F1 2018 is a hybrid, much like the cars it simulates. It is both a casual friendly racer, and a simulation that is getting more technical with every revision. It is a racing game, yet it has dialogue trees and upgrade options like an RPG. It embraces eSports, yet provides one of the deepest career modes yet.
F1 2018 represents a new level of cooperation between the developers and the series itself, yet it never feels like they played it safe. This game is a stunner. You almost never notice it until you step back to think about it. After a 30 lap duel through the desert, I never found myself thinking about the game, instead feeling like I had triumphed after a tough race. I have never felt the level of excitement about winning in a racing game before. F1 2018 makes it feel like it was all down to you.
The game is still built off the backs of the previous games in the series, but this time everything has been touched. The most immediate change that most players will notice is to the handling model. It’s all new thanks to a whole slew of data the lovely people at Liberty Media received from the teams. Now curbs become real killers, you find more differences in each chassis from the box, and the added tyre data means you can find yourself getting punished doing things that you could get away with last year.
The other new dynamic that this year’s iteration throws at players is the addition of full ERS control. The ERS system has been in the hands of the drivers since 2014 with the introduction of the hybrid power units, but, until now, the deployment has been hidden and modeled behind the scenes in the series. Now you have the same control on how much you want to use or charge your battery in a menu not dissimilar to the fuel mix option. The added layers make the racing feel frantic, even if you can find yourself cruising from pole. There is so much you can dig deep into to find time, to find how you drive, and to really develop a style through your virtual career.
On the off-track side of the career mode there is more than ever. Returning for the first time in years, the media have returned as something that you must deal with. After certain sessions during a weekend, you will be asked some questions, and they affect your reputation with the team, and your different upgrade departments. The idea of RPG style dialogue options in an F1 game is odd, but when you think about how much of being a modern Grand Prix driver is PR and media sessions, it makes sense. Plus, the ability to sweet talk your way into cheaper and better upgrades is a lovely carrot to guide players through these interviews, even if the question bank maybe needs a couple more options.
And speaking of the upgrade trees, these are all brand new for 2018 as well. Each team has its own tree. These are more honest to what the team is good at, and what would be available to them in reality. For example, if you are a team that uses a customer engine, you will have far less options on the engine side than a team like Renault, who make their own chassis and engine. Plus, the way you can develop any team into a winner still rewards those that love picking a team and sticking with them.
Throwing a wrench into that mix is regulation changes, which are events that can threaten to wipe out certain areas of progress. For instance, at the end of my first season, my entire durability and chassis departments were under threat and I had to choose between saving those upgrades for next year, or spending my resources to continue developing the car through the current season. These changes, while small, do really reward those who love doing a full career, and I imagine is designed to keep people coming back for each season in the career.
I adore this game so far. Still, that doesn’t mean I haven’t found some oddities and things to complain about. Firstly, the AI is crazy aggressive compared to previous games. I have never been dive-bombed or bumped this many times before. They’re not dumb or slow, but the level of aggression does see them pulling some terrible moves. Secondly, I have found a couple of really odd and confusing bugs, such as AI cars getting warped into the pit and retiring, drivers not completing a lap and still getting the fastest lap time, and some minor UI bugs. I have faith that most of these bugs will be fixed as more updates come through.
I had played a lot of last years game before diving into this one, and driving F1 2017 and F1 2018 back to back is night and day. This is something I haven’t felt since the very early days of this franchise. Once I corrected the bad habits that last year’s game let you get away with, I found myself getting faster, having a better time, and constantly getting more daring with setup and strategy. I had already put more time in 2017 than the previous two games combined, and I am honestly expecting the trend to continue.
This game is a perfect companion to the thriller of a season we find ourselves in, and is one of the best racing games I have ever played.