Review: F1 2021

Codemasters is entering new territory with F1 2021 as not only is the game hitting the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series consoles for the first time, but it’s the first to be published by EA Sports. The only thing that really means is that you’ll be seeing the EA Sports intro upon booting that game, but otherwise F1 2021 is all Codemasters. What you get with F1 2021 is every official aspect of the 2021 Formula One season, including teams, drivers and the circuits. Codemasters has also introduced a new narrative mode called Braking Point that looks to provide a new experience to the series. With the increase in performance from the current generation consoles and the introduction of Braking Point and other improvements, can Codemasters deliver on its promises for F1 2021?

The team at Codemasters has added elements to some of its more popular modes for F1 2021. The focus is clearly on not only the Career Mode, but the popular My Team that was introduced last year. Both modes see improved R&D, or research and development, to help build your cars throughout the season. Unlocking Research Points through achieving Practice Goals during a race weekend and other means will help build your car over the course of each season leading up to ten. Codemasters has added a new Quick Practice to shorten the time needed to get these Research Points as opposed to competing in three different sessions, if you choose. Points can also be allocated to your driver to build their individual ability and specialized meetings under My Team require important decisions on developments for the team. The R&D Tree has been more simplified for easier use and it provides an improvement.

Outside of these previous elements in Career and My Team that also include some new interview questions, the single player experience is largely the same as we have seen in the past. What Codemasters has included is the ability to do a two-player career that allows you and a friend to compete either on the same team or against each other with full R&D options. This has the potential to be a large boost if you have someone available that enjoys the franchise. You also have the opportunity to jump into either mode at any point of the real Formula One season with Real-Season Start that includes updated standings and Driver Ratings. Codemasters will be updating in-game stats with what’s mirrored during this actual season.

Codemasters has also promoted the Digital Deluxe Edition of the game that comes with seven legendary drivers and more customization options for building your team. One of these seven legendary drivers can be selected as your teammate for My Team and while the names include the likes of Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna, you’re paying extra to choose one of these drivers for a specific mode that you can’t use anywhere else. You won’t be able to choose any of these legendary drivers to race as in a Grand Prix, and at this point is where some of the shortcomings start to show.

The team at Codemasters has put a focus on the personal and customization experience with F1 2021 and has quietly omitted some other major modes. While having these legendary drivers in the game will draw interest on paper in forking out extra dough, the Classic Mode from previous years has been removed. No cars or classic circuits are in the game and that’s unfortunate as the previous titles in the series had garnered a solid library of cars. Most will assume if they pay extra for these drivers that they’ll be getting the same things as the past versions, but no. You get to choose a teammate for one mode.

Another major component that has been removed is the official championship mode as this has been relocated to the Grand Prix option. The option to race in a single Grand Prix is there with adding multiple tracks, but this is the only way to choose official F1 drivers to race as. Both My Team and Career will have your avatar racing, but adding a Real-Season Start with the inability to choose one of the F1 drivers to pick during the season is a real miss. With the progression of both the Career and My Team, it gets equally cancelled out with Codemasters quietly dropping key elements that have been a staple for a while.

As for Braking Point, the narrative mode is a new direction for the franchise as there have been plenty of sports game to start incorporating this. You play as Aiden Jackson as you finish the end of the 2019 F2 season and progress to Formula One. There are a handful of characters that you come in contact with as you experience some of the drama that has existed historically in F1 paddocks like driver favoritism and rivalries. There are cutscenes between each race and you will also participate in interviews that can stir the pot for various situations. The cutscenes look good and the mode progresses a solid story while implementing those paddock drama elements. Codemasters has posted the story on YouTube and it might be the best way to experience the story.

Braking Point has the player going through either a slew of challenges or a complete race that has been modified. The issue with this is that some of these challenges can be unattainable and don’t line up with what you see during an F1 race. With the issues with the AI (which I will get to), expecting players to overtake multiple cars in a handful of laps is unrealistic. The mode seems better as a tutorial to experience how Formula One works, but its execution is flawed. There are three difficulty levels to choose from. You basically go through every F1 race for two years and the storyline of last season with driver changes are kept up with. As for the characters, themselves, the character building just isn’t there. It seems that Codemasters attempted to establish the characters prior to the release of the game by social media promotion. Aiden is supposed to be the protagonist, but you can quickly make him out to seem like a bad guy by being a bad teammate. There also seems to be a bug with DRS zones either activating under the wrong conditions or just not activating at all. Nothing that is done on the track affects the story and the experience is basically a streamlined path.

The actual racing will be familiar to veterans of the season, but the tyre compound seems to play a bigger role for F1 2021. Depending on the compound, the car control will still feel light but the tougher the compound, the trajectory through a corner feels more difficult. One aspect that seems to be more punishable this year are the curbs. You can’t build confidence depending on the curbs because they’ll quickly have you spinning out. It may work once or twice on the same corner, but it won’t necessarily continue. Codemasters has implemented three different race style options to suit the driver to help battle some of this. Casual, Standard and Expert will allow drivers to build confidence through themselves to get to a high level. Individual options can be customized such as real or visual damage, difficult low fuel management, road surface and tyre surface degradation. The little things in this show how far F1 2021 goes to incorporate the racing details.

The AI leaves much to be desired as the pacing and decision making almost feels like it has taken a step back for some reason. The one caveat of the AI is that it will try its one block or defense move with DRS enabled in specific zones. Otherwise, it sticks to the racing line with a handful of variations. It does all this while selectively deciding if you exist or not. A lot of the passing, especially in Braking Point, is just undercutting cars waiting in line to inch through a hairpin and forcing yourself in. The AI will also brake on a dime, then somehow have the pace to immediately pass you again, and it’ll brake about 150 feet short of a corner. It doesn’t seem susceptible to tyre wear or damage, but it’ll bump you with no recourse.

The DualSense of the PlayStation 5 has been a game changer to racing games since the console launched last November. Codemasters has implemented this much like it did on DIRT 5, and while not perfect, it’s a better improvement than the last generation. The Adaptive Triggers focus on the tyres as acceleration with RT will hit a point when the rear tyres break loose or start spinning. This allows for much better management of grip and tyre health over the course of a race. LT will provide more resistance under heavier braking and this may be more recognizable with no ABS on. As for the rumble function, this only seems to activate when specific tyres hit certain surfaces. You won’t get the engine rumble when accelerating and that can cause for some dull moments on straightaways. I had more expectations for the DualSense incorporation than what was implemented, but the acceleration plays the biggest role. Even if you are a hardcore wheel user, it’s worth testing the controller if you have a PS5 just to experience it.

The better hardware means better visuals for F1 2021 to a certain degree. Ray Tracing has been implemented, but it can only be seen on the cars. The reflections on the cars look great and I feel the overall lighting of the game has been improved. The shadows leave a bit to be desired, but this game runs at a buttery smooth 60 FPS with no issues. Even the mirrors on the car are useful now. Codemasters added the 120hz option and while the visuals take a hit, it does seem a bonus is there for lap times. There’s a motion blur option that can be disabled and doing this coupled with the 120hz option allows for a faster experience, but not by much. The standard graphical option is still preferred thanks to the visuals, but if you’re being competitive, the 120hz might be a difference maker.

Not all is perfect with the visuals, though. The game doesn’t offer a large leap in details to the environment and the race introductions and post race celebration are full of screen tears. These are also the exact same introductions and celebrations we have seen since day one and it would be nice if these would be updated or dynamic. These are the best and most detailed player faces the franchise has seen. Car damage remains realistic as it’s the cars that truly shine.

The sound remains top notch for F1 2021 as different engine manufacturers will sound different, radio communication sounds authentic and the soundtrack remains some of the best that you will find in gaming. Hopefully with EA publishing this, it won’t stray away from its soundtrack and start incorporating licensed artists. Collision sounds still remains the downfall of the audio. The voice acting quality in Braking Point is also excellent and Codemasters has added victory radio celebrations from the driver. There are also some new recorded radio communications from the engineer.

Multiplayer and online options still offer a plethora of ways to play with friends. Local split-screen is in the game and the inclusion of the two-player My Team is a big leap. Ranked and Social lobbies offer options to race long or short, and online leagues will have you racing championships with your friends. Of course, the weekly events and the eSports division remains deep to keep those specific racers coming back all the time.

Closing Comments:

While Codemasters seems to have added a good amount of content to F1 2021, it still feels like the same experience at its core. The bold move to add a narrative mode with Braking Point had the opportunity to deliver on something different, but the experience is held back due to the pacing and design. There either isn’t enough focus on the story to engage you or the racing focus is held back by the unattainable challenges and grind that comes with progressing. My Team is largely the same and if you paid more for the legendary drivers, you’ll be selecting one of those seven as a teammate at a time and won’t be using them in any other mode. The removal of Classic Mode and the ability to race as a current F1 driver in any mode outside of Grand Prix is disheartening and the fact that this information wasn’t made readily available to potential buyers isn’t good. Hopefully the issues with the AI can be patched as the actual racing and car physics are still excellent. There was a lot of opportunity for F1 2021, and on top of three circuits on this year’s calendar not being readily available for launch, there’s a lot left on the table for the current generation premiere of the series.