Formula One is, for many motorsport enthusiasts, the most important of all the classes of motor racing. Because of this, F1 used to hold prime place among the roster of officially affiliated sports video games, with the nineties into the early millennium seeing a number of fantastic adaptations. However, for a few years, F1 video games dramatically dropped off the map.
Of late, however, Codemasters has been returning F1 adaptations to their former glory, with F1 2016 and F1 2017 proving to be as close as ever to what fans of the sport wanted from a game. This year's entry, F1 2018, is perhaps the most refined of the bunch. It may have smaller improvements than its predecessors, but this is definitely a case of the developer perfecting its previous framework as much as possible.
At its core, F1 2018 feels quite old-fashioned in a good way. There was a high point for motorsport simulations some time ago, where there was a very clear divide between arcade-esque racing fun and the more dry, serious side of motor racing games. It's this era that F1 2018 most calls back to, a far cry from the more recent hybrids of Forza, where the less showy realities of motorsport feel more like additional flourishes than an integral part of the racing experience.
For those who want something quick and easy, F1 2018 probably won't deliver. It's not a game that provides instant gratification, with a requirement to practice and perfect each race, and where milliseconds count beyond more than just an online leaderboard.. This is a game that does not just reward players for honing their abilities: instead, it is effectively required.
Because of this, F1 2018 is able to provide a level of authenticity that fans of the sport - and motor racing fans in general - will no doubt appreciate. Players are given the option to complete all stages of a race weekend, including the three practice sessions, and unless the virtual driver in question is already an expert they'll want each and every minute on the track to guarantee the best performance possible. Quite simply, there are no Halo tie-in distractions here.
This is most apparent in the game's Career Mode, which is easily the standout game mode in F1 2018. Teams have expectations of their drivers, and completing targets set within these practice sessions helps not only build a reputation with the team but also allow for upgrades to improve performance or reliability. Here, there's been a significant improvement on F1 2017, with the relationship with the team feeling much more personal - particularly when giving the right answer in a Walking Dead-style post-session interview can lead to a buff on upgrades for a specific part of the car.
At the end of the day, though, this is all to try and get the most out of the race itself, and this is where the player truly needs to reach their potential. Thankfully, even though the realism of the full race weekend does add a lot to the overall experience, its the actual racing that makes F1 2018 a fantastic experience to play, and continues what is a solid 2018 for racing games after a disappointing 2017.
In short, F1 2018 has a level of versatility within its racing that far outstretches its surface-level restrictions. The player may be kept to the current roster of teams and circuits (aside from those classic cars held within the Invitational events), but within this there are numerous different roles that the player could potentially fulfil.
Some players may want to go straight to a top team like Ferrari or Mercedes, competing for trophies by carving through the opposition or setting up a perfect strategy to stop competitors from even standing a chance. Meanwhile, racing with a weaker team sets its own challenges, with the racer in question left striving to compete with those above, using intelligent pit stop strategies and perfect racing to push the car to its very limits. Either way, it means that there's much more here than just racing to win; in F1 2018 victory comes in many different forms, and the title is all the more satisfying for it.
This core gameplay is broken up here and there for those who don't want to maintain that level of concentration all the time, though. The previously-mentioned Invitationals do add an arcade-like quality, with the player given a choice of different goals, for example Pursuit races to overtake all other cars on the circuit within a lap limit. It's a fun diversion that helps give a breather to the overall intensity of the experience.
That's not to say the title is without fault, though. F1 2018 has made many small improvements on last year's game, so those expecting a radical change of pace from F1 2017 may be left disappointed. Some of the flaws of Codemasters' previous titles have also followed through to this year, with the character models still not quite up to scratch, particularly during such moments as podium celebration cut scenes. It's not a game-breaker by any means, and isn't one of the more egregious examples of bad facial animation, but it does mean that the immersion that's created through that deep, technical gameplay gets lost a little.
Nonetheless, F1 2018 is a fantastic game. Much like the other Codemasters Formula One games, it's not for everyone, but it provides a deep experience that fans of motor racing will be able to very much appreciate. What's more, with a bit of time and dedication it becomes even better.
F1 2018 releases August 24 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Screen Rant was provided with a PS4 code for the purposes of this review.