Faithful to its licence, F1 2018 is both high-tech and outdated.
You’ve got to feel for Codemasters’ design team when the annual, ‘What shall we put in next year’s game?’ meeting cropped up at the end of the 2017 season. “Well, there are unsightly head protectors on the cars now, so they’ll be going in.” Everyone gives resigned nods. “And… shall we totally overhaul the game engine?” No. No we shan’t, Callum, because the game’s out in eight months. Working to an annual deadline, it’s testament to the developer’s talents that the series has maintained, by and large, a high standard worthy of the licence. But that licence is a doubleedged sword: Over in the real sport, Lewis Hamilton has been a blur of Petronas logos for what feels like ages, drivers are openly bemoaning the tedium of racing, and the most discernable change of the 2018 season is the reviled ‘halo’ protector.
What F1 2018 does in response to this bag of lemons, knowing that its fundamental handling was stellar in F1 2017 and in need of very little revision, is focus on its career mode. Press interviews return, having debuted in F1 2010, this time bringing RPG-like ripples of consequence to team relationships. If you spend all your time bleating on about how rubbish the aero package is, the aero development team will remember that—each team’s morale is now dynamic and affects the speed of iterating on the car.
It also says a lot about modern F1 that developing parts is such a focus in this game. A dull aspect of your driver duties, but one that deepens the RPG vibes within career mode. The development trees are bespoke to each team now, and there’s a real buzz to be found in watching your team’s line increase on the performance graph, reaching up to the frontrunners with every upgrade.
And the knock-on effect of that, in turn, is that F1 2018 can be played as a ‘give Fernando Alonso a championship-winning car again’ sim, to great effect. Grinding away in free practice sessions, earning upgrade points by completing hot laps, spending them prudently on the right parts, and then inconspicuously easing off the throttle on the last lap to let Nando take P1 because, lest we forget, Fernando is faster than you.
There’s a big change to contract negotiations, too. Anyone who’s spent the last seven games driving a turgid debut season for Sauber and holding out for a Red Bull contract the following year will be happy to hear mid-season team changes are now possible. You still get the payoff of having proven yourself among the backmarkers and scored a deserving upgrade, but you can enjoy that rags-to-riches trajectory in an afternoon now rather than a month.
Heading onto the track, the game’s still excellent. Visually rich without melting your graphics card, wonderful with a pad and some assists, very nearly as wonderful with a wheel and no assists. The suspension refresh rate’s increased this year, and—look, don’t laugh. You really do get a sense of it when you bounce over some of the more aggressive apices at Barcelona and Monaco. AI opponents are sharp but fallible, as always demonstrating Codies’ uncanny ability to mimic believable racing.
Over in multiplayer, a super licence system is the big new addition, aimed to get you driving less like Max Verstappen and more like someone who grasps the concept of sportsmanship. Contact and corner cutting counts against you, clean driving works in your favor. It’s fancy matchmaking that pairs serious racers with one another, and lets crashers crash into other crashers.
Despite all that’s new here, I don’t love F1 2018. There’s nothing wrong with the new additions, nor has the quality of the racing dipped. But with the likes of Fortnite splurging brand-new content on players for free every few months, annualized models like this feel underwhelming. Despite a fleet of minor improvements, I don’t feel inspired to sink another hundred hours into this game, because for all the halos and journalists, it’s broadly the same experience again.
Press interviews return, having debuted in F1 2010