When Xbox UK handed over review code for the latest Formula One game, Asiiya knew that they had the perfect man for the job. Unfortunately he was on holiday, so I’m doing it instead.
Don’t get me wrong; I love racing games, and I’m no stranger to the digital world of F1 (dig around the site, and you can even find my review of last year’s entry). It might sound silly to say that this is a game for fans of real-life F1; but it really, really is.
As with the previous game, there are concessions on offer in an attempt to accommodate the less hardcore fan. The problem is, in doing so the poor developer clearly isn’t quite sure what to do, much like a Tory politician trying to win votes from the working class. The driving line is present and correct (switched on by default – no shame in using it even if you’re a pro!). You can also tone down or disable vehicle damage, and make corner-cutting regulations slightly less strict. ‘Flashbacks’, the F1 version of the ubiquitous time rewind feature, can now be used in limitless amounts. Purists need not worry, as this can be done away with altogether.
The thing is though, it’s not nearly enough to welcome those who might be scared off by the demands of a realistic racer. Even with all kinds of assists pushed up to max, this is never anything close to an arcade runabout. Rules are tight (disqualification comes easy for the careless) and opposition, even on the easiest setting, pretty ruthless. At best, the above allowances will help fans with intense knowledge of F1 but limited patience for their videogames. This is an F1 game made for big F1 fans. And that’s a good thing! Let’s just be clear about what it is.
We may not have the near-photorealistic graphics that other racers offer, but the official license has been put to good use. More lovingly recreated real-life tracks than you can shake a chequered flag on a stick at; all the official drivers, machines, and teams; and of course, amongst the many race and championship options, the 2017 Formula One season. Handling is spot on, and the control you have over pretty much every element of your car and team is truly impressive. Choose your tyres, tuning, race plan, even fuel mix, and much, much more. You can ignore this for the most part, should you so wish, to concentrate on the actual racing. If you want the whole shebang though, you’re well catered for here.
I think I’ve established that this is a demanding racer which, of course, it should be. For this very reason though, every podium finish you manage to nab tastes so, so sweet. You’re never in any doubt that you’ve earned it (especially if damage is on and AI difficulty is mid to high). Whether you’ve gone for a full-fat championship with qualifiers and looooong races, or just a one-off five lap Grand Prix, tension is high and success (should you earn it) immensely satisfying.
Turn to online, and the experience becomes more mixed. The graphics lose just a little detail and a few frames per second, but that doesn’t really matter. More of a problem is that, should you join a race in progress (which you almost always will), there’s a high chance that the lobby won’t load once the race is over. With no way to quit, you’ll have to switch off the game from the dashboard and start it up again.
If/when you do get into an online race, you’ll (usually) find that there’s no shortage of players; although a full lobby is extremely rare. Needless to say, whizzing past human opponents is even more enjoyable than whizzing past CPU ones. Throw the human element in though, and it’s the luck of the draw regarding the kind of experience you’ll have. If everybody plays ‘properly’; perfect. It only takes one idiot to intentionally ram you at a corner, though, for you to lose several places you’ll never recover through no fault of your own. The online race search system theoretically avoids this. You use a slider to determine what length race you’re looking for; the more gruelling the experience you find, the less likely (hopefully) the appearance of gung-ho Garys. Nonetheless, a grief reporting system would be extremely welcome.
What’s the bottom line? Although the career mode hasn’t been improved from last year (terrible character models and dull, unskippable dialogue), this is crammed full of top-notch content to put a huge smile on the face of any F1 fan.
By the amazing and magical Luke Kemp (who actually doesn’t drive). Thanks to Xbox for the review code!