F1 2021 Review
Everyone loves a great sports success story. Take, for example, the career of the young but already legendary Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton, who was the youngest driver to ever win the F1 championship, the first (and still, only) Black driver in the sport, and who is currently the wealthiest British sportsperson. But even Hamilton has had his share of gaffes and while he’s flawless as a driver, his life away from the track isn’t perfect.
This kind of behind-the-scenes drama is the stuff of Braking Point, F1 2021‘s new story mode, just one of the game’s outstanding and varied ways to experience the thrill of Formula 1 racing.
Braking Point tells the story of a fictional young British driver named Aiden Jackson, and we follow him through three seasons of racing, experiencing his evolution as a driver as well as his ups and downs on social media and in the press, his sometimes conflict-filled relationships with his driving partner and team, his victories and doubts. It’s surprisingly well written and acted, and best of all, it draws us into the sport with a personal story. We learn and become better drivers as Jackson’s career flourishes.
In real life — and at the higher difficulty levels in Codemaster’s F1 2021 — the sport of Formula 1 racing is a high-stakes, error intolerant sport that is both visceral and extremely technical, where minuscule changes in the car’s weight or fuel levels, tire condition, weather or other factors can bring an otherwise promising lead to an abrupt end. For true fans of F1, there is probably no simulation quite so spectacularly accurate as F1 2021 and the game is, happily, only an improvement on the 2020 version, a rare feat among sports games on a yearly release cycle. Whether you are playing solo or want to compete against others, are into simulating years-long career trajectories, or just want to hop into a single race and tear up the track, F1 2021 has something for you and none of it feels superfluous or unpolished.
As noted, Braking Point is the big new addition this year, but you can also find all the excellent content that has made its way into the franchise over the past several releases. You can, of course, enjoy a traditional career mode, where you pick a starting character and team, drive qualifying laps, and then compete in full races over the entire season, with your winnings allowing you to customize and upgrade your car in dozens of critical areas, from the drivetrain to the tires and everything in between. New this time around is the ability to play cooperatively and competitively against other human players as part of the career mode. Factor in the popular and returning My Team mode and there is really an immense amount of solo, competitive multiplayer, and story-focused content. Returning too is Real Season Start, which allows players to mirror the real-life F1 season as it evolves and most of its popular drivers and teams.
F1 cars are rigid in their specifications and driving them well requires a solid grasp of the physical forces at play and the sometimes subtle effects on performance caused by weather, weight, temperature, time of day, and of course the small but important modifications made to the cars themselves. It’s all there if you want it and players can dial in settings ranging from the casual to the hardest of hardcore, with a huge variety of assists and tolerances to help shape your fun and reflect your growing mastery of the game. At the casual levels even a high-speed embrace of a wall won’t slow you down too much, where at the most realistic, your $17 million car will be toast after the most minor of lapses of attention.
Something for Everyone
Even on casual settings, with an easy to follow racing line and tons of assists, F1 2021 demands patience and attention to detail and a bit of mental stamina as the races feel long and demanding. No matter how you drive you will be impressed by F1 2021’s attention to visual detail and outstanding car handling, either with a controller or a driving wheel. I tried both, and found them equally responsive, though over long races the thumbs do get a bit fatigued with the gamepad, and nothing quite beats both the immersion and competitive edge of a well set-up driving wheel and pedals. On the Xbox Series X, F1 2021 looks like a real next-gen upgrade from the previous version, either in performance mode (1080p and 120 fps) or graphics mode (4K at 60 fps). The 21 real-world F1 tracks have been meticulously recreated and true to Codemaster’s long-running fetish with accurate audio design, the cars sound fantastic, powerful and so realistic you just about pass out from the fumes. Load times are virtually non-existent.
It’s hard to find any significant downside to anything about F1 2021, although some gamers might shy away on principle from the prospect of Codemaster’s baby being adopted by corporate behemoth EA Sports. Not to worry, it seems to have had no real effect, and certainly no negative impact. I suppose there are some racing fans who prefer the vehicular variety of driving games in the Forza franchise over the seemingly narrow scope of F1, or might feel that the F1 experience itself is more surgically precise than viscerally exciting. And Braking Point, for all its cinematic storytelling, is not exactly A Star is Born with cars, but a very well-produced gateway drug for would-be F1 initiates.
For anyone who has even the slightest interest in Formula 1 racing – and thanks to the Netflix documentary series Drive to Survive there may be many with their curiosity piqued – F1 2021 will become their new sports gaming pastime. Catering to both casual newcomers and the most exacting simulation-seekers, F1 2021 offers a mind-blowing amount of polished and entertaining content, whether your preference is to race alone or with others. With the new Braking Point single-player story and improvements and expansions to just about everything else, F1 2021 is that rare instance of an annual sports game that has managed to continue to get better with every release.
***Xbox Series X code provided by the publisher for review***
- Excellent new narrative content
- Outstanding visuals and performance
- Something for everyone, casual to hardcore
- Brilliant sound design
- Even easy settings can be challenging
- Requires patience and practice
- Casual fans might bounce off its narrow focus