While coronavirus is still wreaking havoc on the real F1 2021 season, it’s business as usual in the videogame world if you want it to be.
You have to feel sorry for Codemasters, really, as it’s clearly put lots of effort into making F1 2021 its best F1 game yet. And it is. The current state of the world, however, means that some races scheduled for the 2021 season have been cancelled, leaving the game’s accuracy up in the air. And then there’s the upcoming sprint qualifying events – they haven’t made it into the game, either.
Look past these issues totally out of Codemasters’ control though, and you really do have a treat for F1 fans; F1 2021 is full of new features, meaningful tweaks to existing ones, and a brand new story-driven campaign mode. Physics have been improved a little, too, as well as the damage model. Throw in the fact that it’s also available on next-gen consoles for the first time, and you have a series that has never looked and played better.
Jump into a new career and you’ll discover that it no longer needs to be a solitary experience. Select a two-player career and you’re able to bring a friend into the action, racing together on the same team, or competing against each other on opposing teams. And in addition to all the usual options you have when starting a new career, switch over to the brand new expert race style and you’ll find that there are even more to tinker with. You can even enable faults and mechanical failures if you wish to introduce additional unpredictability.
There are changes within My Team, too. In addition to press briefings, there are now also department events that require your attention, forcing you to make important decisions that can have an effect on your team. You’ll find that the R&D system has been streamlined somewhat, too, making it easier to get your head around while still offering plenty of depth.
When it comes to R&D, you’ll still want to take part in practice programs during race weekends to maximise your team’s performance. Tweaks to the practice program system mean that it’s quicker and easier to simply grab the points available, however, with further objectives providing development boosts. Your primary objective might be to perform a lap with low tyre wear, for example, which you might complete on your first lap earning you the full amount of resource points available. By racing cleanly, however, you might also earn a development boost, making an upgrade cheaper.
For those who want the points but don’t want to actually go through the practice process themselves, you can now have the computer do them for you. You’ll choose which objectives you want to target, and each has a certain amount of time attributed to it. The chances of success aren’t always high, but for those who want to reap some of the benefits of practice and also save time, it’s a godsend. Such players might just want to turn the whole R&D system off though, which they can do. Press sessions and department events can also be turned off as well.
Basically, then, F1 2021 has the deepest, most authentic career mode yet. But only if you want it to be. Codemasters has gone to great lengths to allow you to define your experience and make it your own. And thanks to all the usual assists making a return, it’s a game for all skill levels, too. On that subject, those who like to jump into the series’ multiplayer offerings will be happy to find that there are now both beginner and experienced lobbies, allowing players to find their feet in online competition before making their way to more serious events.
By far the highlight of F1 2021, though, is the Braking Point story mode. After choosing a team from one of five, you assume the role of Aiden Jackson, and initially have to prove yourself in the final event of the F2 2019 season. Finding yourself in F1 the following year, all eyes are on you as you push to make a name for yourself, but team politics soon rear their head to throw a spanner in the works. Devon Butler, who some might remember from F1 2019, is also around the stir the pot, too.
Offering a range of engaging racing scenarios sandwiched between slickly-produced CGI story scenes, Braking Point is riveting from beginning to end. You really grow attached to Aiden, and root for him when his teammate turns hostile. But then there’s a twist that changes your perspective on things. In any case, it truly captures the human aspect of F1, which no other mode does. It’s not the longest mode, with a running time of around five to six hours, but as the credits roll you’ll probably wish there was more. Hopefully Codemasters will continue Aiden’s story in next year’s inevitable F1 2022.
Playing on PS5 for review, F1 2021 hasn’t blown us away visually, but it is a clear step up. The cars and tracks are more detailed, and the image is sharper; if you have a TV capable of doing so, you can even play at 120fps. We played in Quality mode, offering the best possible visuals at 60fps, and while the races were perfectly fine, scenes off the track were prone to a bit of screen-tearing, which is a nuisance. Hopefully it’ll be ironed out with a patch. If it bothers you too much you can switch over to Performance mode, which solves the issue at the expense of a bit of picture clarity.
DualSense support has also been implemented, further immersing you into the action. You’ll feel more accurate rumbles as your wheels move over the rumble strips on the limits of the track, and the shifting of weight as you turn. The haptic triggers are brought into play, too, sometimes offering resistance. Alongside other next-gen benefits such as 3D spatial audio and near-instant loading times, it’s easier to get drawn into the action and forget that you’re sat in your living room/gaming den than ever before.
F1 2021 is, without a doubt, Codemasters’ best F1 game to date. It’s just a shame that coronavirus hasn’t made its career mode quite as accurate as some might hope it to be, and some bits here and there seem to be lacking a bit of polish. Still, if you’re open to look past such issues, you’ll find a deep, rewarding racing experience that’s highly customisable. And if you delve into Braking Point, you’ll also find a story mode that genuinely adds to the package. Whether you’re an ardent F1 fan or not, F1 2021 is likely to be a contender for the accolade of best racing game of the year, that’s for sure.
F1 2021 Review: GameSpew’s Score