Formula 1 as a sport is one that has undergone a lot of changes over recent years. Updated rules, regulations and marketing appear to be a attempts to modernise a sport that has traditionally appeared on the outside as an elitist sport for the elite. It has attempted to broaden its horizons and appeal to a larger and more diverse audience both in terms of the type of fan they attract and also its popularity across the globe. In some ways the games have attempted to emulate this progression, but in others, it remains painfully similar to older iterations. Codemasters are underrated masters at creating a racing game that feels immersive, responsive and exciting while you are on the track, and this remains true in F1 2020, but they are somewhat less masterful when it comes to creating a world surrounding the races that feels authentic and ‘lived in’, with the experience away from the track often feeling jarring and disjointed. It has come a long way in recent years, but there’s still a long way to go.
Visually, F1 2020 is somewhere in the middle of the road (pun not intended). Marketing material in the run up to release makes the game look absolutely stunning. It’s by no means an ugly game, but as a general rule of thumb, this isn’t indicative of the final product. The car models are fantastic, and the weather effects really have come a long way in recent releases, particularly the rain, but the surrounding environment is quite mundane looking. Racing games are usually an opportunity for consoles to really strut their stuff, but marketers won’t be using F1 2020 in highlight reels for stunning visuals. For most players, however, the game is nice enough. Player models look great, and driver likenesses are fantastic. What really is important are the features that F1 2020 brings to the table.
Codemasters have gone above and beyond when it comes to features. Whatever reason a player might be coming to the game for, it’s likely that there will be something here for them to get their teeth into. In F1 2019, Codemasters introduced Formula 2 racing, and this season they have fully integrated this into the career mode. Upon starting the game, players will have the option to take part in a full Formula 2 season, a shortened 6-race version of an F2 season, or to simply skip this and go straight to F1. This serves as a great way to flesh out the world; however, its implementation is a little disjointed. There’s no crossover between F1 and F2 to make the player feel like moving onto F1 is a career progression. The F2 season simply moves from race to race before coming up with a menu that allows you to choose an F1 team. Even if a player wins the driver’s championship in their F2 season, there is little to no acknowledgement of this. The game simply ends abruptly and then moves onto the F1 section of the game, which is much more fully featured.
Taking on the role of an F1 driver in older iterations of the series has always felt a little uninspired, and it’s clear that Codemasters have been working hard to flesh this out. Being an F1 driver and enjoying the glamour of this lifestyle has traditionally been one that has proven difficult to pull off. As previously mentioned, Codemasters have the racing aspect (admittedly the most important part) nailed. Driving the cars is an absolute dream and forces players to drive the cars differently from how they would a regular car in a game like Forza, reflecting the difference in handling needed to control a Formula 1 car. Where they struggle though is the surrounding lifestyle. Players have three main areas to consider with their F1 career. Firstly, their on track performances. This is where championships are won and lost and rightly so, the bread and butter of the game. Next to this though, players will have a driver’s reputation where they can hire things like social media managers to increase their standing from a fan perspective in the sport. This allows players access to more perks, which will in turn help open them up to better components and cars down the line.
The third section surrounds the car and the staff. Players can spend research points to research upgrades to the car, so that come race day, your car will hopefully have a slight edge on previous weeks, allowing you to better compete and create rivalries. These rivalries ended up being something that I was a little baffled by. The developers have clearly introduced this feature to try and add a bit of spice to races, but although the game will tell you that you have a rival, it never actually feels like you do. The closest it gets is when you are interviewed by the press between races, they might bring up a racer, and it’s in your interest to generate hype with the fans by having a rivalry, but the act of telling the player that makes it feel manufactured and false in a way that players will struggle to care about this so called rival. As much as Codemasters have tried to flesh the world out, it still feels quite bland and uninteresting. In a world that is all about fast cars, glitz and glamour, that’s a problem and one that becomes ever more glaring as each release comes along and fails to address it.
The other interesting mode in this game is My Team. In My Team, players design and create their own racing brand and then take it into the world of F1 and try to establish it amongst the big players in the sport. This mode is actually fairly detailed. Players have to decide on the way the team will move forward from start to finish. This ranges from things like choosing the engine that your team will use to creating the livery on the car, signing sponsors, drivers and developing the team facilities. The career mode certainly has some value to it, but this is really where F1 2020 starts to shine. It’s detailed, in-depth and offers something for F1 fans looking for more than a quick race to immerse themselves in.
Overall, F1 2020 is a fantastic addition to the racing genre and is easily the best F1 game out there. When compared to F1 2019, it’s certainly an iterative process, but there are enough glimpses into the direction that Codemasters seem to be taking the franchise to give fans of the sport and the game cause for optimism. The driving model is fantastic, the weather effects, especially rain, continue to look great, and in the right light, those car models are fantastic. That said, the game is far from perfect, and the stilted, jarring, unconnected feel of career mode is a let down. Players looking to get the most of this game should definitely make use of the My Team mode, which is an absolutely fantastic addition to the series and lets players climb into the weeds of managing and developing their own team and leading it to glory. F1 2020, although not without problems, is a must buy for fans of the racing genre.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 10th July 2020
Gaming Respawn’s copy of F1 2020 was provided by the publisher.