Whenever a new iteration of an annual sports-based franchise is announced, fans and average customers world over are instantly sceptical towards it, as many have been burnt over the years after falling for publishers’ numerous marketing ploys. And while both FIFA and NFL are usually at the forefront of the aforementioned negativity, then they are not alone as franchises such as WWE 2K, and WRC usually get similar amount of flack. However, while all those longstanding franchises are getting beaten over their respective heads year-in and year-out, there are some which are praised upon each and every iteration. By some I mean one, and by one I mean the F1 franchise. Arguably the only sports series on the market which does not just improve year after year, but also delivers on all the promises and player requests.

F1, just like all the other sports games, promises new content, features, and new ways to play every time a brand new instalment is announced. But where Codemasters’ racing simulator differs, to let’s say FIFA, is in the execution. As F1, delivers on every single promise made prior to the release. The recently released F1 2018, is no different. Because just like F1 2017 was to F1 2016F1 2018 is a major upgrade to its direct predecessor, which was released just a year ago. The core principles have remained the same, then the content surrounding them has grown, and improved exponentially, resulting in a much more meaningful and thoughtful experience.

A year ago, Codemasters has championed the improvements made to the series’ career mode, over period of weeks, if not months. As F1 2017’s career mode, has transformed the otherwise bland and soulless mode, into a worthwhile component, which introduced cut-scenes, brand new and improved management systems, and last but certainly not least, side-activities. Those were all well and good, then it has to be underlined that in general, the vast majority of new additions, has been rather rough. But it looks like Codemasters has learnt from its past mistakes, and has polished what was already there, and used it as a foundation to build more.

Within F1 2018’s career mode, you will still find the managerial suite which allows you to improve your vehicle, through upgrades and expansions. However, the upgrades system which was nothing more than a shallow skill-tree, has received a plethora of supporting features which alters it significantly. First are the new ways in which you can gain research points, as previously the vast majority of your upgrade-centric currency came from racing, and qualifying. But F1 2018 has went a step further and introduced a system of challenges, which allows you to earn a significant amount of extra research points, through completion of side quests, which may include a specific finish to a weekend, acquirement of pre-set grid position, or completion of training objectives – which vary significantly from one to another.

In addition to the aforementioned research point based challenges, Codemasters has also introduced a reputation mechanic which also allows you to speed up the upgrade process, as the more you praise certain departments within the post race/post qualifier sequences, the higher the discounts. If you’ll spend enough time and resources into praising one particular department, you can get as much as 20% off of the most expensive vehicular improvements. However, the post activity interviews are not just there to interact with your team. As during each and every single one of them, you can also affect your reputation among the other teams, as well as the fans, and depending on your choices, you will receive certain additional traits, which can both expand, or minimise the pool of opportunities which can arise during your career as an F1 driver.

Each and every single interview features up to four answers, and each of them can lead to a different outcome. Some will allow you to praise your team, other to blame it for your failures; select few will allow you to showcase your showmanship, whereas others, will give you an opportunity to remain level-headed. Being able to craft your own path and personality seems impressive during the early stages of the career mode, then unfortunately, the early positive impression quickly withers, as the in-game interviews are incredibly limited. The pool of questions and answers is so bare-bones, that it turns the otherwise impressive mechanic, into a tiresome chore.

The in-game interviews mechanic is one of the best new additions this year, but at the same time, it is also one of the more disappointing features of the title. And it is not just about the shallow pool of interactions, but more so about the fact that visually, all in-game interviews, as well as other cut-scenes, appear rather rough. As unlike to core gameplay – which is simply superb – they don’t run at a stable 60 frames per second, and in general they feel unconvincing and lifeless, as all in-game character models and animations, feel incredibly synthetic and mannequin like. It seems like Codemasters are aware of that fact, as despite of introduction of in-game interviews, which are entirely cut-scene based, the studio behind the title has cut down the number of off-track scenes to a bare minimum.

The crew at Codemasters, is clearly composed of some of the best game developers out there, and F1 2018 showcases their skillset and abilities in a best possible light. The recent ONRUSH debacle has brought some controversy in the way of the brand, then it has to be said that F1 2018, on the other does its best to repair the damage. As the core design, and framework of the title, which nullify the flaws to a minimum, and bring the positives and the selling points directly into the limelight, prove that the top brass behind the studio, knows what it’s doing. F1 2018, despite of all its bells and whistles, is still a racing simulator at heart, and driving is ultimately the meat of the entire package, and thanks to Codemasters’ magic, it takes the center stage over the title’s uneven side-features.

Just like within the previous instalments, the core driving component of F1 2018 is simply sublime, and it is not just because it is the best and most accurate representation of the sport – which it is – but because it allows you, the player to craft the game to your liking. The amount of micro and macro management, which can be found within the title is simply breathtaking. From assists, through AI’s difficulty, all the way down to camera angles, everything can be altered within F1 2018. So if you want to role-play a complete season, against state of the art AI, with no assists, and complete realism – then you are more than welcome to do so. But if you are not a fan of absolutely punishing AI, and unforgiving driving mechanics, then you can head into the opposite direction, and experience F1 2018 as a borderline arcade racer, where races are five laps long, and you can slip and slide past every single corner, and hairpin.

All in all, the core F1 2018 experience – modes aside – is second to none. As it allows the consumer, to play the game in any way in which he or she desires. This statement heavily resonates with the one which I’ve made last year about F1 2017, then it hast to be said that while to core experience is similar, it is still much improved. As the list of options, or as Codemasters like to call it, preferences, is longer and wider than ever before, and absolutely eclipses developer’s previous efforts. It is not too bold, nor brash to state that F1 2018 is the best instalment of the series’ long standing history.

F1 2018, is without a shadow of a doubt one of the best racing games of this generation, and as far as PlayStation 4 is concerned, it might just be the best racing game on the platform. But despite of all of its qualities, it is still a fair ways off perfection. Because while the driving elements are simply sublime, they are still enclosed within a rather incomplete package, which is still in search of its own direction. If only the visual elements of the career mode were up to scratch, and if the title has possessed some sort of an entertainment oriented mode, in the style of WWE’s showcase, where you can relieve historic moments of the motorsport’s history, then maybe, just maybe, it could reach the optimal score. But as things stand, F1 2018 is a superb title, but it is still mere inches away from perfection.