The annual release of Codemasters’ Formula 1 title is a highlight on the calendar for gaming and sporting fans alike. F1 2020 was almost the only racing that anyone would see this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Fortunately, the race calendar picked up the weekend before the release of the game, starting with Austria. This means that F1 fans have got a veritable feast of racing delights and high-octane action this week.
With brand new features like the My Team mode, never-raced-before circuits, new difficulty options and the return of a much-requested feature, this year’s entry into the licensed motorsport racing simulation series is the best F1 game Codemasters’ has ever released.
There’s a very clear line of progression over the F1 series since 2015. Launching on a new console generation, with a brand new engine to boot, allowed Codemasters to improve year on year. This year is the biggest step so far.
Perhaps the biggest change to the series is the introduction of the all-new My Team mode.
In this mode, you get to create a driver, choose from a variety of sponsors and engine suppliers, hire a teammate and compete as the 11th team on the grid. This detailed new experience provides light management aspects reminiscent of FIFA’s manager career and offers an incentive to play for multiple seasons as you grow your team. In a way, it feels like you HAVE to upgrade your team and take them to the top. Not because the game forces you to, but because you feel a certain duty to your virtual team and WANT them to do well. It really is ‘My’ Team.
I started my playthrough in the My Team mode, which opened with my character sitting in an interview with Will Buxton. Buxton is a sight for sore eyes for F1 fans. He’s a real-life F1 journalist and, due to the coronavirus pandemic, has been missing from our screens for far too long this year. This clever addition to the game plays into the fantasy Codemasters are selling you and really makes you feel like a driver.
Upon getting to the grid in Australia, the Sky Sports commentator David Croft (Crofty), talks about your car and position as a new team. This, again, fulfils that childhood dream of living a high-speed life of fame, fantasy and fortune.
Another huge change is the massive update to the handling model following feedback about F1 2019 from real F1 drivers. Cars now feel more lively under acceleration and tight under braking, while the new cornering mechanics force you to drive more like an actual Formula 1 driver. You’ll need to use trail-braking and decisive turns of the wheel for overtakes. This is one of the most impressive changes from Codemasters and helps players fulfil their F1 fantasies more realistically than any game before.
Different cars handle in a unique way. Classic cars make a return, joined by four cars from Michael Schumacher’s illustrious career if you have the Deluxe Schumacher edition. These cars all handle differently and make for a nice break from the 2020 season if you’re looking for something different.
There are more ways to race than ever before. The Time Trial and Grand Prix™ modes mean that you never feel like there’s nothing to do. The ability to compete online is nothing new. However, the ranked and unranked races, the leagues and weekly events all combine to create a lively, active community that feels like a big group of friends. Driver Career represents the traditional F1 career mode and has seen some changes. F2, the F1 feeder series, returns. The F2 cars are far harder to control than the F1 cars, making them an interesting challenge. It’s this variety in handling mechanics that keeps the game feeling fresh and challenging at every corner.
F1 2019 made huge improvements to the multiplayer options and Codemasters have continued to go above and beyond. Split Screen makes a welcome return in F1 2020, which is perfect for racing your mates on the couch! This is the first time two-player split-screen has featured in the F1 game series since 2014, so to say we’re glad to have it back is an understatement.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the new Hanoi Street circuit and Zandvoort in the Netherlands were cancelled from the original 2020 calendar. The FIA are uncertain if F1 will make its debut in 2020 or 2021, but one thing is for certain. You can race around the new tracks before the teams get the chance.
And yes, this means if you top the online leaderboards, TECHNICALLY you’ll have the track record. Guess that’s my weekend sorted.
The updated ERS system will be cause for debate. Personally, I like it. It removes the micromanagement that was required last year and you’ll no longer be swapping between “low” and “high” every corner. However, there’s an ever-present risk that overtake mode might feel too close to the KERS system that was replaced by the hybrid engines in 2014.
The difficulty of practice programmes has been somewhat increased. The 110 point difficulty slider makes a return in F1 2020, which means players are able to play at a difficulty that works for them. In the past I found myself turning my game’s difficulty up to try and make practice programmes harder, but I had no need to do that this time. I’ve still only managed to pass the qualifying programme a few times.
Codemasters has continued to focus on immersing players in the F1 experience with their presentation. All races still have the famous preamble discussion from Crofty and Anthony Davidson placed over establishing shots of the track. This will be all-too-familiar to people that have watched F1 broadcasts before.
One of my favourite nods to the TV broadcast is the decision to superimpose the grid round-up over a shot of a waving flag, depending on the country you’re racing in. This is a common sight in the races, so it’s a nice nod to fans of the sport.
The HUD has also seen some updates to this effect, with a new information box modelled after the “F1 Insights by AWS (Amazon Web Services)” infoboxes seen throughout a real race popping up as you enter your pit window. It’s this level of care that really sets this game apart from its competitors.
However, F1 2020 fails to live up to the photorealistic graphics of other racing games releasing this year. Ultimately, it’s down to taste – F1 games in the past have a very distinct look because of their older engine; some fans prefer this. It’s definitely worth noting that the game is still very stylish. Especially in the showcase mode, which lets you look at cars sat in a virtual museum. This literally made me say “wow” out loud, if you needed further proof on how impressive this mode looks.
Unfortunately, Codemasters still seem to struggle when they can’t face scan people. A lot of the drivers look okay, and Will Buxton looks eerily lifelike. Sadly, the Michael Schumacher face that comes with the Deluxe Schumacher edition looks more like Robbie Rotten than the driver, with a heavily exaggerated chin and jawline. But we DO have to consider the ethical implications of face-scanning a man in his condition.
However, the Benetton B194 and B195, the Jordan 191, the Ferrari F1-2000, and the updated Ferrari F2004 look amazing, which is to be expected from Codemasters. I also loved the Schumacher-themed multiplayer liveries, helmets and race suits. Not to mention the instant classic and REASON you should buy this game – his iconic podium celebration.
What Is The Narrative Of F1 2020 Like?
The narrative of F1 games has always appealed with an irresistible ‘started-from-the-bottom-now-we-here’ glow-up in its popular career mode.
F1 2020 still maintains this rags-to-riches story, but takes a slight detour from its traditional narrative. Driver Career has had a fairly substantial reduction – gone are the cutscenes with Lukas Weber and Devon Butler. These two original characters acted as your Formula Two rivals. They also represented F1 2019’s unremarkable “morality system”. This is where your interview answers and driving style decided if you were a “showman” or a “sportsman”. Codemasters have opted to remove this slider and instead implemented an RPG-like perks system.
Now, you can spend money earned from your contract on upgrades to your driver. An example of this is the ability to unlock new interview answers through buying a “media training” perk when you can afford to do so. This feels more intrinsic and realistic to the sport. But it does make 2020’s Formula Two section feel a little barebones if you select the shortest “taster” option.
The game often uses red and green to inform and sector times; red is worse, green is good. It’s a shame that there are no colourblind options as far as we can see.
However, cherries are awarded for the brand new Casual Mode. These accessible handling options make the game feel more welcoming. Furthermore, newcomers can try their hand without getting discouraged. With Casual Mode switched on, menus will be simplified, off-track surfaces will be easier to drive over, and steering and reset to track assists will become available. But of course, this feature is only available offline. So there’s no rush to make your online debut!
So Overall, Is F1 2020 Worth Your Money?
F1 2020 is the near-perfect F1 experience that we’ve all been waiting for. The sheer amount of brand-new features and the dedication to updating the handling system are indicative of the love Codemasters put in. The only thing bringing this game down is the lack of final graphical polish. The F1 series, and especially F1 2020, is like spicy comfort food. It’s a warm and welcoming dish, but with a kick of adrenaline that keeps things feeling exciting for hours.
This copy of F1 2020 was reviewed on PC.
Featured Image Credit: Codemasters