F1 2021 Game review: An evolution, not a revolution

With Formula 1’s latest official video game set to release on Tuesday (Deluxe Edition) and Friday (Standard edition), Crash.net got the fortunate opportunity to test and play the new title over the past week. There might be a few spoilers but here’s what we made of it…
F1 2021 Game review: An evolution, not a revolution

The yearly release of Codemasters’ latest Formula 1 video game is always an exciting time for fans. More so this year with the company’s acquisition by Electronic Arts - who are responsible most notably for the FIFA franchise -  at the end of last year.

Whether it’s classic cars, an expanded career mode or a storyline mode - as is the case with this year - Codemasters often puts the casual F1 fan at the centre of its thoughts. With the worldwide success of the Netflix documentary Drive to Survive, it’s no surprise ‘Braking Point’ takes a lot of the hyperbolic, dramatic elements into an all-new story experience to play through.

While it’s not without its flaws, the potential for it in future titles is limitless. Inspired by FIFA’s ‘The Journey’, where you are introduced to a young footballer called Alex Hunter, you embark on a similar journey in F1 2021 with Aiden Jackson - a rising star plying his trade in Formula 2 with ambitions of reaching the pinnacle of motorsport.

The prologue begins in F2 with Jackson needing to win to take the 2019 drivers’ title. A brief commentary appearance from Alex Jacques and Davide Valsecchi takes you into this brand new story mode before getting down to the track action.

A win for Jackson in Abu Dhabi takes him to F1 where before that you get the choice of five different teams to kick start your career. With the young-start entering the pinnacle of motorsport in 2020, Codemasters has been able to keep its 2020 content so should you choose Aston Martin at the start, you’re driving for Racing Point during the first season. Immediately the scene is set and you’re introduced to your teammate - experienced, veteran racer Casper Akkerman, team manager Brian Doyle and familiar foe, Devon Butler - the story's ultimate antagonist. 

F1 2021 Game review: An evolution, not a revolution

A series of scenarios and challenges are put to you - the cutscenes are well done and hone in on that Drive to Survive element of drama. The novelty quickly wears off as, by the time you reach chapter three at the Circuit Paul Ricard, you’re forced to do a full 25 percent race.

While it’s fair to say I am better than the average player, I comfortably took Jackson to his first F1 victory from outside the top ten in a Racing Point. Yes, there are difficulty options before starting ‘Braking Point’ but given it was the hardest setting, there has to be more of a challenge for more skilled players.

Even though Jackson won the French GP, it had no positive or influence on the storyline - not even from David Croft, who only referenced Jackon beating the McLarens and Renaults - which ultimately was the main point of this specific chapter.

Difficulty aside, the scenarios range from recovering from colliding with your teammate Akkerman to picking up a puncture in your home race has potential but feel more like the old-school checkpoint challenges rather than an immersive story mode. While I only played up until chapter five, the lack of diversity and linear approach ultimately makes it the same for everyone and means the game mode is ultimately something you’d only want to place through once. 

Storyline modes need options, choices and decisions that take you down different avenues and pathways - something that ‘Braking Point’ severely lacks. Granted, the game mode isn’t aimed at me and casual players will thoroughly enjoy aspects of it. There’s so much untapped potential that Codemasters and EA can delve into in future titles.

Aside from ‘Braking Point’, two-player career is a great implementation. Similar to the co-op championship of old, two-player career offers players an exciting opportunity to experience career mode online with a friend.

With social gaming so crucial to the success of titles in recent years, it’s a no brainer from Codemasters. While my experience of the two-player career wasn’t a smooth one - AI are still incredibly inconsistent and ultra-aggressive online, relative to offline and the car performance was set to equal despite it being a career mode, I was able to set faster times in the Alpine than I was doing in Time Trial in the Mercedes.

F1 2021 Game review: An evolution, not a revolution

Codemasters will be bringing out a day one patch, as it usually does, while there tends to be several early patches throughout the game cycle to rectify such issues. Even though there still are a few bugs and glitches, the game mode as a whole does get a thumbs up and provides what you’d expect - the ability to do a career mode, online, with a friend.

‘My Team’ returns for 2021, where you can create your own team, driver and car, making it 11 constructors on the grid. Codemasters has built on what worked in 2020, refining the R&D system, making it more accessible to casuals, while adding a variety of options to make it less overbearing in terms of letting the game determine the operational aspects of your team and allowing you to focus on the driving.

Codemasters has done a great job in making the game more accessible and easier to casual players, but also new fans. Casual, standard, and expert race styles will cater the game to whatever experience or skill level you have. F1 is obviously very complex thus these additions will be welcome to those who aren’t familiar with car setup or certain settings.

Finally, on ‘My Team’, the implementation of Icons is another welcome addition. Only obtainable by purchasing the deluxe edition, you can have the likes of Michael Schumacher or Ayrton Senna as your teammate. As a big Felipe Massa fan, I can’t wait to sign him further down the line as my team progresses up the pecking order.

Features aside, the handling model is a gentle evolution on its 2020 predecessor. To replicate the changes to the floor regulations in real F1, the cars are naturally slower with significantly more downforce at high speed. The braking model has taken a step forward with 50 percent brake bias no longer the way to go as it was in F1 2020 - downshift or brake too hard into a hairpin, you’ll quickly find yourself facing backwards.

F1 2021 Game review: An evolution, not a revolution

Given that the 2021 cars are mostly a carryover on 2020, it’s no surprise the games feel the most similar between titles than they have ever done in Codemasters’ history. That certainly won’t be the case for 2022.

The car setup screen remains the same with creative director Lee Mather promising setups have been revamped for this year in terms of what works and what doesn’t. Codemasters seem to have done a solid job with the preset setups, giving fans a good baseline to start racing without having to fiddle with it too much. 

Portimao, Imola and Jeddah will be added at a later date, while some of the existing 21 tracks have undergone some modifications. Canada’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve kerbs have been changed completely, while Belgium’s iconic Spa-Francorchamps’ kerbs have been reprofiled similarly.

Disappointingly, Spain’s Turn 10 and Australia’s Albert Park remain identical to their 2020 counterparts. Codemasters has often spoken about the time and resources it takes to construct tracks, which is a fair point but given that a lot of the tracks have undergone a partial makeover, adjusting Barcelona’s Turn 10 probably wouldn’t have been a big ask.

Finally, the graphics continue to take a step forward, making the most of the PS5’s advanced specifications. Multiplayer still needs to be put through its paces but Codemasters’ response in recent years to fixes and updates has been better than in previous years so should any issues arise, no doubt they will be fixed in time for the competitive racing to get underway. 

Overall, F1 2021 is an evolution, not a revolution. ‘Braking Point’ won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s certainly worth playing through the opening few chapters to get a taste of it. ‘My Team’ and two-player career remain the title’s best game modes, while the longevity of the game will be determined by the state of multiplayer and when the three new tracks are introduced to the game. With the full switch to next-gen on the horizon, Codemasters with EA have the potential to take the F1 franchise to the next level.

We’ve seen a glimpse of that with ‘Braking Point’ but there still is so much untapped potential. F1 2021 is a must-have for any F1 fan - casual or hardcore, but if you’re expecting a significant upgrade on its predecessor, then you’d be mistaken.

Connor McDonagh has competed competitively on every Codemasters’ F1 title since 2010. Connor competed in the 2017 F1 Esports Series, reaching the semi-final phase. He races on the PlayStation 5 and uses a Thrustmaster T300RS with the Ferrari F1 add-on, using T3PA pedals.

Developer: Codemasters
Publisher: EA Sports
Release: July 2021
Price: £54.99 (Xbox One/PlayStation 5), £49.99 (PC Steam) 

F1 2021 Game review: An evolution, not a revolution

Read More