I’m not an F1 aficionado, but I appreciate the sheer effort by the drivers and race teams to be the best on and off the track. That passion comes through in a relatable way in F1 2018, a title that constantly pushes you to excel while also giving you the tools to reach victory.
The impressive part of F1 2018’s career mode isn’t just the nooks and crannies of the R&D tech tree (now with a fog of war), it’s the way everything nestles together. Your actions and decisions reverberate around your racing organization, letting you feel the enormity of the task, but also making it relatable and within reach. Yes, you’re just one person in this mammoth enterprise, but this is one instance where the right hand actually knows what the left hand is doing.
It’s the first of three pre-qualification practices, and a good way to get to know the track is to go through the Track Acclimatization program (hitting the right gates into/out of turns) for some resource points. These are spent on the R&D tree between race weekends. I’m not sure which direction to go in, so the engineer for my Renault team recommends new pistons. Sounds good. I’m rivals with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, so I can’t shrug off these practice programs before the race. I need to earn resource points to keep pace with Red Bull’s own R&D advances as well in order to be competitive on the track.
During the ensuing race, I’m told my internal combustion engine (ICE) is losing power, which partly explains why I’m getting caught on the straightaways – that and Lewis Hamilton is just going to do that until our organization improves. I make a mental note to check to see how much wear is on the current ICE and whether I need to fit a new one.
After the race I put in a new one and check the rest of my power unit and gearbox for wear. Luckily nothing else needs replacing for the moment. The rest of the news, however, isn’t good. The streamlined suspension arms the aero team started work on a few weeks ago have arrived but they failed test, which means I have to spend more points to have them redone.
Ironically, the next time I’m in front of the press, I’m sure to mention how good my aero department is, which boosts their morale and cuts down the chance of such failures happening again. I also plug my chassis department. I’m eyeing new calipers, and I’d like to keep the discount I currently have running with them.
Towards the end of the season we’re blindsided with the news that regulations next season are going to wipe out three aero upgrades. Although they remain viable for the current season, I have to spend over 1,000 points to keep them for next year.
Come contract time I’ve earned enough respect with my bosses through my finishes, rivalry wins (including one with my teammate), and performance in invitational events, that I’m in a place to negotiate an upgrade in the R&D time as well as a bump in the amount of resource points I get for races. I’m on my way up in the world, but it’s just the start.
As busy as it may sound, getting elbows deep into your race team isn’t overwhelming because it’s well organized. It’s more about putting one foot in front of the other than herding kittens. You can run through seven different practice programs over three practice sessions, which are more than enough opportunities to get resource points. Although the programs are the same through your entire career, they’re both instructional and applicable to each race. For instance, the fuel economy program shows you how to conserve fuel for the track as well as lets the team know how little fuel they can get away with during the race while still running good laps.
The game keeps you busy, but it doesn’t gussy up the daily grind. Some of the race intro/exit cutscenes are the same as previous years, the interview sessions (as useful as they are) grow stale, and even with the rivalries and having to throw divisions of your R&D department under the bus to the media at times, the game has an air of restraint. Unfortunately, it doesn’t indulge in the sport’s drama, and even your successes feel muted.
That changes when you’re racing, thankfully. The cars’ handling conveys both the enormous power at your disposal and the subtle skill needed to master it entering and exiting corners. During the longer races you notice things like tire wear, the type of tires you’re using, and the importance of keeping out of danger. One race I slightly damage my front wing, meaning I had to deal with understeer until it was fixed.
Racing is a mix of the immediate (the next corner) with the long-term (your pit and tire strategy) that can be challenging. My brain scrambled when my engineer announced rain was on the way. Not only do I hate driving in the stuff, but I had to grapple with that devil’s proposition of how long I could stay out before it hit. A handy in-race HUD gives information and allows adjustments while you’re driving, but it can be a handful to read and bring up while you’re in the thick of the action. Plus, some of the options like the fuel mixture and the differential are not well explained. Thankfully, handling the new ERS – a system that recovers and deploys energy while you’re driving – is easier to use.
In addition to career mode, F1 2018 also features one-off scenario events, a 22-player multiplayer mode with ranked/unranked sections with a new leveling system for matchmaking, and your customary time trial and other exhibition races. These modes, however, are not the stars of the show.
Racing games are all about strapping yourself in behind the wheel and chasing that checkered flag, but you can’t forget all the hard work put in just to get you to the start/finish line in the first place. F1 2018’s excellent career mode skillfully lets you enjoy the fruits of both labors.
It’s weird to say that you’ll have just as much fun in the shop as behind the wheel, but in the case of F1 2018’s career mode, it’s true.