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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Game review: F1 2018 could just be the greatest racing game of all time 

We test out Codemasters’ tenth instalment of F1 2018, hailing it the greatest racing video game of all time

The realism will keep all but extreme purists happy. Courtesy Codemasters

Circuit Paul Ricard, the racetrack in Le Castellet near Marseille in France, provokes a variety of reactions from racing fans. Some don’t like the way it looks – its use of red and blue run-off areas certainly gives it a distinctive appearance, and even drivers sometimes have difficulty figuring out just where they’re meant to be going while taking on one of the track’s 64 configurations.

Purists baulk at its lack of gravel – something of a rarity at most Formula One circuits these days – but many think those coloured strips’ ability to slow down cars that run off the track are an innovative way to still penalise drivers without taking them out of a race entirely.

Racing on the track for only the second time in Codemasters’ F1 2018 game, I did not have much time for aesthetic concerns. Qualifying had been a disaster, meaning I started this five-lap online race against a group of drivers from around the world at the back of the grid. I was still getting to grips with my Renault RS18, and while I was pretty confident in the slower parts of the track, the same could not be said for its high-speed corners, so I could forget about setting truly competitive lap times.

Fortunately, though, some other drivers seemed to have even more difficulty staying on the track or away from the back-end of other cars, and after the first two laps, the field had thinned considerably and I somehow found myself in fifth place. That seemed like a great finish, considering where I’d started – I just had to do a few more pathetically slow laps. Then, two laps from the finish, everything changed.

Rain began falling on a section of the track, severely reducing grip. It was too close to the finish to make pitting for intermediate or wet tyres a sensible option, so everyone decided to stay out. By the final lap, conditions had deteriorated significantly – pouring rain eliminating the advantage of cars and drivers adept at taking on those high-speed corners and making it a supreme effort to control the car and concentrate.

Nonetheless I passed two cars that slid around wildly at the slower corners. Another crashed out while obviously misjudging the available grip in a high-speed section. I was now in second place, surprised that I was dealing with the conditions better than my opponents. By the third-last corner, I had caught up with the leader, who ran off the track at the next corner, handing me a race win I never could have imagined at the start.

It was my favourite moment so far playing this tenth instalment of Codemasters’ current F1 racing franchise, one that has earned a place in my list of great racing game memories.

F1 2018, like most of its predecessors, offers mostly iterative changes to the previous year’s release. All this year’s driver’s, tracks and cars are present, and it goes without saying that they have never looked this good – don’t be surprised if someone walking past your screen thinks you’re watching a live race instead of participating in a virtual one.

Career mode is a highlight, giving you the chance of rubbing shoulders with Lewis Hamilton on track and saying something controversial to reporters after a race.

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If you get bored with the 2018 cars, there’s a variety of classic ones to try out, including James Hunt’s McLaren M23D and Niki Lauda’s Ferrari 312 T2 from the 1976 season.

Multiplayer works seamlessly, and the ranked mode incorporates an iRacing-like safety rating system to encourage good, clean racing (it remains to be seen how effective this will be in keeping the dedicated rammers away from everyone else).

But all the pretty graphics in the world mean nothing if not paired with an exceptional driving model, and fortunately, this is the best one the series has offered – “iterative” is not always a bad word when it involves building on something good. It is realistic enough to keep all but the most extreme of purists happy while still being fun. Even using a controller, it feels like you’re in command of a real car that responds to your inputs and the track believably.

It’s this engaging model that will ensure F1 2018 is remembered as one of the greatest F1 games of all time.

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