The much-anticipated return of the F1 game franchise is almost upon us, so we sent Rob Watts to the official launch of F1 2017 to see how it stacks up.

After a disappointing couple of years for the franchise, last year’s F1 2016 game felt like a step in the right direction, but this year’s F1 2017 game feels like the first time Codemasters have well and truly ‘nailed it’. I was fortunate to spend a few hours playing the game at a special launch event in London last week, and I even managed to squeeze in a quick chat with the game’s Creative Chief Lee Mather.

You can read that interview in full at the bottom of this page, but for now, let’s take a look at some of the main features everyone’s talking about.

Play the F1 2017 season

The 2017 season has been faithfully recreated in all its glory, including the sport’s new, more aggressive looking cars with bigger, grippier tyres, all the new liveries, driver changes, and all 21 circuits. The graphics in this year’s game are stunning, and really do feel like a step forward from previous year’s efforts, while there are lots of extra little details you’ll enjoy spotting as you spend more time playing the game.

One particularly nice touch this year is the inclusion of several new TV style views plus the introduction of FOM’s official TV graphics for the first time. Before you begin a race, you’ll be greeted by the official Formula 1 intro, while Sky Sports F1’s David Croft introduces the race as a global map displays a run through of the season’s calendar, with added info about the race you’re about to take part in.

While it’s not exactly groundbreaking, these little changes do add to the overall experience and make it feel much more like you’re competing in the actual 2017 season, rather than a generic one-off race. A few nice touches, but by no means the highlight of this year’s game.

That accolade goes to…

The enhanced new career mode

Career mode is back, and better than ever. Several new features make it even more immersive and addictive than ever before. Unlike last year, the sheer number of potential ways you can steer your car’s development is greatly increased, but making progress has also been made more difficult, which is a good move.

If you fancy taking a team from the back of the grid and making them winners, you still can, but the days of leading Sauber to the title in season two are long gone. Improvements can be focused on minor new parts to improve reliability, to radical new designs that can have a major impact on your car’s performance. There’s also a greater chance that failures may not work as you’d expected, so testing them out in free practice is now an important part of the development cycle.

While in career mode, you’ll also notice several new locations such as the engineering room, your agent’s office, and the team’s hospitality area. One new feature is the introduction of ‘invitational events’ that have been included within the career mode. A new character (think a Lord March type), approaches you in the hospitality area and says he has some classic F1 cars he’d like you to drive at an upcoming event.

It’s a nice touch, and the classic cars are a lot of fun to drive, but this mode to me seems to feel a little ‘shoehorned’ into the career mode and may have been better positioned as a standalone game mode by itself.

This aside, the career mode is most certainly the highlight of this year’s game and will keep players gripped for hours as they plot their own path to future F1 success. Oh and after many requests, you can now change your helmet design mid-career, should you want to of course!

The return of classic content

So as mentioned above, you’ll be invited to take part in some ‘invitational’ events if you’re playing the career mode, but there are still several other ways you can enjoy the fantastic range of classic F1 cars that have been included in this year’s game. First of all, the classic cars included this time seem like a better group than those featured in the 2013 version of the game, although personally, I would have still liked to have seen one or two from the late seventies as well.

Some of the most iconic McLaren cars of all time have been included, such as the dominant Prost/Senna cars of 1988 and 1991, Mika Hakkinen’s title-winning car from 1998, and the car Lewis Hamilton drove to his first title in 2008. Also included are Nigel Mansell’s groundbreaking Williams FW14B from 1992 and Damon Hill’s title-winning car from 1996. Ferrari has some solid representation in the game in the shape of Jean Alesi’s Canadian Grand Prix winning car from 1995, two dominant Michael Schumacher cars from 2002 and 2004, and Kimi Raikkonen’s title-winning machine from 2007.

F1 2017 Game features classic McLaren F1 cars

Renault and Red Bull each have one car included in the game, with Fernando Alonso’s 2006 car complete with its stunning Mild Seven inspired livery (no tobacco logos though I’m afraid) and the more recent Red Bull RB6, as driven by Sebastian Vettel to his first F1 drivers’ title in 2010.

There is plenty here to keep you occupied, and it makes for a nice change of pace to dip in and out of the classic content from time to time. It’s worth noting that each car handles completely differently and will throw up its own set up of challenges as you become more and more familiar with each.

I spent a fair bit of time playing with the classic content at the London launch event last week, and for me, a personal highlight was the glorious V10 sound of the 2002 and 2004 Ferraris. It’s perhaps the best recreation of an F1 engine sound I’ve heard, and if you shut your eyes, you genuinely wouldn’t know you are playing a video game and not hearing the real thing.

Invest in some good headphones, and turn it up to eleven!

The full list of classic cars is as follows

  • McLaren MP4/4 (1988)
  • McLaren MP4/6 (1991)
  • Williams FW14B (1992)
  • Ferrari 412 T2 (1995)
  • Williams FW18 (1996)
  • McLaren MP4-13 (1998)
  • Ferrari F2002 (2002)
  • Ferrari F2004 (2004)
  • Renault R26 (2006)
  • Ferrari F2007 (2007)
  • McLaren MP4-23 (2008)
  • Red Bull RB6 (2010)

Some exciting new game modes

One of the more intriguing new features we were shown at the launch event was the increased number and variation of game modes for players to get stuck into. New for this year are several fictional championship events, some with modern cars, others featuring classic cars, and played out to a variety of different rule sets.

It’s an interesting concept and is sure to keep players occupied when they feel like a break from the more intense feel of career mode. All skill levels are catered for, and some challenges certainly look a lot harder than others. Here are a few examples of how varied the new modes are:

F1 2017 Game Ferrari Vettel New

  • Hot-laps: One lap pace is key. Score big points for your qualifying performance, then a reverse grid race to finish off.
  • Doubleheader events: Similar to F2, each event is run over two races. The second being run with a reverse-grid. Bernie will like this one.
  • Weather events: Think you’re a bit of a rain master? Prove it. Full wets are the order of the day for this mini championship run entirely in wet conditions.
  • Classic championship: A mix of classic cars and classic tracks. This is one for the purists.
  • Street racing: Another mini-season, but this time consisting entirely of street tracks such as Monaco and Singapore. Not for the faint hearted.

This is just a small taster of the new modes available, as there are literally dozens to get stuck into. I didn’t get much time to play this at the launch event, but I’m certain this will grow to become one of the most popular new features in the game. A nice addition from Codemasters.

A few other things worth noting…

New track layouts: It’s possible to play alternative versions of several circuits on the calendar. Bahrain, Silverstone, Austin and Suzuka can all be run to different layouts, and this makes for a nice variation when playing some of the other non-career focused modes.

Monaco at night: Bit of strange one, but a pretty neat feature nonetheless. Haven’t had a chance to play this one yet, but from the video clips I’ve seen, it looks very cool indeed. You can also play Singapore and Bahrain (usually run at night) in the daytime if you fancy it.

Dynamic weather system: F1 has definitely lagged behind other racing games such as Project Cars when it comes to its weather system. New for this year, and a feature Lee Mather seemed pretty pleased with, is the new dynamic weather system. It’s now more difficult to predict when the weather will change and what’s coming next, which definitely adds to the realism factor when playing longer races.

In summary

F1 2017 feels like a huge step forward from previous games, and the more you play it, the more you’ll likely feel the same. The newly enhanced career mode, classic content, and additional game modes, are all welcome additions and all add to the game’s replay value. The graphics are once again superb, and the FOM TV-style graphics along with several new cut scenes are a nice addition to this year’s game.

My only criticism would be that the commentary still feels a little too scripted, and the classic content felt a bit out of place within the career mode. Both minor grumbles, and unlikely to take too much away from the enjoyment factor any racing fan will get from playing this game. Read more about the new features and watch videos here.

Q&A with Codemasters’ Lee Mather 

Lee Mather is the Creative Controller for Codemasters’ F1 franchise. He was kind enough to spend some time chatting with me at the launch event and gave his views on both the new game, and the direction he sees the game going in future years.

Rob: So Lee, it’s great to finally get a chance to see and play the new game. What’s your personal feeling about how it’s turned out? Are you happy with the finished product?

Lee: I’m really happy with it. We put the wheels in motion back in 2016 to take the series in this direction, to get all the elements of F1 and essentially gamify them to a degree. We wanted to educate players in the world of F1 and get them involved in things like the practice programs, which to someone who is perhaps not a big F1 fan might think “Why would you just drive around for no reason?”. Practice is super important in the world of F1, so in that area, we set out to represent the sport as thoroughly as possible but make it accessible to people as well, make it fun and exciting and to really do F1 justice basically.

Rob: Tell me about the development path you take with each new game. Do you already know what direction you’re taking next year’s game in, and what influences that direction?

Lee: We’ve got hundreds of different ideas. Some of them are obviously closer to the current direction, some of them are slightly further away from that. We’ll take a call on where we go based on how well received [F1 2017] is, and whether the sport changes quite drastically. If it does change quite drastically, then that moves the development focus to another area, and we maybe have to totally re-address what we have planned for the future. We have a pretty strong roadmap that we’d like to follow, and I don’t see any reason for us to deviate from that.

Rob: Of the new game modes and features introduced this year, which ones are you most pleased with?

Lee: While playing through my career, I’m really enjoying the fine detail of managing my engine and gearbox. I’m really enjoying that when I go through the sessions, I’m finding that I’m picking and choosing slightly worn components to put on the car when I know I’m not likely to be strong at certain circuits. I’m saving parts for tracks where I know I’m going to stand a good chance of scoring good points. Because I’m doing the season as Force India, obviously I’m looking to always be somewhere in the points. Away from the track, I’m thinking about all these different elements. Such as R&D – I know as Force India I have a great engine, so I want to start looking at other areas of the car. I also look at what sort of parts I’m regularly wearing out, and I think it’s given me a totally different approach to how I’m playing the game. I think that’s really cool; we’ve given the player a lot more to think about, and it’s a true representation of what happens in the sport of F1.

Rob: Are there any features you weren’t able to get into this year’s game for one reason or another?

Lee: “We actually hit pretty much all of our targets for this game. We’ve gotten quite good at working out what we can and can’t include. There were some things that were on the periphery that made it in, that originally we weren’t sure we were going to get. I think perhaps the only thing is maybe photo mode on the pc; we’d maybe look to try and patch that into the console version at a later date if possible. Aside from that, we’ve managed to get certain things that we really wanted to add outside of the core game, such as the lobby lists on all three platforms which are important for multiplayer. We’ve also expanded the events system again, so we’re always trying to squeeze things in that may not sound like headline features, but they are all things that complete the experience.

Rob: The return of classic content has been a welcome addition this year. How do you decide which cars are going to be included, and what are the challenges in getting the relevant licences for those?

Lee: So we initially sat down and decided what we all thought would be very cool to have and then we looked at the list and thought ‘well that car is never going to race with that car because they’re worlds apart in terms of performance’ so we decided on an era-spread that we’d stay within. Then we looked at whether they looked cool, whether they were championship-winning cars – obviously the V12 Ferrari was included simply because it was the last of the V12 Ferraris and we wanted it in there. So then we looked at could we split these cars into two well-balanced groups – a class one and class two, and then we worked out the spread amongst them. Obviously, we have deals in place with certain teams, so we have to licence the content, and that’s a little more difficult for teams that don’t exist anymore.

Rob: There are some teams that a lot of fans would love to see reproduced in future versions of the games – Benetton, Jordan and Brawn are just a few that spring to mind. What are the chances we’ll see them at some point?

Lee: The Brawn is our most requested car. It would have been in the game if we could have got it in time. It’s very difficult though when a team doesn’t exist, even though a lot of the time they are the same team as they were before, the person who has the final say isn’t there anymore, or they’re not in a position to [say yes] anymore. We’ll always keep trying, and those are cars that we’d definitely have liked to have seen in the game as well.

Rob: With Liberty Media now in control, has that had any impact on the relationship you have with Formula 1 and the access you’re given?

Lee: Nothing’s changed, to be honest; if anything the relationship has grown over the years anyway. We picked up the licence in 2008, so that relationship has built and built. Obviously now, everyone has confidence in what we can do, and we’ve got confidence that we can deliver the things that need to be in the game. It might open up some new avenues in the future – we certainly have access to certain parts of the sport that we didn’t have before, but otherwise, it’s still very much business as usual.

Rob: Looking ahead to the next few years, where do you see the F1 franchise going and are there any major changes we can expect to see introduced in future games?

Lee: There were a lot of people saying console gaming was going to die, but it’s been the polar opposite – it’s stronger now than ever before. Trying to guess what’s going to change with the future of consoles, and ensuring that change is as smooth as possible, is probably going to be the biggest challenge for any developer. We’ll certainly look at VR because it’s the sort of game that would lend itself very well to VR. It depends on what happens in the coming months, but it’s certainly something we’ll consider.

Many thanks to Lee and the Codemasters team for their time.