A game moving at two hundred miles per hour, the next instalment in the F1 gaming series is upon us: F1 2021. Enhanced graphics, MyTeam updates and an all-new explosive gaming mode, what track will you drive first?
Following this year’s eventful COVID-impeded Formula 1 season comes Codemasters' annual virtual racing release: F1 2021. Released on July 16th, the 7th instalment of Codemasters' Ego 4.0 Game Engine looks to mount the Apex of the rapidly turning gaming industry, leaving tyres screeching and a cloud of smoke in its wake: F1 2021 is not a title that veers off course, nor is it one that tears down the straight quietly. Though F1 2021, being the 7th product of the Ego engine to date, might play in a similar fashion to F1 2020, the people at Codemasters have integrated fantastically enhanced visuals perhaps to make up for the lack of novelty in the game’s physics, pushing brilliant graphic fidelity capable of emulating various tracks to an astonishing degree. This racing season was frequently forced to take a pit-stop due to COVID, yet F1 2021 digitally rewrites history, no courses have to be adjourned, no social distancing protocols to be seen: a chance for race fanatics to start the season anew.
What is new in F1 2021?
Whilst rich in fine-tuned changes, F1 2021 is released with a fresh gaming mode: Braking Point, a product of EA’s acquisition of Codemasters back in the December of 2020. If you have played a recently released EA sports game, like FIFA, you will know that EA love a narrative-driven story mode wherein a young star with infinite potential rises to the top of their game. Braking Point is the manifestation of this gaming format within the racing world, a mode based loosely on the Netflix Series Formula One: Drive to Survive – only with no profanity so children can partake. Braking Point is a 7-hour journey, spanning 17 races as part of 16 chapters, providing a thorough introduction into the world of F1 2021. Our primary playable face of the race is Aiden Jackson, an ebullient newcomer garnering global attention, and Casper Ackerman, a seasoned master of the racing arts who seems to harbour some hostilities against his younger teammate. As we enter Braking Point, we pick a choice of team out of five selectable options, and we are then chucked into an assorted mix of different challenge-focused races, story-altering interviews and surprisingly compelling character-exploring cutscenes. Granted, the cutscenes are well done, but Braking Point won’t be an award-winning acting performance, yet it is not the acting that necessarily makes previous in-game campaigns so enjoyable, the beauty is in the process, the fulfilment of the universally appealing idea of trying to go from underdog to undefeated, and that is precisely what Braking Point offers. Reflecting events from the prior season, Braking Point includes the real voices of some drivers and noticeably improved character graphics in relation to previous titles. In the same way as a movie concluding on a cliff-hanger begging for a sequel, one of the most exciting elements of Braking Point is that this is likely the first chapter in several episodes to come in future titles, much like that of FIFA’s the Journey. My personal opinion was that Braking Point was a wonderful way to be integrated into the game, allowing us to practice working our way around settings and play styles before going on to explore further.
'In the same way as a movie concluding on a cliff-hanger begging for a sequel, one of the most exciting elements of Braking Point is that this is likely the first chapter in several episodes to come in future titles, much like that of FIFA’s the Journey.'
What gaming modes can I play?
Whilst Braking Point takes us on an allotted adventure, the MyTeam and Career modes offer a greater freedom of direction and customisation. A feature I loved in both modes is the encompassing of all varying skill and experience levels, whether you are a veteran F1 fanatic or a newcomer to the series, gameplay and its complexities can be tailored to your preferences. If you want to tweak tyre choices, differentials and tune your engine whilst exploring R&D options you most certainly can, but if you just want to giddily race around a track for an hour in Career Mode then you are easily able to use fixed pre-sets instead. F1 2021 is a chameleon in this sense, being whatever you want it to be; an authentic, assiduously prepared driving experience in Expert Mode or an easy way to play as or compete with the 20-strong F1 driver league as well as the 22 F2 drivers featured within the game. Running in parallel to MyTeam, the Career Mode, which is playable in Co-op modes, rightly incorporates a slew of personalised factors, from victory radio calls, racer surnames and halo stickers, creating a game that includes you in it, an ethos not previously taken on by prior F1 titles. Those features notwithstanding, my favourite area of the Career Mode was actually the Department Events, the choices made between two options that will affect your racing, team or car in a myriad of differing ways; I am a sucker for individualised choices that alter the outcome of an immediate event or a prolonged story. MyTeam is more of a team-based pursuit compared to the singular Career Mode, bearing a glossy presentation and its own set of performance-shaping factors, like Readiness, Resource Points and continuously edited driver ratings, the MyTeam game-mode, though not my traditional cup of tea, I found to be a stimulating detour to my hours-long Career mode endeavours, especially seeing as you can find yourself in possession of eminent racers like Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, giving us classic drivers rather than the now-retired classic cars we have previously enjoyed.
'the MyTeam game-mode, though not my traditional cup of tea, I found to be a stimulating detour to my hours-long Career mode endeavours.'
How does the game perform?
Notably on the ninth-generation consoles, F1 2021 has practically zero load times and very few, if any, frame drops despite moving at 200 miles an hour in ostensibly more ways than one. Despite possessing impressive and often times granular graphics, F1 2021 supports Raytracing to further magnify the detail the Ego engine generates – but this is not all – both the Xbox Series X|S and the PlayStation 5 allow for performance mode, a feature that knocks down pixel counts enable an improvement in Hz output. That said, both consoles can operate in 2160p whilst maintaining 60FPS, whilst the Xbox Series S aims for 1080p. I won’t lie, compared to other titles I have played recently those numbers seemed a bit worse for wear, but actually the gameplay is smoother for it whilst still furnishing the game with some magnificent visuals.
How does the game feel?
Graphics and content aside, the gameplay itself is flowing and responsive whilst remaining tactile; you can almost sense a tangible weight to the car you drive, especially when using adept controllers, like the DualSense, which present the opportunity to feel the tarmac and the engine roaring – and there is plenty of engine to roar. The vehicular handling in F1 2021 is realistic, it’s satisfying; there is no shortage of juice for the engine to play around with, offering plenty of power to tap into, and better still braking doesn’t seem to defy the laws of motion: no second chances - you stop before the corner ends only by braking in time. How many games have you played where a supersonic crash seems to leave nothing more than a scratch on your bumper? Well, F1 2021 breaks free of most far-fetched ideas of physics, winning more in my opinion than it loses: damage to your vehicle can (and will) severely impair, as it would in reality, your vehicles function – which is refreshing as much as it can be irksome. The penalties for car-to-car contact are also for the most part as stringent as they ought to be, adding time fines for the reckless drivers among us. I’m sure we have also all experienced frustrating AI-based drivers before, cars that are too easily beat or those that drive too slowly and won’t allow for passing; F1 2021’s offline opposition took me by surprise in how nuanced and versatile they were, proving more than able to weave about and aggressively preventing slick takeovers, or worse putting you effortlessly back in 2nd place.
'F1 2021 breaks free of most far-fetched ideas of physics, winning more in my opinion than it loses.'
Perhaps the greatest aspect of the F1 2021 game is that it can wholly appeal to many racing audiences, even those not necessarily in the audience; whether you are a weekend-watcher, a mildly interest news observer like myself or a die-hard Formula 1 fan, F1 2021 has something for you: wide-eyed exhilaration, minute vehicle details, fierce competition or convincing interactive storytelling. Settings in all corners of the game can be customised to account for varying skill or interest levels, you might still get left in the dirt, but it’ll be by your fellow drivers, not by the game itself. In the near future Codemasters will also look to release three more DLC circuits: Jeddah, Imola and Portimao, to supplement the 21 circuits already present. In the meantime, F1 2021 will continue retain the advantages of old, like Split-Screen game modes, whilst merging the traditional with newer dynamic game modes, like Braking Point.
If F1 2021 sounds like a drive up your street, you can purchase the game using this link.
Written by Joel Gunner