I saunter into the paddock in Monte Carlo, a silk Gucci scarf draped around my neck, a pair of Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses shielding my eyes from the greedy lenses of the paparazzi. Across the way, a couple of grid girls whisper surreptitiously to one another. Are they talking about the stunning way I caressed my Ferrari onto pole position yesterday, or the rumours in this morning’s papers concerning me and a certain supermodel?
Of course it wasn’t always like this. Only a couple of short years ago, on my first day in the sport, I could be found squatting in a bin in a sweaty Primark tracksuit, hiding from my new boss who wanted words, firstly over some photos of a debauched night out I’d recently enjoyed with the Krankies, and secondly, about how I’d just managed to reverse one of his F1 cars into the harbour.
Such is the life of a Formula 1 driver. A life F1 2018 has recreated more accurately than ever on the track, but which still struggles to get a grip off it.
Your agent is clearly an android cross between C3PO and a contestant from The Apprentice.
F1 games have possibly the hardest time of any sport in justifying yearly iterations. While others, such as football, can rely on a regular recycling of players, kits, stats and stadiums to justify their existence, in F1 the meagre amounts of teams and drivers and the rarely altered roster of circuits means there’s only so much tinkering under the hood developer Codemasters can do.
That doesn’t mean that the modifications they’ve made haven’t delivered tangible improvements. F1 2018 is the developer’s best recreation of the sport to date. It precisely depicts the current cars as muscular but fragile, taught and tempestuous. Each one handles with its own subtle quirks which ensure that greater power doesn’t always equate to podium finishes.
The tracks look glorious and the thrum of engine notes provide a powerful backing track to racing that is ultra-tight thanks to the unflinching A.I. In Career mode. Clever use is made of pre-race practice sessions where challenges can be completed to provide improved telemetry that helps your race performance. But the best thing about F1 2018 is the way it can be altered to meet your desires.
It should be little surprise that a sport as technical as F1 produces a game that scientifically deconstructs every facet of the experience and allows you to tune it to your precise requirements, but that doesn’t make the achievement any less impressive. Whether you want a relaxed arcade racer that lets you take a Formula 1 car for a spin for a fun couple of laps or the full-on, full-race-length mental degradation of an exacting sports simulator, F1 2018 can adapt to your preferences.
This level of personalisation is key for a game that, despite some genuine efforts, still finds itself someway off-track in adding off-track personality.
While the Career mode does provide you with an agent to help you through contract negotiations and brand-building personal appearances in historical racing events, she’s clearly an android cross between C3PO and a contestant from The Apprentice. Rivalries can be established with your teammate and other drivers, but these never spill over into post-race, Dom Perignon-fuelled punch-ups, and the reintroduced media interviews are a few throwaway questions that feed into a reputation system that has little effect unless you deliberately try to go full paragon or renegade. And even then, there’s no option to infect Bernie Ecclestone with a Genophage.
You can see Codemasters is trying, and they should definitely keep doing so. But what next year’s game really needs is something like FIFA’s The Journey mode. A full-blooded James Hunt/Lewis Hamilton commitment to living the F1 lifestyle. As it stands, F1 2018 is, for better and worse, the most mechanically-driven F1 game to date.