As the Talladega Nights adage goes, “If you ain’t first, you’re last!” …Which, of course, makes no sense whatsoever in the sense of racing. After all, as Reese Bobby once said, “You can be second, you can be third, fourth… Hell, you can be fifth!” My infatuation with this Talladega Nights interlocution aside, the mindset remains the same- and, strangely enough, is reflected in the latest F1 games. In the film, one of Ricky Bobby’s foes is the Frenchman Jean Girard, a rival racer who moved from Formula One (a.k.a. F1) to challenge Ricky Bobby. For those who are unaware, F1 is an open wheeled auto racing series that is seen as one of the top racing series in the world while also being one of the most technologically advanced. The series currently has ten two driver teams that runs 21 races between March and November and has been dominated this decade by Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Codemasters will see their newest game based on the series, F1 2018, released August 24th while the Belgian Grand Prix weekend is just getting started. Is this the title to bring in newcomers or is this series still tightly in the niche category?
I must first confess that this is my first ever F1 game. While I have watched some races sporadically, this is one of the more difficult regularly aired racing series to keep track of as an American- right up there with the World Rallycross Championship.With admittance, I have knowledge of the big names and some advance knowledge of the rules, but there were several times where I was hit with a warning or penalty (usually during practice) in regards to exceeding track limits and I had no clue what I did to get that message. It did not help that the game did not automatically pause the game the first time a specific warning or penalty was assessed to explain the rule and how to avoid it. Granted, Codemasters is catering to the veterans of the series, but I feel having an option to turn on or off these notifications could greatly benefit bringing in newcomers. Better yet, they could have added a tutorial race the first time the game is started with a cutscreen or scripted penalty event to bring this up to new and veteran players alike.
With all that said, the settings menu was kept simple and relayed just enough information to explain to newcomers what some of the settings would affect. Anyone who has played a modern-day racing game, such as Forza, will be familiar enough to not even need the added information. This is a big plus when trying to secure newcomers. The one issue with the game’s settings is it seems the career mode settings get locked in after it is created, so keeping the difficulty on easy will hurt in the long run as the player grows accustomed to the game and will force them to start a new career if they misjudged the difficulty setting they needed to be on. One thing that is highly appreciated is the lack of the big, LOUD soundtracks that EA and Sony like to add to their sports games. F1 2018 just gives the players softer chill music in the background as they move around the menus.
The game features several different modes for players to sink their teeth into, but by far the most popular is always Career Mode. While the workstation can feel a bit overbearing at first, once the player gets used to what info is needed to see when it becomes more easily manageable. The R&D tree to upgrade the parts for the car is a straight RPG skill tree that can help newcomers cross pollinate their RPG knowledge to this part of the game which is a nice bonus for game accessibility. One quality of life issue is that the game boots you back to the workstation after each session of the race weekend. I would have liked to see everything stay in the actual game as bouncing in and out of the workstation just to get to the next practice session, to qualify, or to actually do the race was a bit cumbersome when we have MLB: The Show allowing us to seamlessly stay in the game to advance to the next game.
The developers might have done this because of the interviews the players’ driver will be taking part in, but that could have still been smoothly added into the advancement. While a nice touch, the interviews have a few issues on their own. The player is given fifteen seconds to read four responses and to best answer it while remembering if the team wants them to be outspoken or a team player while also considering how the team will react to a response. Even then, you may answer a question thinking one reaction will happen but a completely unexpected and different result happens instead. Luckily, the day one patch is supposed to finalize and balance questions so the latter issue may not stand out as much, or even be an issue at all. Graphically, the car models and weather conditions are by far the highlight of the game, with each of them looking utterly realistic and beautiful.
As far as technical aspects of the game are concerned, we ran the game natively on an original Xbox One and streamed the game to an iPad through the recently released OneCast app on medium settings. Natively, the game ran near perfect to our eyes, minus some optimization issues during the interview cutscreens in Career Mode (which should see final optimization with the aforementioned day one patch). Streaming the game, however, was a bit of a chore. We have had passable success with other games using OneCast since it came out, but F1 2018 really stressed our streaming to the point where the stream would freeze for a few seconds and cause me to hit pause as to not wreck. This is not a knock on the game, but more of a warning for anyone with a poorer internet setup looking to stream after it became easier to with the recent release of the third party OneCast app.
The overall presentation- from the menu and background music, and spanning all the way to the official television presentation of the races and career mode- is top notch and ultimately raises this game above many sports games. While Turn 10 and Playground’s Forza Motorsports and Forza Horizon are currently on top of the podium, Codemasters’ racing games are nipping at their heels in second with both far ahead of the rest of the pack. While F1 2018 does lack some features that will take it more mainstream, there is enough here to appeal to newcomers to the sport, as well as keep veterans pleased. With the day one patch expected to fix most of our rather few gripes, this should be a recommended purchase while gamers wait for the holiday madness to begin. (Ryan Williford; Gaming Editor)
Review copy provided by Deep Silver; reviewed on the Xbox One.