Reviewing the latest version of a yearly sports franchise game isn’t always something to look forward to. “It’s just like the you love, but now with one extra year on the date” can be hard to spin out into a full-length piece. Then again, persuading cynics like me to open our wallets again is probably an even tougher job from the developer’s side.
I don’t envy the task in front of Lee Mather (the game director) and his team at Codemasters—luckily, is proof there’s genuinely a lot of thought going into that effort.
“It’s actually not the ideas that are the problem, it’s purely the time we have to create it,” explained Mather. “2015 was a tech establishing year [when the game moved to the new EGO engine]. The career added in 2016 was just the beginning, and we know where we wanted to take it, what features to add over time. With such a tightly constrained dev window, we can’t waste any time. We can’t just try things and throw them away if they don’t work.”
At its core, is a damn fine Formula 1 game. But the last two years’ games were, too, thanks to a revised game engine that’s right up there with the best in the racing genre. So to stand out from those past iterations, the crew at Codemasters has tweaked things all over the place this go round. Some of it you may not notice, like the way the new game renders skies, clouds, and environmental lighting. But some of it you definitely notice, like the way you now have to manage your car’s hybrid system throughout the race or the RPG elements that have been integrated into career mode.
F1 itself went through some changes between last season and this, and so has incorporated them to match. The Malaysian Grand Prix is gone from the calendar, so the Sepang circuit that hosted it is gone from the game. In its place are Paul Ricard in the south of France and Hockenheim in Germany.
The tweaks to the Career mode are rather good. You now have to speak to the media after you bring the car back to the garage just like real F1 drivers. How you reply to their questions matters. Criticizing your car’s performance might well piss off the department responsible back at the factory, which in turn can affect how they help out developing new upgrades throughout the season. Your team—and the rest of the paddock—keeps score, and the more impressed they are, the better your position is when it’s time to negotiate a new contract.
In addition to ranking your experience (from rookie to veteran), you’re also scored on a scale from “sportsmanship” to “showmanship.” Some teams, like Ferrari, want a showman; others prefer a more buttoned-down, less-cocky driver.
And if details like that have you looking at a worn copy of orand wondering, well this may be the game for you after all.
Immersive, engaging handling
New modes aside, the racing itself has been improved, too. boasts a revised tire model now simulating the temperature of the carcass as well as the tire surface and also the brake temperatures. All of these affect how quickly the tires get to operating temperature and how long you can make each set last. On top of that, the way the suspension and chassis are modeled has been improved, and the relevant bits of the simulation are now running at 1000Hz—regardless of the platform you choose for the game.
If you’re playing with a wheel—I used the Thrustmaster T-GT and a PS4—you’ll notice there’s really good force feedback, which you use to feel how tires and suspension are working and therefore just how hard you can push for lap time. “We split the elements that are most important, that need to be simulated at that rate, and it was very much a known thing that we wanted to get,” Mather told Ars. “It’s the hardest thing to convey in any racing game because you’re not physically in the car—the feeling of tire on tarmac, how it grips, how it behaves when there are changes in temperature or weather conditions.”
It actually reminded me of the steering feel I experienced in a professional racing simulator recently, which will be welcome news to David Greco, ‘s senior car handling designer. Like me, Greco says he got tired of gamers conflating difficulty with accurate simulation. “This year, the way the car feels, with the force feedback, and how it all works together, we are very close to what I want from a simulator,” he said in the game’s press release.
“In over 20 years of my career between sim racing and real motorsport, I have always come across questions like [that]. With my real motorsport experience, I can say that real racing cars are made to have a lot of grip,” Greco continued. “To me, a simulator is not how easy it is to drive or how easy to make it spin. To me, a simulation is how many real-life, physical components we simulate, and especially this year, there are not many features that I can think of that we don’t simulate. To just call it a game to me is not enough anymore.”
The F1 car of 2018 is a very complex machine, asking its driver to do more than just steer, slow down, and speed up. does a fine job of asking you to manage your car throughout the race. We already touched on the importance of taking good care of the tires, but it doesn’t end there. You can alter your engine mapping on the fly, leaning out the engine to save fuel or going rich to make more power. That opens up some leeway in fuel strategy; if you think you’re going to be gentle on the gas, you can take some weight-increasing fuel out of the car before the start of the race.
And for the first time in an game, you now also have to think about the car’s hybrid system as well. F1 cars have two motor/generator units (MGUs) that feed a central battery. The MGU-K lives between the engine and gearbox regenerating power by turning kinetic energy into electrical energy under deceleration or deploying that power back to the rear wheels. The MGU-H similarly recovers or deploys energy from a shaft connected to the V6 engine’s turbocharger.
Although the car will decide when to use either MGU to boost the car, it’s up to you to stay on top of battery management. There are six different modes, letting you harvest without deploying hybrid energy at one end or engage a “hot lap” mode on the other, emptying your battery to give you everything it’s got.