F1 2021 Review
F1 2021 is this year’s entry to the Formula Racing franchise from racing experts Codemasters, now under Electronic Arts. Hearing the iconic tagline “EA Sports, it’s in the game” play when you boot up was a reminder of the good old days of fun and quality titles, and I expected as much for F1 2021, which is the premiere F1 gaming experience for fans of the sport.
Racing games, unless you’re really into the genre, are quite the tough sell. Casual, arcade-type racers open themselves up to a broader audience over sim-based racers, due in large part to the minimal investment needed to appreciate and enjoy the game.
F1 2021 aims to appeal to both, delivering a realistic racing experience for enthusiasts, all while easing in newbies who have taken a sudden interest in the sport thanks to recent Netflix documentary Drive to Survive.
This is a story of a boy…
F1 2021’s standout feature, called Braking Point, is an all new story experience in the same line as how other sports games like NBA 2K21 have done so.
Braking Point tells the story of an up-and-coming F1 driver who just made their way from a successful F2 stint, Aiden Jackson. This talented and bright-eyed lad will meet his heroes, face fierce rivals, and make their way up to the podium to make a name for himself.
At the start, you’ll get to choose which team to race for – Alpha Tauri (my choice), Haas, Alfa Romeo, Williams, and Racing Point (Aston Martin). You’ll also get a teammate in race veteran Casper Akkerman, who serves as a source of conflict early on, and compete against a rival in returning antagonist Devon Butler.
There’s a lot of drama involved, and the reason why I bring up the documentary series from Netflix is because of the fact that the storytelling feels familiar, in all the good ways.
Braking Point depicts a lot of what’s happening behind the scenes, things we don’t normally see as spectators, and it does it well. Superb performances from the voice cast paired with detailed character models really sell the mode in convincing fashion, despite the so-so plot.
Even though there are recycled animations during scenes, seeing fairly accurate models for the likes of Hamilton, Verstappen, and other drivers only serve to elevate immersion. The only thing not believable here was how Haas has become my midfield constructor rival instead of a Renault or Aston Martin.
F1, as a sport, requires absolute precision. When results come down to tenths of a second, the game will exact a toll on casual fans. Thankfully, Braking Point proves to be the perfect entry point for first timers, serving as an extended and effective (albeit glorified) tutorial session.
Divided into chapters, each part of the story mode will take you through the different situations of an F1 race as challenges to overcome – finish in the top 5, catch up to the grid from a pit stop, and score a podium finish among others. The set of conditions are pretty varied, and will fully run you through the paces of a race weekend minus the qualifying and practice rounds.
The twists and turns of the story campaign may be predictable, and the stakes aren’t quite as high because you don’t actually have a character that transfers to other modes like NBA 2K21, but Braking Point offers players an easy to pick up and play mode that eases newcomers into the workings of Formula 1.
On the flipside, the meat of F1 2021 revolves around its other modes, where drama takes a backseat in favor of a more realistic racing experience. While there is a casual option here to keep the training wheels on, full appreciation of the game comes in its precision gameplay, and F1 2021 has that in spades.
This is the point where the newcomers might be forced to look away, since everything else outside of the actual racing will surely overwhelm. I’m talking about practice sessions, qualifying rounds, race strategies, racing lines, and everything in between.
Thankfully, there are systems and sliders that can be changed to either Casual, Standard, or Expert, giving players the option to tone down the experience if the real deal is too stressful to play through. In fact, this is the most customizable the game has been.
As someone who follows F1 casually, some parts of F1 2021 may still feel overly complicated. You’ll hear DRS often, or the team radio asking you to check some three-letter acronym that even I’ve already forgotten. I can only imagine how newcomers would feel once the eventual barrage of F1 jargon starts hitting them.
My Team is back, and is one of the modes that will keep players plugged into the game because of its superb implementation. You’ll get a first hand up close experience of what it’s like to be behind the paddock, making the calls on strategy and R&D, and take to the track to see it all unfold.
On top of that, a new addition to F1 2021 is a two-player career mode, which is exactly as it sounds like, and will allow you to bring a buddy along for a crack at the constructor’s championship. There’s even a “Real Season Start” option to jump into the game based on the real life progress of the season, which is a nice touch especially for fans.
Adding to the realism are the fantastic looking visuals, especially on the current-gen systems. Every track looks almost picture perfect, and the cars are no slouch either. The least visually appealing part of the game are the character models, but for a racing game that travels at 200mph, this becomes the least of your concerns.
Playing F1 2021 on a PlayStation 5 offered almost no loading times, and the implementation of haptics and adaptive triggers are quite decent for a third-party title. In particular, hearing team radio through the DualSense controller was a great touch that I fully appreciated.
F1 2021 offers both a Quality (Target 4K 60fps) and Performance Mode (1440p 120fps), and while we didn’t get to test out the performance mode, rest assured that the game sticks to 60fps for the most part without any noticeable slowdowns that will hinder gameplay.
What we liked:
- Racing realism is on point.
- Braking Point provides an emotional core that a wide audience can relate with.
- Casual settings makes the challenges doable as you learn the basics.
- Lots of modes for both offline and online play.
What we didn’t like:
- As of writing, there are still some missing tracks in Imola, Portimao, and Jeddah.
- Casual players can easily get overwhelmed with the amount of things to do.
- Braking Point is a fully separate campaign from Career / My Team, which make performing well in the story sequences useless.
Verdict: Buy It
F1 2021 is by far the best Formula 1 racing game out there, bar none. There’s not much to nitpick apart from the usual “it’s an annual release”, but this installment surely stands tall due to the addition of Braking Point and current-gen features, particularly for the DualSense.
Enthusiasts will find much to love in F1 2021, due to its best in class gameplay and attention to detail, but the game is much more welcoming to newcomers this time around. Casuals or arcade racing fans may find the price tag a bit steep, especially for something that is so technically demanding, but it only serves as a testament to the work done by Codemasters.
The game is certainly not for everyone, and players who aren’t remotely interested in the sport may easily overlook the title, but this installment has its eyes on a podium finish, and it does exactly that.
*F1 2021 was reviewed on a PlayStation 5 via a review code provided by the publishers.