After dipping its toes in water two years ago, a story mode was absent from last year’s F1 game – although, there was the innovative My Team mode. Now though, F1 2021 gives players the best of all worlds. The now-standard career modes return, but so does a rich, enthralling, story mode, far and above what F1 2019 started.
Braking Point takes place across three seasons, opening at the tail-end of the 2019 F2 season, then through segments of 2020 and 2021’s F1 calendar. Playing as soon-to-be F2 champion Aiden Jackson, you get to pick from Alpha Tauri, Alfa Romeo, Racing Point/Aston Martin, Williams or Haas as the team you’re promoted with.
You’ll be racing alongside ‘Ice Cold’ F1 veteran Casper Akkerman and the devious Devon Butler makes a comeback too, driving for one of those five teams.
Judging by our hands-on preview of the first hour, he’ll drive for a specific team based on the decision you make. If you pick Williams, he’ll drive for Racing Point. Pick Alfa Romeo, he’s in an Alpha Tauri. You’re in a Haas, he’s in a Williams. Racing Point? Alfa Romeo. Decide on an Alpha Tauri and he’s with our favourite sweary team manager.
This might swing your team selection to gain an advantage over Devon, by putting him in a slower car, but that’s not the only way you can influence the AI’s behaviour.
Unlike the rest of F1 2021’s difficulty settings, which returns as the slider from 0-100 in every other mode, Braking Point sees you choose from three options; normal, challenging and hard. Each comes with a set of pre-set assists (which you can change) but also dictates how tough the other drivers will be.
While Braking Point does indeed have a surprisingly heavy focus on race participation, it’s not as straightforward as in Driver Career or My Team. You’ll find yourself doing segments of races instead of the full thing, at least in the initial stages, and because of that, this is an ideal place to start if you’re either new to the F1 games or want to get your head around the feel of F1 2021 before venturing deeper. We’ll cover more about that in our full review, coming soon, but for now, let’s stick to Aiden Jackson’s story.
Paired up with veteran ‘Cas’ Akkerman, things don’t go swimmingly during his debut race in Australia, thanks to a dash of overenthusiasm and Devon Butler being a typical bumhole. This sets the scene for how Braking Point plays out, chunks of races intercut with cutscenes, phone calls and the ability to read emails and check social media – featuring many well-known content creators, real F1 journalists and returning Codemasters-created characters.
It contextualises Aiden Jackson as a ‘real’ F1 driver, not just a name above a car, and puts you right in the middle of a hectic F1 world. The success, the controversy, people being dicks in the paddock- y’know, F1. It’s as if Drive to Survive got a video game, except that here, the tension between teammates hasn’t been doctored.
Jackson and Akkerman don’t start their career together on the best terms, and events transpire to further push the two apart. During these early race segments, you’re given a certain objective to complete, be it to catch up with your teammate, complete the race, or finish in the points. Overall, the experience so far has been really engrossing, having a nice mix of gameplay and narrative, and not throwing you straight in the deep end as soon as the lights go out.
Before I get too carried away, it’s not absolutely perfect. For example, the titles when you start a gameplay segment are great, but why not have the objective come up centre-screen before control is handed over to you? It comes up on the left side, and since you’re more than likely listening to the dialogue between Aiden and Jeff, and waiting for the HUD lights to go out, you might miss what you need to actually do. You can, however, find your objective within the pause menu.
Also, while the character models in the pre-rendered cutscenes look pretty good, the facial animations leave a bit to be desired. We’re not on Mass Effect: Andromeda levels here, but you find these guys bearing their teeth during dialogue probably more than they should.
Since this might be your first look at in-game animations in F1 2021, unfortunately, it looks like the majority of the victory and podium sequences have been recycled from 2020’s title. Of course, this version of Braking Point I’ve been playing is pre-release, so tweaks can still be done prior to the game launching next week.
Despite these minor quirks, I couldn’t put Braking Point down. While I can only tell you about the opening sections for now – which consisted of three gameplay segments and a plethora of cutscenes and reading material to dig into – I found myself glued to our rig, seeing how the stories of Aiden and Cas unfolded, how much more Devon gets involved and how team liaison Brian and Cas’ wife Zoe fit into the mix.
I won’t spoiler any of the finer details, of course, but from what I’ve experienced, I cannot recommend Braking Point enough.
While some pick up these annual titles for the gameplay tweaks, new teams or to follow the rest of the multiplayer crowd, Braking Point is a worthwhile addition that adds something completely different.
After this initial taste, I’m really excited to see what comes from the rest of Braking Point’s narrative and I’m hoping we see Aiden’s story continue in future F1 games. But, before then, I need to finish what’s in F1 2021, and it’ll be the very first mode I play through