If you want to look for the first ever racing game, you’d have to travel back some 48 years to Atari’s space race. For those past 48 years gaming has brought racing fans an experience ever so closer to the real thing, and now in 2021, we might just have the closest one yet. F1 2021 is Codemaster’s latest addition to their long line of Formula 1 titles, only this time they’re flying under the banner of gaming giant EA, it has a similar feel to the previous versions but there are a few major changes to gameplay and some new modes in the mix which stands as a clear sign of internet from the title’s new owners. There’s now more ways than ever to sink your teeth into the action, that’ll keep you rushing back to the game almost as fast as the cars on the track.
Out of the many different modes on display in F1 2021, the one which has seen the most hype is Braking Point, a new story mode in which you follow rookie driver Aiden Jackson in his battle against rival Devon Butler, whilst also trying to compete against veteran Casper Akkerman. The story is played out through a mix of cutscenes and situational gameplay, this could be nursing home a punctured tyre into the pits, gaining back positions after falling back in the race or pushing for a podium after finding some last minute speed. The balance of gameplay and cutscene is just about right, never feeling too far from the action or wanting more cinematics, and there’s some clever plot twists thrown in too which overall make for a really gripping tale. The story does take a little while to get going and once the plot is at its peak it does end very quickly, but this does leave the door open to develop on the story in future editions. Braking Point plays out very similarly to FIFA’s the Journey, and is a clear nod to the expertise and depth that EA has brought to Codemasters’ franchise.
As well as Braking Point, there is a wide feature of single player modes to play from. My Team returns from its inception in the 2020 game, a mode in which you can design, develop and drive for your very own F1 team. Every choice from livery, engine supplier and second driver is yours to make, and each decision comes with sacrifice from another, do you go for a more experienced driver at the sacrifice of a less powerful or durable engine? Do you take on a sponsor with a lower weekly payment but a much more lucrative seasonal bonus? Each decision has weight behind it and allows you to experience just a glimpse of the headaches that f1 bosses have to deal with daily. There’s more decisions to be made, more freedom with research & development and greater customisation to expand on last year’s version and keep things different. Career mode makes the usual appearance, this time with even more options to drive, carve your own path with your customisable driver, or jump into the season with any driver on the grid, clinch the title with Max Verstappen or score those precious first points with George Russell. There’s now also the option of a 2 player career mode, you and a friend can lead each other to victory racing for the same team or compete for the title as rivals .Multiplayer makes a usual appearance with casual lobbies to hop into a quick game, or for a more competitive platform you can enter ranked and league races, and even enter E sports qualifying tournaments. Even though a lot of the single player options are the same as previous editions the additional features and options Codemasters have added makes for much more replayability and doesn’t make any feature feel stale or hastily carried over from the previous title.
Gameplay on F1 2021 is much sharper and realistic. Racing on F1 2020 always felt on a knife edge, with very unforgiving braking and handling, but 2021 feels like a new game. The braking is surprisingly sharp and much more reactive than previous editions, allowing you to brake much later into turns and have a wider window of opportunity for overtakes. The steering feels lighter and more responsive, If you don’t catch the right line into a corner the game is much more forgiving with the adjustments you can make, gone are the days of binning it into the gravel if you don’t have an inch perfect entry.
That doesn’t mean that gameplay has gotten any easier however, and Codemasters have made a few extra tweaks that bring this harsh dose of reality. F1 2021 has made a great effort to make the track and environments feel more alive, the kerbs are more raised and have a much greater effect on the balance and steering of the cars now, before you could breeze over a kerb with little effect, but now if you go too far over one it feels like you’re being shunted off course by a wrecking ball. Hitting the tarmac off of the limits or the gravel also has a much greater effect on driving, you’ll find yourself spinning much easier if you do veer too far over the limits. After a bit of getting used to it I much prefer the gameplay on this version, it feels more forgiving for correcting small mistakes, but it’ll punish you for trying to get a shortcut over a kerb or pushing the car past its limits, it feels much more realistic and less simulated than previous versions. Much like all the previous versions F1 2021 supports various racing wheels, and from using my one I can safely say that it feels brilliant, the movements are very responsive and the button layouts for car controls and messages are well thought out allowing for ease of use, another positive sign for those hard core racing fans.
F1 2021 is Codemasters’ first venture into a next gen game, and they’ve pulled out all the stops for it. The F1 games have always been some of the best games around graphically but this year they’ve really kicked it up a notch, the cars are captured in stunning detail, especially when they’re showing signs of scraping and slight damage, the tracks too look amazing and much more dynamic. If a driver in front of you hits some dirt or gravel you’ll soon be plunging through a cloud of dust, and when a crash does happen there’s more debris and more visual flair with flying dirt and carbon fibre; driving in the rain also looks stunning, the spray from the cars looks very realistic alongside the droplets that constantly trickle down the screen. They’ve also overhauled the sound, making it their closest attempt to the real thing that I’ve seen, the added whir of the turbocharger when accelerating makes for a much richer sound than just a screeching engine, and it brings everything altogether to give the game a very premium feel, all of these details are powered in 4k 60+fps on next gen consoles. The new console generation and new lines of PC graphics cards have sent the benchmark for how games look & perform skyrocketing, and F1 2021 carries the flag for how a next gen title should look and feel.
In their latest edition to the long-stretching series, Codemasters have set out with a clear goal of not reinventing the wheel but improving it, and in that regard they’ve knocked it out the park. Braking Point and improvements to Career mode & My Team add much more depth to the single player options available, and the gameplay tweaks they’ve made really help to improve the immersion and flow of the game, and these when combined with some stunning visual overhauls add a detailed and complete feel to the game. Some might say the F1 games have had a bit of a slump in recent years, but I’m confident that F1 2021 will be looked back on as one of the classic racing titles.
GameRev was provided with a digital download of the game for the purpose of this review.