Although Codemasters’ official F1 franchise has been with us for a little over a decade, it’s only in the past few years that it’s really found its racing line. Although many sports titles rely on almost predictable and obligatory annual updates, the experienced racing developer has been able to fine-tune its craft into a sophisticated simulation that offers something to both the casual racer and the dedicated eSports pro.
On paper, not a great deal has changed with F1 2020, although, of course, there’s a multitude of improvements underneath the hood to further enhance the handling and performance of the cars. The headline feature is the new My Team mode, which lets you create and race your very own F1 team, juggling off-track developments with your own racing exploits.
You’ll be able to race the full Covid-free calendar, across all 22 circuits, that the real drivers won’t...
One rather more unexpected selling point might be the impact that the coronavirus has had on the real F1 season. With the season delayed and basically rewritten, you’ll be able to race the full Covid-free calendar, across all 22 circuits, that the real drivers won’t (note: the screenshots here feature 2019 liveries as the 2020 roster is a Day One update). Plus, the game also gets to be launched in line with the start of the season, with every subsequent race weekend effectively giving the game a real-time advertisement.
The game has much the same set-up as last year – only with the absence of the largely forgettable ‘story’ element to the career mode – offering the option to test your skills in single races, across several championships (including F2, with several variants on the season), along with other challenge events, weekly events and the Time Trials where you look to master every track.
Although My Team is a notable addition, you can just stick with the 10-year Driver career and focus largely on the racing (although the R&D framework to improve your car continues in both modes). Either way, one change that some might appreciate is the option to race shortened seasons of 16 or 10 races – with the option to pick and choose what those races are, so you can drop those circuits you don’t like or struggle with (Monaco, right?).
My Team makes the career path feel a lot more personal, as you take control of a brand new F1 team...
My Team does make that career path feel a lot more personal, though, as you take control of a brand new F1 team. Using the same core model seen in Dirt 4, it’s not overly complex, but it does give you a few more things to think about from one race to the next as you recruit a co-driver and look to work your way up the grid. Certainly the R&D work becomes a bit more interesting, as you look to build up facilities from scratch to handle your aero, durability, power and chassis needs – making things like the optional challenge events all the more rewarding if the cash reward pays for a new upgrade that’ll help in your next GP, which in turn might earn you a new sponsor and so on.
There are several other new additions that are welcome, if not quite so notable. Split-screen returns for the first time since 2014 for some nice head-to-head showdowns with your friends. A virtual rear-view mirror now makes it easier to keep tabs on those behind you, while the ERS system has now been mapped to the left shoulder, so you don’t need to mess about with the D-pad while doing 200mph for an extra speed boost. Also, the My Team mode adds a perks system for extra driver rewards – although that might mean spending money you may be better off using on your car.
Of course, there are new tracks in line with the original 2020 season. Sadly, Germany has gone (sad because we were good on that track!), but the two new ones add plenty to the mix. Vietnam’s Hanoi Circuit is a fast street circuit with several long straights offering up overtaking opportunities, combined with some winding, technical sections. Meanwhile, the Circuit Zandvoort in the Netherlands is a short and fun track with some banked turns lending themselves to some fast and furious action which could be absolute carnage online. As both feature within the first five races of the season, you’ll do well to acclimatise yourself to them nice and early.
Accessible to All
As with its predecessors, what makes F1 2020 stand out is the vast range of in-game options to tailor the game to suit both your needs and your ability. A variety of assists can be toggled on or off and you can also adjust the AI level of your opponents to determine how much of a challenge you want. Those eSports racers will no doubt use the now defined Pro mode which disables all assists as the ultimate challenge, while absolute novices might want to make use of the new Casual mode.
This simplifies the assists down to the basics (even offering up a new steering assist) and is far less punishing if you run off the track – with a reset option if you do. But the fact remains that unless you make good use of the flashback feature to rewind the action, one small mistake could still mean an overtake takes you an extra lap or two, while overcooking just one corner or losing some front wing in a collision can be the difference between a podium and finishing well outside the points.
Doing hundreds of laps of the same circuit might sound like a grind, but it’s more about an evolution...
The result is that even though repeating races and doing hundreds of laps of the same circuit might sound like a grind, it’s more about an evolution. So those rookies might need to spend some time getting to grips with each track and getting their lap times down. Then you can look to improve further, perhaps realising that the braking assist might actually be slowing you down when you don’t really need it to, and so you can reduce or remove that. Likewise, switching from automatic to manual gears, or maximising your ERS usage, might seem like a big step, but when you see your times improve as you get used to it, you’ll find yet another level of progression to aspire towards.
This means that you’re always in control of the difficulty. If you want to smash the opposition, you can keep the AI level low and take the worst car to Championship glory. If you want to keep things more challenging (or realistic) then you can up the AI, maybe drop more of the assists and instead get that warm glow of satisfaction as you work your way up the rankings over a couple of seasons. And if you really know your cambers from your differentials, then you can even immerse yourself in the complex world of custom car set-ups. (If not then we’d advise downloading some set-ups from those available via the top of Time Trial leaderboards to see some real speed/grip improvements).
Perhaps the real appeal of F1 2020 is the many small victories you’ll get to savour. From nailing your first high-speed apex, to mastering a track to record the perfect lap, executing a race strategy to get a lesser car in amongst the points and ultimately taking the title or your first multiplayer victory, you can spend many, many hours honing your own racing experience. And once you take your first steps into the cockpit it can be a rollercoaster ride that you might never want to get off.
Of course, this doesn’t always apply online, where the likes of Casual mode can’t be applied. Even with a ranking system, if F1 2019 is any guide then you’ll still likely find yourself matched with people of varying abilities (we were playing this review pre-launch so the servers were understandably barren!). But that doesn’t mean it can’t still be fun, and we’ve bagged many ranking points simply by staying on the track while higher ranked and far more competitive drivers take each other out. Plus, it’s a great way to practice a variety of tracks while also measuring your own ability – and if you find yourself in a lobby with a decent number of like-minded and good-natured racers (or even in a League if you so wish), then you might find yourself racing long into the night.
The AV Formula
With the enhanced versions running at 4K Ultra HD and with HDR, the game is largely impressive on a visual level. Unsurprisingly the cars are beautifully replicated and the tracks faithfully recreated in almost every aspect. If we were being picky, we’d point to the lack of detail and textures on some of the track surrounds, but considering you’re normally tearing through them at 200mph and focusing purely on the tarmac in front of you, it’s not really an issue. Similarly, the animations leading into and out of the action aren’t exactly up to current cut-scene standards and is an area where perhaps we’d hope to see improvements when the next-gen consoles roll around.
On the track, we found the action largely flawless. Certainly fears over the framerate didn’t materialise as far as we could tell, as the devs seem happy to sacrifice a little visual detail to ensure that your view remains consistently smooth – and we happily accept that over the alternative. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of great touches, such as the improved lighting system that can seamlessly transition from sunlight streaming over a grandstand to a dark and gloomy thunderstorm.
And while the audio is largely focused on the pure, perfectly-pitched, roar from the car you’re sitting in, hearing the opposition whizzing around your ears and being able to pick out the occasional muffled cheer from the crowd as you tear down the home straight is always impressive.
F1 2020 offers up a fun, intense and often immersive, simulation experience...
- Deep and detailed
- Open to all abilities
- Freedom to improve
- Some plain visuals
- Silly penalties
- MP can be unbalanced
F1 2020 Review (Xbox One)
F1 2020 succeeds because it is accessible to all and everyone is free to shape their own experience within it. At one end, rookie racers can still feel the thrill of victory, while at the other, veterans can continue to master their craft within a pure and meticulous racing simulation. Part of its ongoing appeal is to find your place within this vast sliding scale and then grow and evolve, one tenth of a second at a time.
People will still have their own niggles, such as the consistently harsh penalty system (though the AI seems a bit better this year) or the questionable online matchmaking, but it’s actually almost reassuring to think that even though there’s much to love about the game, there’s still room for improvement into 2021. However, whether you just want to dive into a few quick races for fun, or smash the lap record at Silverstone, F1 2020 offers up a fun, intense and often immersive, simulation experience.
Our Review Ethos
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