Despite the undoubted quality of Codemasters’, F1 2019, I was utterly convinced that they would phone in the latest release of this now annualised racing series. Between the delay to the season itself and, y’know, all this COVID stuff going on, I thought this year’s addition would be little more than a roster update with a few minor bells and whistles added to help justify its existence.
Heck, even if you take the delayed season and the current bonkers state of the world out of the equation, this is the end of a generation, the point in which annualised games have already hit their technical limit and thoughts of true innovation have been pushed towards the release of Xbox Series X and PS5. Surely, F1 2020 was doomed to (relative) mediocrity from the off?
Well, I was wrong. Like, really, really wrong. Not only is F1 2020 a great game in its own right, but thanks to a handful of minor but hugely effective change to the handling model, and above all else, the inclusion of the all-new and genuinely brilliant, My Team mode, Codemasters’ latest take on one of the world’s most glamorous sports can now be spoken of in the same breath as the likes of Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport.
Sure, an interest in the sport will invariably help, and the simple fact that this is an F1 game ensures that it will never have the same breadth or variety of content as the broader racing simulators out there, but if judged objectively upon its merits as a top tier racer, then F1 2020 has surely moved in to the hallowed territory of ‘best ever’ racers. That might sound like hyperbole, of course, but F1 2019 had been an already great game, and while on a surface level, F1 2020 might well look very similar, it doesn’t take long behind the wheel to realise that the changes made here are all for the better.
F1 2019 already had a great handling model, but if one were to be critical, perhaps the braking was a touch unforgiving and the handling a tad too twitchy. Well, some were critical (primarily actual F1 drivers – thanks Lando Norris), and thanks to their feedback, F1 2020 feels much more grippy and, from the outset, the cars far easier to handle. Don’t get me wrong, this is still an F1 game, and with the standard and more sim-based settings, it’s easy to find yourself in the wall or doing time on the grass, but going into the corners, you’ll have a lot more belief when it comes to pushing hard and breaking late. The breaking in particular allows you to stay on the gas until the very last second and turn into the apex with much more confidence. Supposedly, it’s much closer to the real thing (I’ll just have to take that opinion on faith, of course), but from a personal perspective, it makes racing much more fun and allows you to take a more aggressive approach when overtaking on the corners.
Speaking of which, potential overtakes have been made much simpler by the inclusion of what is essentially an overtake button after F1 drivers stated that it is actually much easier in an actual F1 car. It’s rare that games become more simplistic when it comes to chasing true authenticity, but by listening to the drivers, Codemasters have made aspects of racing feel quite a bit simpler, and for my money at least, a lot more fun.
Even with the extra grip and simplified boosting though (it really is boosting in all but name), if you are playing with the assists off, this is still a brutally unforgiving game with equally unforgiving AI. While that will undoubtedly be something to be celebrated by hardcore fans of the sport or those looking to get involved in the games’ increased emphasis on Esports, for your average gamer, it can all feel a bit intimidating, and dare I say, rather dry.
Despite the series’ brilliance, its emphasis on simulation and the occasionally obtuse nature of its rules has remained something of a barrier to entry for many of the sports’ more casual fans. There have been assists added of course and plenty of options to reduce the penalties one might incur while racing, but despite these efforts, the series has remained resolutely hardcore, and while it undoubtedly remains as much for those who wish to embrace that side of the game, the new casual handling model allows newcomers, or those looking for a more arcade-friendly approach, to get in to the game far more quickly than in the past.
The sense of speed has always been immense, and the commitment to recreate something to be applauded, but some people don’t want to have to worry about the sport’s finer details or for their race to be all but over the moment they hit a barrier or put a wheel on the grass. Ok, so it’s not quite NHL 94 mode, but this new handling model really delivers something akin to a genuine pick-up-and-play mode, one that, while likely to be derided by long-standing fans of the series, opens the game up to a potential new audience.
As good as the new handling is (and it really is very good), and as welcome as the new casual handling model might be, the real game changer, and the primary reason that F1 2020 has to be one of the finest racing games out there, is the inclusion of the exceptional My Team mode. My Career was added last year and introduced an interesting, if occasionally cringeworthy narrative. It was a welcome attempt at a more personal single player racing experience. And while it remains here, and remains largely very good, it’s the all new My Team that invariably steals the show.
There are plenty of exceptional triple A racers out there, but one thing they often struggle with is delivering a genuine compelling single player experience. Gran Turismo Sport is a gloriously polished and perfectly playable racer, but like many of its counterparts, the experience off the track can often feel sterile, rarely delivering a genuinely compelling reason to progress beyond asking you to ‘do more races’.
Of course ‘doing more races’ is the name of the game, but by allowing you to manage your own team while also racing for them, My Team adds a whole new, almost RPG-like element to F1 2020. From creating your own team, managing the finances and choosing a development path for your car to picking the correct sponsors and managing the progression of the team’s second driver (not to mention negotiating their deal or that of a superior replacement), My Team finally allows players to take part in just about every aspect of the true F1 experience. The level of detail can be a bit daunting at first, but the game does a great job of easing you into the everyday requirements of managing your team while also allowing you to automate certain day-to-day chores if you’re not so interested in the true nitty gritty of team management.
I have no doubt it is something that will be refined in future releases, but as far as first attempts go, Codemasters has really knocked it out of the park. Beyond being simply enjoyable, and perhaps most importantly for a racing game, genuinely compelling, it delivers a game mode that made me care about every aspect of the race weekend. Whether it is the odd experience of simultaneously wanting to beat my teammate and for them to do well or the genuine disappointment of taking any damage to my car (turns out that getting your F1 car fixed is bloody expensive), My Team is not only enjoyable in and of itself, but actually made me change the way that I approached racing.
With extensive looking Esport options, solid standard online modes and the return of a split screen multiplayer, F1 2020 really does have every base covered. Time will tell as to how successful Codemasters’ ongoing push towards Esport success will be, but judged on where the game is at launch, I’m honestly struggling to find much in the way of fault.
Perhaps it was visually very similar to last year’s release, and while that is true, it should be noted that last year’s release had been an already gorgeous looking game. There have been subtle improvements made to the lighting, and the true to TV presentation is that little more polished this time around, but other than that, well, yeah, it looked great last year, and it looks great again this year. The only real differences come in the form of the unsurprisingly fantastic recreations of the 2020 season’s two new tracks. The historic Zandvoort circuit on the outskirts of Amsterdam and the high speed and very exciting Hanoi track in Vietnam both look and drive brilliantly. The Hanoi track in particular, with its long straights, high speed overtakes and unforgiving concrete walls is a huge amount of fun to race, and one that promises to be hugely exciting when it comes to watching the real thing later in the year.
It would have been easy for Codemasters to phone in F1 2020, but instead of waiting for the next-generation of consoles to deliver genuine innovation, they have instead saved the best for last and released what has to be the finest F1 game of all time, and without question, one of the very best racers of the generation. With improved handling, the successful integration of a casual mode, and above all else, including the utterly compelling, My Team Mode, Codemasters have finally delivered the Formula 1 game that fans have been waiting for, while simultaneously developing the most accessible F1 game this side of Virtua Racer. Quite the achievement.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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F1 2020 - Seventy Edition Review
Gameplay - 9/10
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9/10
Replay Value - 9/10
Codemasters have finally delivered the Formula 1 game that fans have been waiting for, while managing to simultaneously develop the most accessible F1 game this side of Virtua Racer. Quite the achievement.