2017 was supposed to be a renaissance of the ‘sim-cade’ racer. The big hitters Forza and Gran Turismo had new titles, the ever-ambitious Project Cars returned with a sophomore entry, and Dirt 4 promised an expanded and more accessible title to follow-up on the cruel but seductive mistress that was Dirt Rally.
There was even another entry in the NASCAR series and late in 2017 a comeback from Need for Speed…which judging by the trailers might have cars in addition to a story ripped from the movie that was ripped from earlier versions of the game which was done better by a different, more popular movie series.
2017 was going to be an awesome year. Somehow though, it just hasn’t panned out. I’ve detailed the problems with Forza Motorsport 7 elsewhere and my early impressions of Gran Turismo are that its ambition and execution don’t line up. The problems with Project Cars 2 and Dirt 4 are worthy of their own discussion but I’ll leave that for another time.
Overall, 2017’s racing games failed to meet lofty expectations – with one notable exception being the follow-up to best pure racing game of 2016. Once again, Formula One is the racing game that fans of the genre need to play but probably haven’t.
Going into 2017, F1 2017 was the title I felt the most skepticism towards. It was the latest entry in a now annual series that seemingly had limited room to grow.
I am glad that I was wrong.
It turns out that when you take a great physics engine and driving model, an in-depth career mode, engaging in-race strategic options that replicate the tactics of sport and transform races into stories – and then add more to it – the results are good.
So why haven’t you played it?
F1 is the world’s motorsport – which is to say that it is not America’s motorsport.
Much like football (soccer), F1 has a growing following in the United States and over the years has had alliances with US Grand Prix at six different venues in World Championship era since 1959 and special event races at four other different venues in the 1970s and 1980s. The current US Grand Prix at the incredible Circuit of the Americas in Texas is one of the many highlights of the championship calendar.
Also much like soccer, F1 may appear to be inscrutable at first but is actually really simple.
The F1 season features 20 races with points awarded to the top 10 finishes at each event. Unlike NASCAR there are no points for qualifying or fastest laps – only the result on Sunday matters.
Races are held at iconic venues such as Monza, Silverstone and Spa and well as great and unique tracks in locations like Singapore, China and Azerbaijan. There are 10 teams with each one employing two drivers. Some of the teams are legends of motorsport like Ferrari and Mercedes while others like Force India and Red Bull are backed by billionaires and buy-in their engines from other manufacturers.
So while it may appear foreign at first, for anyone with even a passing interest in racing games F1 is a motorsport worth replicating.
As much as I love the broadcast style cinematics and career mode that features an upgrade tree that would make a RPG blush, it is the on-track racing where F1 2017 truly shines. The races are capture the rhythm and flow of real world racing.
Starts are frantic, hectic and dangerous. Dive bomb down the inside and you will likely lose your nose cone or worse a wheel. Such aggression carries true risks when you remove the ability to rewind but even with this safety net every race start feels special.
Following the start cars spread out as they do in the real sport. This is a function of the varying speed and quality of the cars, aerodynamics and tyre strategies. This is a time to take care of your tyres and fuel and concentrate on hitting each apex. While hurtling at 150mph through chicanes it is a surprisingly zen experience.
Strategy is a key element in races. Softer tyres provide greater grip and speed but but degrade quickly, which in turn results in slower lap times. Each race presents a decision – do you take softer tyres and go for pure pace and multiple pit stops or do you try to limit wear on your tyres by avoiding unnecessary wheel spin and sliding? This added element, which simply isn’t present in other racing games, creates stories within the races and tension. Changing weather conditions add further complexity.
Whereas Forza and GT have hundreds of cars to choose from F1 2017 is limited to a single series. For some, this is a major limitation but not one that I am convinced should dissuade you from playing the game.
I understand the pokemon appeal of collecting and racing diverse cars. It has been the very successful model of GT, Forza and just about every large racer before and since.
However, with each iteration of this model this action can be become equally repetitive. There is only so many times that you can buy and upgrade your Silvia or BMW or collect every Ferrari or Porsche and have them sit ideally in your virtual garage.
Instead, F1 gives the opportunity to race cars that the designers have focused all of the attention on. Sure, a great buffet is a great buffet but once in a while go to a restaurant that specializes in just a few dishes.
Casual racing fans might be put off by the seriousness of F1 2017 and its dedication to capturing the subtlety of F1’s technology. However there are plenty of in game tutorials to guide you through concepts like Drag Reduction Systems and gearbox wear penalties. All the types of assists found in Forza like driving lines, ABS, Traction Control and Rewind are available if you desire them.
So while 2017 hasn’t been my favourite genres’ grand return, in F1 2017 we do have a standout title. It is the best racing game of 2017 that you probably haven’t played. But you should.