There are two ways to look at annualised licensed releases like F1 2017. One is to compare it to last year’s effort and take a stock inventory of all its little iterative improvements. The other is to compare it to the real thing: everyone’s favourite waste of a Sunday afternoon, Formula One. Either one demonstrates, in F1 2017’s case, what a stellar job Codemasters have done this year.
FIFA’s developers can be pretty sure football will be the same cavalcade of tumbling millionaires when they set to work on a new FIFA, but for the ever-changing Formula One it’s a different story. The tires are wider and more durable this year, and the cars manufactured to a completely different set of regulations. As a result, 2017’s cars are significantly quicker than last season (so much so that drivers complained of neckache from all the G-force during pre-season testing), and F1 2017 benefits from that enormously. The cars are simply more fun to drive than in the last game. They suck onto the tarmac through high-speed corners and bite into apexes as you turn in. They’re faster than ever, but not skittish like the aero-heavy cars of a decade ago.
They’re also being driven by very convincing AI opponents who exploit gaps in braking zones and pounce on your mistakes, but usually leave a fair amount of space while you’re battling. This is very much part of the iterative improvement stock take, since convincing AI has long been a series stronghold, but this year the racing’s noticeably closer and less liable to have you lambasting other drivers like Screamin’ Seb Vettel. Several front wings were damaged during my season-long feud with Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, for example, but the racing was always gentlemanly. Just about.
With the fundamentals in fine shape, Career Mode returns with a raft of improvements headlined by mid-season classic car events. The roster of Williams, McLaren, Ferrari and Renault championship-winning motors all feel great, not to mention frightening, but their inclusion via some faintly token mid-season track days belies the difficulty in having such a small number with which to create events that make sense. They’re best enjoyed in time trials, where their individual characteristics can be enjoyed at length and without any overarching objective.