As a general rule, annual sports games get just that little bit better with each passing year, and that's certainly true for Codemasters' Formula One series. The officially licensed sim racer has been gradually improving each summer, and with F1 2021, the studio has made some wonderful additions that make this year's entry one of the best.
Let's start with the basics first, though. Fundamentally, it's incredibly hard to fault this game when it comes to the main attraction: the driving. On the track, the sense of speed and danger is immense. We mostly played on a standard level of difficulty, and even with some assists on, it feels like you're always a hair's breadth from ruining your chances — it's an exhilarating and engrossing motorsport, and racing requires your full attention at all times. The handling model is brilliantly flexible; whether you're new to F1 or are prepared for full simulation, you can fine tune the game to suit you, more so here than in any previous iteration.
That's one of the things that's impressed us the most about F1 2021. The level of customisation you have over your own experience is extensive. Casual, Standard, and Expert race styles give you varying access to all kinds of options, with the latter giving you control over pretty much all aspects of the game's simulation, assists, and weather. It lets you make the game as realistic or as easy-going as you like. Obviously you can't turn it into Need for Speed, but Codies makes its sim racer about as friendly as can be for newcomers.
Speaking of newcomers, the best place to start is undoubtedly Braking Point, the game's all-new story mode. It introduces you to the world of F1 really nicely, even if the narrative itself isn't particularly arresting. Starting off as Aiden Jackson just as he's promoted from F2 to F1, he signs to one of the lower end teams and joins Casper Akkerman, a seasoned driver, and you guide them both through two dramatic seasons. Again, the story isn't anything to write home about; the pair lock horns while antagonist Devon Butler watches on with punchable arrogance. It's the events themselves that make it worth a play — unique objectives, like not letting someone overtake you, or finishing the race with a faulty gearbox, act like a sort of tutorial, getting you up to speed with how to drive, and what to do in certain situations.
It's all valuable knowledge you'll carry over into one of the career modes. The excellent My Team variant is back again this year if you want to add team management tasks to the racing action. It's an impressively in-depth career that has you not only racing for the driver's championship, but optimising your facilities, finances, and teammate to compete for the constructor's championship too. If you're not too fussed about all that, the regular Driver Career is of course available, letting you sign to an existing team. You'll still tinker with the revamped R&D to help develop the car during the season, but it's a slightly simpler mode overall.
Another new addition this year, though, is Two Player Career. This is exactly what it says on the tin — a full career mode that lets you play either cooperatively or competitively with a buddy. We've not been able to fully experience this mode prior to release, but it appears to operate very similarly to the standard Career, with R&D, contracts, and everything else you'd expect. If you choose Co-Op, you'll always be on a team together even if you move, while Contracts has you driving independently, meaning you'll more often than not be working against each other for points. It's restricted to online — no split-screen career, sadly — but it's a fantastic option nonetheless.
Codemasters hasn't stopped there, either. Practice sessions have been given more purpose with development boosts. During Practice, you can now work towards simple objectives that, if fulfilled, will help speed up R&D, meaning you'll get a slight edge in developing your car. Quick Practice lets you skip the driving itself but still secure some of those objectives if you're in a hurry, which is a convenient feature. Elsewhere, Real Season Start lets you begin your career at the same point as the real life season. This simulates all the real world standings and data up to the point you begin, and from there you can take over. For example, you could choose to start from Azerbaijan, take over as Lewis Hamilton, and prevent Max Verstappen from stealing first place. It's another neat feature for F1 fanatics, and something that will grow in value as the year goes on and Codies updates all the stats.
Visually the game is very solid, with tracks being convincing representations of their real life counterparts. Of course, the vehicles look particularly good, but character models are less impressive — there's still work to be done there. When it comes to technical performance, it's wonderfully smooth on the track, but surprisingly dicey elsewhere; interviews with the press and other scenes outside the car are laced with screen tearing. It's not the end of the world, but is a blemish on what is otherwise a very slickly presented game.
With a bunch of smart additions, F1 2021 is a cracking simulator for both die-hard fans and newcomers. The Braking Point story mode doesn't have a particularly compelling narrative, but it's a brilliant gateway into the motorsport and a primer for the wider game. Two Player Career, the Expert driving style, Real Season Start, and more make this the most customisable and accessible iteration yet, allowing you to play how you like across the game's excellent career options. Of course, the driving itself seals the deal, and it's a winner on that front. This is a no-brainer for F1 fans, but it's also a fantastic entry for newbie drivers to start with.
Unlocks at midnight tonight, can't wait to play, my favourite racing sim series. Glad it's got a decent review too.
Happy to answer any questions, just copy me in
@Quintumply Can you deliberately take out Devon Butler in a fiery wreck?
I'm fairly content with last year's, especially since it was Michael Schumacher themed (my favourite ever driver)
@nessisonett You can ram into him and send him spiralling, but no fiery wrecks. If you could murder Devon Butler, this would be a 10
i absolutely loved F1 2020 so its a no-brainer for me, really looking forward to Braking Point and being part of an actual story, hope they throw more weight behind this on future releases. Only a small detail but i would consider codemasters' F1 games to be simcade experiences, no-where near realistic enough to be a sim in truth.
The deluxe version this year includes the option to have Michael Schumacher as your My Team driver!
Thanks for the review.
I am gonna 'pass' this year, unfortunately I was not 'interested' in the Breaking Point story.
I also dislike the fact that you cannot randomly join up together on the same 'team' in the My Team career mode for a season or half season and then go to another team but overall it looks a promising improvement.
Disappointed with the overall sound quality as music seems very low volume but that seems to be a legacy thing with the series.
For me they really have to improve the character models which I hope is where EA ownership may come in and their capture technology, for me the legends seem off.
Anyway I will stop the 'negativity' here as I think next year's game will be much better and the new car looks/design changes.
@Scarla88 Yeah I heard about that, tbh I prefer being able to drive his classic cars.
@Hatsune_Miku I agree. It’s not different enough for me to spend £50 on. I’m also not that interested in the story mode, or even the 2 player career mode. Not too mention the fact that some real life tracks are missing at launch.
An 8/10 is quite surprising for me. From what I've seen, other than the addition of the story mode, nothing really seems any different, and the story mode itself, which seems to be scenario based is certainly not something that interests me at all.
I've heard that the DS5 triggers make throttle and brake control a lot better, so there's that at least, but it'll be a pass from me. Hopefully those who get it enjoy it though!
Is the PS5 version much different to the PS4 version of 2020?
Faster frame rate, screen space erections (Digital Foundry) etc? 😅
Is this codemasters first EA game? That's pretty crazy they own them now.
@Spoonman-2 screen space erections?...now that does sound like a 'game-changer'!
@Bleachedsmiles Yeah, first Codemasters game published by EA.
Haptic feedback, adaptive triggers?
Nice review,, thanks.
Day 1 for me. Another quality F1 game to match what has become a fantastic F1 season. Can’t wait! 🏁🏎🏎🏎
8/10 for a game which isn't finished? Okey... Well I will learn by my mistakes and will wait till December before buying F1 game (I hope it is finished + on sale).
Did you try multiplayer? Does it have cross play? How's playing with the Dualsense?
looking forward joining Red Bull. 😀
Does Lewis take the knee in this ?
Whilst taking money from Mercedes and Hugo Boss ?
@hypnotoad quality and typical of his hypocrisy.
@Dan_ozzzy189 I'm no fan of F1 mate but he definitely lives in Lala Land.
Otherwise known as tax free Monaco !
I happened to be watching a GT virtual race tournament on the PlayStation twitch channel this weekend. It was nice.
Great review. How is the DualSense implemented? Have they done a good job with the triggers and haptic feedback?
imho most of the semi-sim racers out there spend 95% of their time in online races and the other 5% doing hot-laps or races against the AI to prepare for online races.
The minute Codies had you out of the car is (again imho) the minute they started wasting valuable resources where they are not needed.
Imagine how good this could be if they just focused on the racing. All that extra time, effort, money and quality in to what you actually do with a racing game, race.
I loved the previous F1 games but since my wheel has now broken i wont be picking this up. I couldnt go from using a wheel to a pad.
@lindos I don't agree, I spend most of my time in the career mode. Same as in Fifa, I don't need to fight against real people to feel alive, I prefer growing and upgrading the car/players
I guess I'm more a RPG gamer than a pure simulation driver
@Rjak @MatthewJP @get2sammyb DualSense features are there but not the greatest. The adaptive triggers, er, adapt to your speed and get harder to push down in certain situations, which is neat, but the haptics are unremarkable.
As for online multiplayer, I didn't get the chance to test it during the review phase, but it looks like there are plenty of options whether you want casual races or hardcore, serious-face competition. There's a section just for eSports, unsure if that was there already in F1 2020 though.
I have this pre-ordered, but it won’t let me download it yet, is there a way to bypass this so I am ready to go Friday? TIA
@hypnotoad I doubt racism exists in the video game so In Game LH won't need to.
The actual car feel still feels very arcady and all the cars feel the same. They really need to give us Sim racers a hardcore mode with Assetto level physics, what EA and codemasters don't have the resources or something? It's just lazy...
@LewisHamilton codemasters and ea miss out on a lot of sim racers each year because of this. If kunos can make money from games that are realstic then they can definitely cover the costs of production as the game is getting made anyway, they just need a couple extra guys that focus on physics.
I get your point but I strongly think It would turn a profit for them as they would have the whole PC sim market as well as console, this gets released on PC as well don't forget.
So if they would make more money, then the only excuse is laziness really.
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