F1 2018 is a fully licensed digital recreation of the most famous discipline of motorsport in the world, and it is incredibly authentic in just about every facet. The game offers many game modes which each have their own drawcards, and as a game, it’s just a blast to play. Every track on the 2018 calendar is available, and every driver on the grid has an incredibly detailed avatar; those two aspects combined make this game arguably the strongest F1 game to date.
As a simulation of Formula One, F1 2018 locks down its competition with a crisp handling system that requires a lot of precision to keep your vehicle under control. You don’t want to accelerate too hard into corners, as your car is quite prone to oversteer. It takes a little while to get used to, especially if you’re not used to sim racing titles. Once you learn how the car handles, it becomes a lot of fun to play, zipping around corners and making clean passes on the cars ahead.
One of the big talking points in Formula One before this season was the introduction of the ‘halo’, a curved bar that surrounds the cockpit, designed to help protect driver’s heads in a crash. The halo was introduced this season – despite some fans’ objections that the device both obstructs the drivers’ view and impacts the cars’ overall aesthetic – and as such makes its debut in F1 2018. The halo does take up an incredible amount of room on the screen when driving in the cockpit view, especially in terms of blocking the driving line aid that helps players understand when to brake. Switching the driving line to a 3D perspective in this view slightly mitigates the problem, but it still obstructs the visual when the player follows the line.
Playing on the PlayStation 4 was a treat, with the player’s race instructions and important information being fed to the driver through the controller’s speaker. It gives the impression of an actual team radio, and it greatly enhances the immersion of competing in a Formula One race. The multi-function display system (MFD) allows the player to analyse several important data while racing, including tyre temperature and engine wear, which allows you to visualise the current condition of your car at any time. Formula One cars are very complicated pieces of machinery, and having that knowledge right at your fingertips is vital in the heat of the race.
However, actually accessing the MFD and team radio systems is quite an inconvenience. For example, during practice sessions, your race engineer will direct you to observe your tyre temperatures for a few laps. To do this, you must press the MFD button to cycle through the screens until you end up on the corresponding one. The MFD is extremely useful in showing you how your car is performing, but it’s hard to access it when you’re shifting gears so often. The team radio also suffers from the same issues, and it’s even worse in this case since the menu disappears after four seconds without a response. There are multiple pages of instructions for which you can call upon your race engineer, including altering pit strategies and information on the other cars. Trying to input these orders is challenging while concentrating on the road, and it makes it hard to make the most of the MFD and the team radio unless your car is about to open up on a long straight.
The Career mode is the game’s real heartbeat, and it’s truly taken a step up from previous entries in the series. Depending on your actions, you’ll gain or lose respect from not only your team but every other team on the grid as well. This will affect your likelihood of securing a seat with one of the teams, as long as your attitudes reflect their expectations. While you can start by signing any team in the game, expectations are higher if you join a team like Ferrari or Mercedes, compared to a lower-ranked team like Sauber or Williams. Regardless of which team you sign with, other teams are always keeping an eye on your performance and will be either more or less likely to offer you a seat for the following season. This adds some longevity to the Career mode, by giving you the flexibility of switching teams without needing to work your way up from a lower team to one of the front-runners.
In addition to your on-track performances, your relationship with the media also affects your respect. At the end of a session, you’ll be given a handful of questions to answer, and your responses will affect where you stand on the ‘sportsmanship–showmanship’ spectrum. One glaring problem is that you’re only given 12 seconds to read both the question and the possible responses, then confirm your selection. That’s what would happen in a real interview out on the paddock, where drivers often can answer questions from the media straight away, but it feels forced in the game. It can be a struggle to read all the responses in time, much less consider how you’d like to answer the question. There’s also no clear indicator when they appear in the career. I managed to land on pole position for the second race in the season, but there was no interview about what my expectations were for the upcoming race.
The vehicle development tree has been streamlined from the previous game. Completing practice sessions nets you resource points, which can be put towards improving the powertrain, chassis or aerodynamics, or the overall durability of your car’s components. This system also incentivises participation in practice sessions. These upgrades will provide a temporary increase to your car’s performance through the season, but changing regulations between seasons means you won’t keep these in the long term. Regulation changes add a strategic element to the duration of your career, in that a weak car might benefit from saving resource points for off-season development, to turn into a contender the next season. The Rivals mechanic adds the feeling of competition on the track. Your teammate will start off as your default rival, but you can add a secondary rival, whose performances you’ll be compared to. You’re free to pick any driver you like, but you’ll greater rewards for beating a stronger competitor. You’ll also gain resource points – and boost your reputation with other teams – if you’re able to beat your rival.
Career mode is certainly extensive, but those who want to experience the feeling of competition without too much of a time investment should consider the Championships mode. The mode is divided into two sectors, regular Championships and Invitational Events. Championships allows you to participate in a full single season of the 2018 Formula One World Championship with any driver, or a number of smaller preset series ranging from four to six races. These alternate series have their own sets of rules and regulations — some series limit the tracks to tight street circuits, some make you use the game’s classic cars, and others have grids in reverse order based on the championship standings. It’s an interesting take, and the compact formats and alternative nature makes completing them feel rewarding. Invitational Events are single races where players have to overtake a certain number of cars or reach a certain distance by progressing through checkpoints. Like Championships, these events are short and accessible, great for those who just want to get to racing.
Another mode that is a real beauty is the Event mode. Each race weekend on the F1 calendar will have a corresponding event in the game. Events give players a unique challenge to complete in a specific race situation. The first challenge to launch with the game was to take Carlos Sainz’s Renault from 14th place to P8, with nine laps to go at Spa-Francorchamps, running in the lead-up to the Belgian Grand Prix. It’s a neat idea that will test your ability to race under specific conditions, and by matching up to the F1 calendar, it’s a great way to promote the World Championship through its digital counterpart.
Most Formula One games feature some of the most historic title-winning cars from seasons gone by, and F1 2018 is no exception. These cars range from the Team Lotus 72D, which led Emerson Fittipaldi to the first of two World Championships in 1972, right through to Red Bull’s 2010 RB6, which Sebastian Vettel piloted to become the youngest World Champion in history at just 23 years old. Also featuring for the first time as a classic car is Brawn GP’s 2009 title-winning car, from the team’s only season in the sport. Being able to use these cars again in the current hybrid era of the sport brings back memories of the past.
That said, out of the 20 classic vehicles in the game, only two were used in the same Formula One season: Ferrari and McLaren’s offerings from the 1976 season. Reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton’s 2008 title-winning McLaren is present, but not the Ferrari that nearly handed Felipe Massa the championship on his home circuit. Since these classic cars are further divided by class, it can also be a little jarring to have four or five copies of the one car on the track in order to have a competitive race. Codemasters should have offered more classic cars from the same season, to allow players to compete in races which would let them re-enact or even rewrite history. Having more cars from the same season would have both solved that issue and made for a more complete game to pander to long-time Formula One fans.
The game’s presentation is top notch. With David Croft and Anthony Davidson on pre-race commentary, the lead up to a race feels like an actual broadcast. The newly redesigned F1 logo is there, and the introduction sequence that precedes every race perfectly captures the tension before the lights go out. Going through the pit lane to show the different drivers while Croft and Davidson talk about the upcoming race is straight out of an actual F1 broadcast, but these sequences are marred by frequent frame rate drops, which is a letdown. There is also a stunning recreation of the track map right before the race, which looks and feels incredibly reminiscent of the real world broadcasts.
Playing online gives you a chance to pit yourself against other drivers, where your performances in ranked lobbies increase both your skill rank and your safety rating. Disciplined drivers will be rewarded by way of being paired up with similarly clean opponents. Players can also completely customise a full championship between friends, with AI drivers making up the remainder of the grid. These championships even include the option to run practice and qualifying, meaning you can play a full season online with your friends. Having that kind of freedom online is something few licensed sports games can match.
All things considered, F1 2018 offers a complete package that will keep Formula One fans happy for months to come. The streamlined career mode offers longevity in a way that doesn’t feel artificial, while the presentation makes it one of the strongest sports franchise simulations found in any video game. Make no mistake, the sport’s rigid rules and regulations make this game hard for casual racing fans to invest their time and money into, but if you are a motorsports enthusiast, then there aren’t too many games which will tap into the craving of competition as much as Codemasters’ latest entry.
F1 2018 is on the front row of the grid for the best racing game this year.
Kristian reviewed F1 2018 using a PlayStation 4 disc purchased at retail.