F1 2018 strives for authenticity. In our first race, Lewis Hamilton took first place, and Fernando Alonso had to retire half way through due to engine trouble — so it looks like they nailed it! In all seriousness, this is one of the most entertaining and realistic racing simulators we’ve tried. It’s sure to please fans of the sport and challenge diehard racing game enthusiasts.
Open wheel race cars are feisty. A bit too much vigor on the brakes or throttle, a barely mis-timed shift, or a small jerk of the steering wheel in response to a bump can all easily upset the car enough to send it spinning into the run-off zone. It’s a high-adrenaline experience that demands an almost physic connection to the car.
Perfectly capturing the danger and speed of real-life gaming in a simulation is an unattainable goal, but it’s possible to come very, very close. F1 2018 comes closer to real-life F1 racing than any game we’ve tried and improves simulation in other aspects of a racer’s career – though you can’t emulate Kimi Raikkonen by catching a nap under a table.
A promising, but sometimes awkward, career mode
Career mode is where most players will spend the bulk of their time. It offers a sense of continuity provided by the voices of your crew and management, as well as the progression of R&D research for your car. Each race becomes important, because each contributes to your overall career.
Unlike many games with career mode, F1 2018 lets you adjust difficulty not just with a setting, but also your team choice. Top-tier teams like AMG Petronas or Scuderia Ferrari will expect consistent podium results, while Williams and Force India have more modest goals. It’s a natural and realistic way to scale the difficulty of the game and offers a great sense of achievement. You’ll feel proud when you improve enough to meet a top-tier team’s expectations.
For the first time, F1 2018 adds dialogue options to career, offering a bit of light role-playing. You can choose how the media and world will get to know you as a driver. Will you be a gentleman who thanks your team in the image of Sir Stirling Moss, or a cocky narcissist, like a certain driver whose name rhymes with “Clamilton?”
While we love the concept and appreciate that different choices not only affect the overall relationship with your team, but also different departments within your engineering team, the choices offered could feel restraining. There were a few moments where all the available dialogue options felt like gaffes, or like Codemasters was trying to force a decision. Why can’t you thank the entire team for getting the driver on the podium, rather than being forced to choose a specific group? Codemasters has promised a launch day patch that will “re-balance” dialogue, so we’re hopeful to have a few less awkward moments come release day.
We also noticed that the facial animations don’t quite sync up with the audio, and there’s a discrepancy between the visual quality of the people and the cars. Codemasters has paid obsessive attention to the cars, but the people could use some work. Thankfully, you don’t spend much time looking at characters, so this issue isn’t too distracting.
A simulation with a real sense of speed
Eccentricities of Career Mode aside, F1 2018’s primary goal is to simulate piloting one of the world’s most impressive racing cars. That’s not an easy feat. In the previous iteration, F1 2017, cars felt weirdly stiff and almost clinical. When you hit a bump in a race car—especially an open-wheel car—there’s a unsettling feeling of wiggling from the chassis, like the car itself is a hyped-up crouching kitten that hasn’t yet decided which direction to pounce in.
F1 2018 nails the feeling of Formula 1 like few racing games ever have.
That’s a difficult feeling to capture even when gaming on a high-end simulation rig with racing wheel and chair. A game needs the right combination of not just force feedback, but also audio and graphical signals to impart a feeling of uneasy lightness at high speed. It’s one of the most distinct feelings when racing or lapping, and how the driver reacts is a big part of what separates the good from the great. No lap is perfect, but skill comes from correcting small errors without significant loss of speed or control. The fastest racer speeds along just a hair slower than necessary to avoid a crash.
F1 2018 nails that feeling like few racing games ever have. If you’re using a racing wheel, you’ll receive gobs of intuitive feedback from it, but even standard controller imparts plenty of information. When one wheel pops up over the uneven curb, you know just how much of risk it is and just how much further it can be pushed — because you feel it.
The game also nails the sensation of speed. When you can’t feel the G-forces pushing you back into your seat, and the objects around you aren’t life-size, it’s easy to feel slow no matter what speed the game claims you’re doing. F1 2018 uses a lower camera angle and use of race-side objects to impart a sense of how ludicrously fast F1 cars are (they easily top 200 miles per hour). We felt a real sense of danger when coming into curve at the end of a long, fast straightaway, and that’s something few racing games manage to inspire.
Of course, not every gamer has the same expectations. Hardcore driving enthusiasts want to turn all the driver’s aids off to feel the full experience, but others will want to keep the aids on and go for a more forgiving race using a gamepad. Crucially, the game remains exciting no matter how you play. It feels fast and dangerous even with the driver aids turned on.
Codemasters worked had to make the cars look perfect, but the people could use some work.
If you want to get into the nitty gritty of tuning your car and its strategy, you can do that. You can choose the tires you want to use for each practice session, what fuel ratio you’re burning, and all the usual customizations, or you can leave that up to your AI team and still be competitive. The digital engineers do a good job of making suggestions, and it means that if that’s not the fun part for you, there’s no need to worry; you’ll still get what you want out of the game.
Whether you’re a serious sim enthusiast who wants a new challenge, up to date with all the current F1 regulations, or a guy who wants a more serious racing game but doesn’t necessarily want to have to study real-world racing strategy and technique, you’ll enjoy this game.
Microtransactions? Nope, not here
Thankfully, microtrasactions haven’t invaded F1 2018. Buying the game bags you the entire thing for one set price. It’s a refreshing change of pace, as sports games often have annoyingly aggressive in-game item stores.
F1 2018 is an excellent simulator with an engrossing career mode that can challenge newcomers and skilled players alike. The career mode can feel awkward at times, but also has strengths, and the game offers gobs of racing excitement for your $60.
Is there a better alternative?
If you want a game that nails the feeling of racing an open-wheel car, it’s either this or the much more expensive subscription-based iRacing. While iRacing is extremely realistic, it doesn’t have the game modes you’d expect or even AI drivers.
How long will it last?
When F1 2019 gets released in a year you’ll be tempted to buy, and there will no doubt be improvements, but F1 2018 isn’t going bad any time soon.
Should you buy it?
Yes. Racing around a track in F1 2018 is fundamentally enthralling, even if you don’t closely follow the sport.