalments in the series have run at 1080p and 60fps.
Versions for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC will be released on 25 August. Xbox One users will also be able to play the game on the One X when the console launches on 7 November.
Pre-ordering gives players access to Ayrton Senna's dominant McLaren MP4/4, which can also be bought separately for those who purchase F1 2017 after it releases.