Every year, right around this time, I get rather excited for a new F1 game. The current F1 season is in full swing, the form table is (usually) decided and I’ve just about explored every avenue in last year’s release.
Information initially trickles out, with first a logo, a few feature bullet points followed by the pre-order bonuses. Suddenly, around a month ahead of release, that trickle turns into a flood, and I jump up and down in excitement more than a Max Verstappen fan at Spa. That moment is today.
The next-generation F1 game
F1 2021 is important for many reasons. There’s the return of a story in the form of Braking Point, it will release during an unpredictable real-life F1 season, this is the first Codemasters game releasing under EA’s stewardship and, most importantly for me, it releases on PS5 and Xbox Series X.
While the F1 games are undoubtedly popular on PC, there is a massive console audience, and the additional horsepower these new machines provide enables those with accessible devices to run at 4K and higher frame rates without so much as a glance at a config menu.
Codemasters and EA have now confirmed that on the latest machinery, F1 2021 will not only benefit from the smoother visuals but rapid loading speeds thanks to solid-state drives, the ability to switch between ‘performance’ and ‘graphics’ options (if similar to DIRT 5, we’ll go for the graphics option, please), 3D audio and even ray tracing for realistic reflections.
The last point does have one caveat, however. Used in replays, broadcast and showrooms – now utilising a dramatic water feature backdrop – it’s notable only by its absence during races. Still, considering that this game is running on an updated existing game engine, no mean feat.
PS5 owners will also receive support for Activities and online Accolades, plus the superb adaptive triggers. Again, while there are many people who play with a wheel, the F1 games are fastidious with their support of gamepads, and for racing games, in particular, the triggers on the Dualsense can add to the immersion.
‘Last-gen’ players will still be catered for, with PS4 and Xbox One releases still on the cards for this year at least. On both platforms, there is an upgrade path to the native next-gen versions too should you decide to plump for new hardware later in the year.
breaking braking point
Devon is everything you don’t want an opponent to be. A 7/10 behind the weel, lacking the talent and determination of a Hamilton or Senna, yet full of self-confidence. He’s not afraid to tell you how amazing he thinks he is, either.
The story mode first began in F1 2019 but was over just as it gained momentum. In F1 2021, while we still don’t know the overall length, we do know that it spreads across three seasons: F2 2019, F1 2020 and F1 2021.
This means that cars and drivers from F1 2019 and F1 2020 will be carried across. In reference to the multiple F1 seasons included, this is a first for the series since the ill-fated F1 2015.
It will be more than just CGI cutscenes too, with story-specific press interactions, broadcast commentary that matches the events and a driver room location that features social media, a news feed, phone calls and emails.
You’ll be selecting from one of five teams for your journey through, either Racing Point/Aston Martin, Alpha Tauri, Alfa Romeo, Haas or Williams which rather conveniently leaves room for upper-echelon teams in next year’s game.
It all sounds like a much more in-depth experience, akin to FIFA’s The Journey and Madden’s Long Shot, than the straight-to-DVD feeling of 2019’s efforts.
A network of racers
While the biggest new additions are arguably the refinements that new horsepower allows and Braking Point, over the course of a year, the online multiplayer is one of the most used portions of a Codemasters single-seater epic and will be used for the upcoming F1 Esports Pro Series.
The series already has weekly events, online leaderboards within Time Trial and ranked racing, while 2020 added back in offline split-screen racing, but for this year several further refinements have been added.
Chief of which is the two-player career. Previous titles such as F1 2018 offered online championships which was substituted by leagues in 2019, but a co-operative career is another dimension of emersion.
Now you’ll be able to duke it out in rival teams with a friend or work together for the same team aiming for jointly achieved world championship trophy. Contract negotiations, car development and rivalries, it’s all here, but this time as a shared experience.
Before you ask, if you happen to fall out, friend swaps are a feature…
As for the bread-and-butter online racing, we’ll have to test the post-release servers to really get under the skin of any improvements, but there will be new beginner and experienced online race shortcuts from the menu, helping you quickly join a lobby matching your skillet and the server browser has been revised with additional search filters.
A unique networked feature is the much-vaunted Real-Season Start for use in the Driver Career. This means the real-life Drivers’ and Constructors’ championship tables will be kept up to date and you can start a season after the most recent event or from any weekend that’s previously taken place.
You will replace an official driver and inherit their points so far, with each team’s R&D points simulated as the year progresses. Updates will take place after each race weekend, a far bigger undertaking that in previous iterations.
It’s my team, not your team
The Driver Career and My Team modes return as per last year, and we’ve already seen the Deluxe Edition icons for the latter. After My Team breathed much-needed life into the single-player aspects of the game last year, expecting revolutions in this mode this time around is perhaps unrealistic.
Things have been tweaked this year, including one of our most requested changes – revised practice and R&D points acquisition. There’s now a focus on reducing the cost of research and development by completing secondary objectives and the option of a Quick Practice that includes some form of time management minigame.
The entire structure of the R&D practice tasks has been revised but only 20 races deep into a season will we be able to tell if these break up the monotony.
Outside of the racetrack confines, team personnel can suffer from burnout, creating a potential for missed deadlines, and there are more options when it comes to what type of simulator training your drivers should undertake. R&D is still broken down into four main areas, but the development tree is no more, replaced by a new format that includes visual depictions of each new part.
When you do make it through a full season, drivers on the market now have a new statistic that measures focus, representing readiness and motivation. Simply, if they are happy, there’ll be a smile face, if they are sad, the smiley will be upside down, presumably opening doors for transfers.
Last season’s game introduced the option of a custom shorter season, which remains, but now you can toggle press meetings on or off, and tinker with the volume of mechanical failures or resource point gains for rival teams.
All of this sounds great on paper, but what about on the track?
Having not played the game yet, we’ll pass judgement on the all-important handling characteristics, damage modelling and track limits – but we’re chomping at the bit to try it soon like an F2 driver awaiting an FP1 run.
Three things are immediately clear though, looking at gameplay footage.
One, the engine sounds are much more detailed. The Honda engine gurgling and popping on the overrun is enough to make a spectating starved F1 fan go weak at the knees. Glorious. Even the Mercedes AMG engine in the back of the Aston Martin sounds like the bowls of hades on the downshifts.
Second, your engineer Jeff, voiced by Adam Rhys Dee, has new lines. Over the years, these have been added to, but many of the popular phrases have remained the same, which grates on those who play each new release. ‘Fresh Jeff’ seems much more contemporary and natural in his responses. We can’t guarantee he’ll be any more accurate, however.
Lastly, the on-screen UI during races has a new look, with softer colours and a crisper design, more befitting of something created in 2021 as opposed to the decidedly 00s-era visuals of yore.
Next up, the release
Think of these details as an aperitif before the main Michelin starred meal arrives. The next step is some hands-on time with one of our most anticipated games releasing this year ahead of release on the 16th July. Stay tuned for more very soon.