If you have read any of my previous reviews here at Game Chronicles you know I am a super-fan of racing, both in real life and in video game form. I’ve participated in various racing schools for nearly every style of racing from Indy Car and NASCAR to Rally and my favorite, F1. Strapping into the cockpit of a formula car is as close as it gets to flying a fighter jet without leaving the ground, and I can’t recommend it highly enough for anyone with the means and opportunity to try it. Sadly, F1 racing for an average Joe off the street is also one of the more expensive hobbies you can undertake, so thankfully Codemasters is here to bring that experience to life on your PC with stunning realism, both visually and in the immersion of all the stuff that goes on outside the cockpit.
F1 2018 is easily the most realistic F1 simulator out there, upping the ante on some areas of improvement from last year including an overall better driving experience, some aggressively smart AI competition, new tracks, new cars, an updated roster, a network-quality presentation, and a cool look at the business of racing as well as all the optional fun you can have tweaking your car in the garage. There is something here for every level of race fan in both immersion and realism, and for those seeking the ultimate challenge, there is a Pro Career setting that changes the weekend structure to include full-length sessions as well as disabling all vehicle assists.
The main menu offers up all the standard variations of gameplay, allowing you to dive into a single race, a Championship season, Grand Prix, Time Trial, Event, or for those looking to settle in for the long-haul, check out the Career mode where you get to sign with a team and immersive yourself in the lifestyle of a real race car driver. Considering the multiplayer portion of F1 2018 is currently a total mess and unplayable (in my opinion) I gave up after a few days of dipping my toes in the festering waters of a generally uncivilized online community of griefers who think this is NASCAR, or even worse, bumper cars. I strapped into my G27 cockpit and settled into the Career mode and never looked back.
I launched my career by signing on with Ferrari. You get to choose a team but they also have to accept you, and later on in the game when you decide to switch teams, or in my case, when I got fired, you get to negotiate new contracts with variable demands/request for other teams to consider. Some cool new features in the career include maintaining good relations with your teammates. You will frequently get interviewed after practice, qualifying, and race events and your answers will directly affect the relationship with one or more factions of your crew. There is usually one safe diplomatic answer buried in the multiple choice responses; the trick is finding it.
Maintaining good relations with your team helps to shave development time off your R&D projects. You are constantly designing new tech to improve your car’s stats for future races. The R&D tree is divided into four sections; Powertrain, Durability, Chassis, and Aerodynamics, each with numerous bits of researchable tech (71 in all) that either you can choose or have your engineer recommend. These projects can take weeks to research before they can be added to your car setup, but based on your relationship with each division will adjust your development time accordingly. Morale also factors into cost and even the chance of failure. After blaming the downforce of my car in one post-race interview my aerodynamics team got angry and my new front wing gurney flap R&D failed, and I had to start over.
As with most F1 racing games you are given the standard weekend format for racing, which includes three practice sessions, a hot-lap qualifying run, and a variable length race based on realism settings. I’ll admit that in most prior games once I learn the track I tend to skip practice laps and go straight to qualifying, but F1 2018 gives you a great incentive for spending as much time in each of the 30-minute practice sessions as possible. Your team has a list of tasks (or challenges) that they would like you to cross off while you practice. Additionally, there are several Practice Programs you can choose from, each with various tasks and rules. Every Practice session has a “learn the track” mode where you simply try to hit all the entry and exit gates to master the apex of all the turns on the track. Then you have programs for tire, fuel, and ERS management, as well as Qualifying, Race Strategy, and Team Objectives. Not only are these challenges extremely fun, they will make you a better driver, they will help you earn that pole position, and they will help you win races. Plus it potentially adds 90 minutes to every race weekend; all the while earning you valuable resource points you can spend on future R&D.
Between races you’ll find yourself at a computer terminal inside your team’s HQ where you can cycle through all the behind the scenes stuff, check your emails, and basically prepare for the next race. You will also get invited to various challenge races and events between official race weekends. These mini-games are great fun and often give you the chance to drive cars from outside your team brand. Speaking of cars; F1 2018 brings the car count to 20 while delivering all 21 circuits from the 2018 season including Circuit Paul Ricard and the Hockenheimring.
The improved car physics are impressive and while nearly all of my gameplay was done using my G27 race wheel I did play a few non-career races using an Xbox Elite controller. While I would never risk my career mode to the less-than-realistic gamepad I was impressed with just how well the game played using one; albeit a $150 Elite with super-precise analog sticks and butterfly shifters for my gear changes. For casual race fans you could probably get by with a standard gamepad, but honestly I don’t think F1 2018 is targeting “casual” race fans.
Technically, F1 2018 is visual perfection, and my GTX1080ti was able to maintain a solid 60fps at 4K resolutions with all the details set to max. You can drive from multiple cameras including front, cockpit, TV pod, and chase views. Obviously, using the cockpit will provide the ultimate in realism with its working instrument cluster, but it does limit your view a bit more than it would in real life. The game does support Tobii Eye Tracking, which helps, as it allows you to look into the turns by syncing your game view with your head position. It’s certainly a better alternative than VR, which is expensive and would severally impact the visual quality of the game.
On the audio side you have a great soundtrack, fantastic commentary, and a quirky fun news girl that is constantly trying to interview you in the garage. The voice acting is exceptional to the point where I felt genuinely ashamed when I got called into the office to find out Ferrari was canceling my contract. The highlight of the sound design is easily the realistic and distinct roars of each and every engine on the track, and there are plenty of options for how many speakers and how big.
From start to finish F1 2018 sucks you into the world of F1 racing with all the modes and variable difficulty you could ask for. The Career mode excels at creating a somewhat realistic look at the business and tech of racing, and the network quality presentation just wraps up the package and puts a bow on it. Truly, the only downside is the horrendous multiplayer that you might be able to bypass with private game sessions or simply wait for Codemaster to fix the matchmaking, lobbies, and provide a way to filter out the jerks who want to wreck rather than race. Personally, I prefer to play alone and the new and improved AI has provided me with ample human-like challenge in nearly all of my races. Even if you never touch the multiplayer there is plenty to keep you racing F1 until 2019 gets here.