F1 games before 2009 were great, and now almost 10 years after the fact the team behind masterpieces like Dirt Rally, Dirt 2, and Race Driver: Grid have finally reached the point where they've fulfilled their potential in terms of overall quality, car physics, presentation, and depth. F1 2018 is the triumph that the fans have wanted for years, as the game not only joins all the loose threads and reinserts the structural holes that were left empty in previous editions, but it's one of the few racing titles in the past 20 years that perfectly blends accessibility with realism.
F1 2009, 2010, and 2011 were all disappointments on their own, as while they weren't horrible games, they were a touch too thin, a little too shallow, and far too arcadey for the tastes of many. Codemasters tried, of course, to include even the newbies alongside the hardcore fans, and the result felt a bit diluted; the games were quite nice to play but didn't last very long and were never particularly challenging or engaging. Since then, the old Micro Machines studio has polished, rebuilt, hired more people, re-written the entire game engine, and worked hard on the graphics to be able to offer us this - F1 2018. The previous version was good, while this year's game is brilliant.
This year's F1 cars are, as we all know, insanely powerful. 1000 horsepower and 730 kilograms in wet weight makes for some serious lap times, and Codemasters manages to capture this feeling surprisingly well with the new simulator setting, which simply means that the tire physics are way more realistic. Codemasters obviously talked to the in-house team behind Dirt Rally to better understand what's happening in the tire under hard strain, and the result is by far the most realistic F1 game they've ever released.
The biggest real difference is the temperature of the tires, and it's apparent that the system that calculates these variables is detailed and accurate, which makes F1 2018 far more challenging than last year's game. The tire physics engine now measures both the outer and inner tire, giving a much deeper picture of what's happening in the rubber, which - as a player - means that you need to know how much grip you have so that you can figure out whether to step back and attack less to save tires or go to the offensive and sacrifice grip to win positions. The fact that the computer-controlled opponents have become far more accurate this year compared to previous years of course also helps build a realistic game in terms of feel and atmosphere, and although a couple of drivers may feel a bit too aggressive, it contributes to a sense of nerve and excitement all the way through.
Codemasters, just like Polyphony Digital, has borrowed some ideas regarding safety features and online-rankings from iRacing, so as to better control the behavior of the cars during online competitions, something that works well but not perfect, at least not yet. The basic overall idea, however, is brilliant, and structured on players being rewarded for serious driving and punished for trolling and trying to destroy great races, which obviously affects the matchmaking and creates a fairer online atmosphere on the track. We would have liked to see trollers banned instantly, sure, but that's hard to achieve.
There are plenty of other things to enjoy with this game, too. Of course the inclusion of the active ERS system (based on the KERS idea) is brilliant and, just like the simulator setting and the new tire physics, creates a small ministry system. Being able to use a lot of extra power collected in the hybrid F1 cars today through effective braking makes the race less predictable than it is in reality. There are also over 20 Classic Cars (compared with 12 in last year's game), which is one of the best parts of Codemasters' game. For how sharp today's cars are, we still find it incredibly fun to wrestle with an old '80s Lotus at Spa while the rear tires are struggling to find some traction.
Career mode is deeper and more interesting than ever before as well, and the whole idea of winning upgrades works nicely. Graphically it looks way more like a simulator this year too, without all the exaggerated bloom effects from previous games via the inhouse-engine Ego, and while the sound isn't perfect, the car audio is nice and there are plenty of surround effects, especially if you're driving in cockpit view.
F1 2018 meets the needs of both those who screamed for more realism and those who only wanted to see more regular content. There's plenty of depth here, heaps of different game modes, lots of challenge, and enough strategy and tactics within the racing itself to entertain for months. Given the popularity of Codemasters' own F1 esports league, this will of course be a nice touch for those competitive types, but even if you only have a passing interest in F1, this is worth a try.
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