Does F1 2021 offer a true Formula One experience? Is this the best F1 sim to date?
F1 2019 blew me away with Codemasters’ dedication to realistic simulation of Formula One racing. Raised watching Formula 1, I would watch every race weekend with my Dad around the time of the highest peak of Michael Schumacher’s career. During in his tenure with Scuderia Ferrari, it was easy to be enthralled by that bright red Scuderia. In the past few years a renewed love for the sport has been found, due in no small part to the influx of young championship potential in drivers like Lando Norris, Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen.
Codemasters shining dedication.
In preparation for this review, I sought the counsel of my good friend Matt who is a seasoned F1 2020 player with a full steering wheel/pedals setup. Matt did a great job of pointing out improvements in F1 2021 that I would not have otherwise taken notice of, whilst enabling me to experience the game with a full driving setup as opposed to just a controller. Matt’s thoughts have been interspersed throughout this review along with my own. Thanks again, Matt!
If you’ve never played an F1 game before, the experience will be quite jarring compared to what you expect an F1 car to handle like. Whilst F1 cars move at such high speeds, they can be quite a handful when tackling corners. Once you understand this, you can truly appreciate the Codemasters’ dedication to a realistic F1 driving experience.
Between controller or full driving setup, an excellent balance has been achieved here. The cars feel weighty and grounded which is expected with the design of the cars aiming for increased downforce. Compared to 2020, the traction control feels much harsher and unforgiving even with increased traction control in the simulation settings. This lends itself to a much more realistic experience.
The F1 games do have an immediate steep learning curve when first tackling one and F1 2021 is no exception. You may find that you cannot complete a full lap without spinning out and ending up in the tyre wall. However, give it enough attempts and suddenly it will all just click and suddenly you can take any track on the roster first attempt with no accidents. I must have spent hours trying to put in a clean lap around the Australian Grand Prix. I’d say, “this isn’t possible!”.
But suddenly, it all clicked, and I could consistently complete laps and finish an entire race (Monaco still drives me nuts though!). The constant feeling that at any point you could botch the entire race is both exhilarating and terrifying. But with the expansive amount of simulation settings you can tweak the experience to your preference.
Codemasters’ have certainly gone the extra mile with settings here. Within the ‘simulation settings’ tab of the options screen, you can tweak almost any facet of the game. Here you can customise surface type, car damage amount and AI difficulty amongst many others. The ‘Assists’ tab also allows you to make things easier/harder for yourself. Here you can turn on automatic pit entry/exit, braking assist and automatic/manual gearbox to name a few. This makes F1 2021 great for both seasoned players and newcomers due to its immense customisation.
Graphically, the game is very similar to F1 2020 which is to say it looks very good but with little change. It seems that the main source of graphical improvement is the further away scenery as opposed to the graphics in your immediate area. The foliage and trees in particular have seen an improvement over prior instalment. Character models have also seen an improvement, especially facially, pulling the series out of the uncanny valley.
The game performs well on the PS4 Pro, with the game running at a consistent 60 fps on single player. However, the game runs at 30 fps when playing on split screen. This does make playing in split screen quite difficult to stomach as you need the game to run buttery smooth to drive effectively with such small margins for error (and in the case of Monaco, no margin for error).
More fleshed out than ever.
A big noticeable difference in quality can be heard rather than seen. The audio has been built upon and sounds great even without headphones. Gear changes sound crisp and deep. You can hear when to change gear by the rev sounds. Once you become in tune with this, you don’t even have to look at the rev counter to know when to change gears. They even made variations on the sounds depending on manufacturer and class of car. For instance, a Formula Two car will make different sounds than an F1 car. But a McLaren sounds different to a Aston Martin within F1.
Career mode is back and more fleshed out than ever. In career mode, you create your own driver and aim for the team you want to drive for by picking your driver’s academy. If you pick the Mercedes Driver Academy, you’re more likely to get drafted by them. Before then, you have to start in Formula Two. You can do a short, or a full length season of races in Formula Two before entering into Formula 1. Your performance in F2 decides which F1 teams will make an offer to you.
Once you’ve settle into your new team, you can do Research and Development projects to improve your car, pick a rival driver to compete against for more fame and take part in the race weekends. Practice sessions consist of running tests and learning the track. Qualifying is a speed test to decide where you start on the grid. And then there’s the race itself. You also often get questioned by the press and your answers can effect the team’s morale (pro tip: be nice to your team).
The biggest change, and draw for me, was the inclusion of a fully fledged story mode. This has come in the form of ‘Braking Point’ which can be accessed from the single player tab. Braking Point offers a totally different experience from standard Career Mode. You take on the roles of both Aiden Jackson and Casper Akkerman. Aiden is a young British upstart driver who dominated Formula 2 and lands a seat in an F1 team of your choosing. Casper Akkerman is an experienced Dutch fading star driver and Aiden’s teammate regardless of what team you pick, who is sceptical and hostile to Aiden from the outset. The story follows their rivalry and the effects it has on themselves and the team. It also features the comeback of Devon Butler from the F2 portion of F1 2019, and he’s as arrogant as ever.
The story writing here is surprisingly good for a game in the “annual sports game” genre. Whilst playing as Aiden in the early portion of Braking Point, I initially disliked Casper but then found him to be a great character with his own troubles around the time the perspective shifts to him. Braking Point is definitely worth playing. After rewatching the entirety of Drive to Survive recently, you can see how rivalries like Aiden’s and Casper’s form within F1 in reality. This has been especially prevalent with the clashing timing of a batch of young drivers racing alongside experienced elder drivers like Kimi Raikkonen.
No Escaping The Micro.
There are a few cons to the game, as there always is. The starting number of tracks on the roster is identical to that of F1 2020. Tracks like Portugal have been reintroduced to the actual F1 season but remains missing from the game at launch. Codemasters have announced that more tracks will be added via updates. The game also features a battle pass system where you earn points to unlock customisation items (such as helmets, car liveries etc.). There is also a microtransaction economy in the form of pit coins which allow you to purchase more customisation items. These things do seem to be unavoidable in games of this type nowadays, don’t they?
F1 2021 is a fantastic entry in that excels it’s predecessors in terms of gameplay, customisation, audio quality and visuals. But it doesn’t in others such as the lack of new tracks at launch. Yet fleshing out of the career mode and the addition of Braking Point introduces a higher level of replayability. I hope that a story mode will become the norm with F1 games as the drama that does happen behind the scenes makes for a great topic. F1 2021 has engrossed me just like when I watched F1 as a kid.
F1 2021 is the best F1 sim to date.
[A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes]