When heading into a corner at 80 kilometres an hour is considered slow, then you best be sure to keep your eyes on the ball. In the case of Formula One racing, 80 km/hr is the speed you pull in and out of the driveway. That place where a team of roadside-assist superheroes can change all four tyres in a matter of seconds. In F1, the aforementioned ball is the road ahead of you, behind you, and to either side of your sponsor-emblazoned car. Whizzing past at break-neck, spine, and whatever else is attached to your body... speed.
There’s nothing quite like it in the racing space, and when it comes to the realm of digital racing the only real comparisons that come to mind are Nintendo’s sci-fi racer F-Zero and Psygnosis’s Wipeout. In a lot of ways F1 2021 presents a similar experience to a futuristic racer -- where intense concentration is met by alternating fingers and thumbs working in tandem to do the seemingly impossible. That and the sheer money that goes into creating the vehicles F1 drivers hop into means it's the sort of racing as out of reach as jumping into a hover-car in the year 2097.
The only thing missing are some old school rave breaks or drum n’ bass piping through your driver’s ear-piece.
In a lot of ways F1 2021 presents a similar experience to a futuristic racer -- where intense concentration is met by alternating fingers and thumbs working in tandem to do the seemingly impossible.
As the latest installment in what is now an annual series from Codemasters, F1 2021 brings a lot of new stuff to the table. There’s the character driven cinematic story that presents a tale of a rookie and veteran driver butting heads on a middling F1 team. An expanded career mode where you create a brand-new F1 team and manage everything from salaries through to what aerodynamic research to invest in, and picking out the right glove pattern for your drivers.
There’s custom a Grand Prix to create, weekly challenges to tackle, esports stuff, multiplayer, co-op career modes, split-screen, that racing staple we call the time trial. There’s a lot to be sure, and underneath all of that the racing has improved too. Like a group of engineers working hard to shave a millisecond or two here and there off of a theoretical lap time, Codemasters continues to refine and improve what is at its core one of the most accessible straight-up sim racers out there.
When viewed like that, as a sim, F1 2021 is a dream. Realistic representations of all of the seasonal tracks alongside up-to-date driver stats and likenesses. From the Australian Grand Prix to the streets of Azerbaijan to the Japanese countryside, each track and team is here and looking better than ever. Increased fidelity in the form of real-time ray-tracing for realistic shadows and reflections. The latter of which can become an essential tool when driving from the cockpit viewpoint.
Objects in the rearview mirror are faster than they appear.
Enhanced for modern consoles, and PC hardware too (the latest version of NVIDIA’s DLSS rendering is supported), F1 2021 not only looks great but is buttery-smooth. Easily hitting 60-fps on most hardware. Which is a good thing because playing F1 2021 is akin to that scene in Racing Movie: Gotta Go Fast where the driver, the car, and the track become one. In that the entire world can disappear and all that’s left is the sound of the engine and the intricate lines that weave in and out of the various twists and turns of the track. And it’s only when you re-enter the mortal realm for a moment that you can hear your team calling your name. Cut-to your significant other in the stands saying, “he can’t hear you, he’s in the zone”.
Speaking of racing movies, F1 2021’s narrative-driven ‘Braking Point’ is an interesting addition in that it follows the exploits of a rookie F1 driver, Aiden Jackson, as he looks to make a name for himself. Throw in the gruff teammate who’s channeling his best “get off my lawn” Clint Eastwood, and the result is formulaic but a surprisingly charming tale set between snippets of dramatic racing. Naturally, that’s racing that you get to be in full control of -- montage’d and presented in cinematic byte-sized chunks.
Enhanced for modern consoles, and PC hardware too (the latest version of NVIDIA’s DLSS rendering is supported), F1 2021 not only looks great but is buttery-smooth.
It’s no Rush or Ford v Ferrari, it’s not even Days of Thunder. But, being in control of that moment where the car begins to fail and you need to “finish the race”, or take it to your rival and beat them once and for all, is a lot of fun. Especially when F1 2021 doesn’t really need a ‘story mode’ to make it a great slice of F1 racing. It already hits that high note thanks to the refined Career mode and the addition of several multiplayer modes, the community-focused events, and the ability to just jump in and race.
Now, reading all of this so far and you might be of the opinion that you’re dealing with a real F1-head. A bona fide Big Tyre Groupie. Well, that’s not the case. There’s no such thing as a BTG, and if it wasn’t for documentaries and movies there’d be very little here that could be referred to as “familiar”. And with that the fact that the Casual and Standard racing modes offer up several assists is great. Playing F1 2021 you can jump in and have no idea that “overtaking another driver on this track should only really happen on Turn 8 otherwise it’s too risky” was a thing.
The beauty of F1 2021 is that it makes you want to learn about that, it makes racing on a track more rewarding on Lap 3 than it was on Lap 2. More fun the second time versus that first-run. It’s not perfect, seeing racers celebrate is always weird (they always do the exact same ‘Champagne Robot Dance’) and certain locations have that clinical sim-look that lacks warmth. With a little bit of extra personality and detail found in the seemingly incidental, then the F1 series has potential to be even better. As it stands, Codemasters has delivered a gem -- a fast and exhilarating racer for casual racing fans and F1 aficionados alike.
What we liked
Great F1 racing feel
A sim for newcomers and seasoned racers
Plenty of modes
Fleshed out Career Mode
Looks great and runs smooth
What we didn't like
Lacks a little personality with the smaller things