E… A… Sports. It’s in the game. This familiar slogan is the first thing you’ll hear when you launch F1 2021, as Electronic Arts acquired Codemasters in December 2020. With new features including the Braking Point story, Two-player Career mode, and Real-Season Start, F1 2021 comes with everything you’d expect at launch – and more. Read on to learn just how much EA has influenced the changes in F1 2021 and whether you’ll have to pay $5.99 to unlock Valtteri Bottas for Mercedes in 2022.
A new menu layout in F1 2021 puts every game mode you want in an easy to find location. The Home screen has your current game mode along with F1 news, the official 2021 Formula 1 season calendar, theatre mode, the item shop, and your options and settings including setting up Splitscreen for multiplayer. Moving across the menu screen, F1 2021 has the two Career modes that we’ll get into shortly, solo modes including Braking Point, Grand Prix and Time Trials, an extensive multiplayer menu featuring weekly events that let you compete against the world in the real-world Formula 1 events, as well as leagues, social and ranked races.
The final parts of the main menu are for entertainment and customisation. The F1 Esports menu is where you’ll be able to watch and have the chance to participate in some of the most hardcore racing there is in the world of gaming, while the Customisation menu allows you to change everything from your liveries, clothing and emotes to your driver profile and badges. Finally, the Showroom is where you can get up close and personal with the Formula 1 2021, Formula 2 2020 and player-created cars. We expect to see the newly revealed 2022 Formula 1 car added at a later date as well.
The Braking Point story mode adds a new element to the franchise. In it, players pick a team and then take it from the back of the pack to a midfielder to a real challenger by the end of the Formula 1 2021 season. Circling around three fictional characters of old-timer Casper Akkerman, up-and-comer Aiden Jackson and Devon Butler from the earlier F1 games, Braking Point tells an all-to-familiar story of young and old, putting you in the middle of all of the emotions.
While Braking Point doesn’t offer a strict career structure (there aren’t even any free practices or qualifying events), it will engross you in its story until the end, which takes about 10 hours to play through. It’s a fantastic gameplay mode for newcomers, especially fans of the Formula 1, as it takes you through different scenarios including pit stops, rain, and collisions. The player hub is well laid out, allowing you to answer phone calls while checking social media and emails, but it would be nice to see this part of the off-road story expanded. We did notice some teething issues in Braking Point, for example in one particular race we were standing in the centre of the podium while the commentary team was saying we got the fastest lap but didn’t earn any championship points (read: finished below 10th). The scripted commentary often didn’t reflect the race results which is something Codemasters can work on if they continue with this story in future iterations.
The Career Mode is arguably where the bulk of the content is in F1 2021, and now with Splitscreen two-player, it’s just become twice as amazing. Career Mode allows you to play as a driver, or as the owner of your very own team (and also a driver of it). You can start in last year’s F2 or skip ahead to this year’s F1 and even choose to start from a specific weekend from the real Formula 1 2021 season, meaning you can jump ahead to this weekend’s Silverstone if you want. This gives a great amount of customisation to relive and reinvent historic moments in recent times.
There are ten seasons to race through in Career Mode, all of which can be simulated if you choose. You may think that in two-player mode you’ll be stuck in the same team together, but you can actually sign contracts for different teams, become rivals, and even sabotage the other player’s career. We did notice that there were some weird driver moves as early as halfway through the 2021 season though, such as Bottas replacing Leclerc at Ferrari and Verstappen moving to Maclaren to replace Ricciardo with Vettel taking Max’s spot! This will make for some strange teams moving forward throughout the career, and hopefully Codemasters will implement a way to keep it in-line with the real-world drivers at a later date.
Where F1 2021 (and the previous few F1 games) really excels is in its handling and physics engines. F1 2021 takes the fine tuning up a notch, allowing you to create your ideal racing experience. If you’re new to racing games, you can chuck the casual settings on and basically just steer your way through each lap, but for those more familiar with racing games you’ll want to switch off most if not all of the assists and really get a feel for the 2021 Formula 1 car. With physics that can be scaled all the way up to simulation, only the best drivers will be able to speed their way through circuits like Monaco and Azerbaijan with the excitement of terminal damage around every corner.
We certainly don’t recommend playing F1 2021 with a keyboard and mouse, so fortunately there are plenty of other ways to race these days. For this review we rotated between an Xbox One controller and a Thrustmaster TX Ferrari 458 Italia wheel. While the controller allowed faster scrolling through the menus and more casual-friendly racing, nothing compares to the accuracy of a properly set up wheel and pedals. It does take some fiddling to get your specific wheel to handle as you’d like however, and we also found we had to restart the game entirely when adjusting the force feedback. Disappointingly, the buttons on our Thrustmaster didn’t come up in the game automatically, so figuring out what each button did ended up being a game of trial, error, and memory.
In typical Codemasters fashion, F1 2021 has launched with some of the planned content yet to be released such as the safety car, and also the game will not be able to mirror the F1 2021 season as it won’t include the new sprint format, and some of the changes that have been forced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While they have confirmed that the Portimau (Portugal), Jeddah Street Circuit (KSA) and Imola (Italy) tracks will be added as a free post-launch update, the Istanbul Park circuit didn’t make the cut, and nor will any future changes throughout the remainder of the season. In fact, we were a bit thrown off by the fact that the pandemic played no role in the Braking Point story whatsoever.
F1 2021 is still using Codemasters’ in-house Ego engine which has been in every F1 game since F1 2014, and though it looks a little better than last year’s version, unfortunately we didn’t get to see how it runs on the next-generation Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 consoles. This meant that although we had all settings running at maximum with 144 frames per second in 1440p, that other than the stunning CG cutscenes in Braking Point, the game did not look its best and perhaps won’t be the best-looking racing game that we play in 2021. The tracks are all still as realistic as ever, and the F1 cars look stunning, but often we found that F1 2021 on Windows PC looked more like a last-gen game.
In summary, although F1 2021 is the best-looking game in the series to date, the next-gen console versions are the superior versions and should be sought after for the ultimate F1 racing experience. The new Braking Point story mode adds about ten hours of content and reminded us a lot of the FIFA story modes that EA has been featuring in those games for the past few years. Career mode is still as great as ever, and with online lobbies and esports available for the more hardcore racing fans, there’s something for everyone in F1 2021.
Rocket Chainsaw reviewed F1 2021 on Windows PC via Steam with code supplied by the publisher. The same version game is also available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, while the superior version of the game is available on Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5. We should also note that buying the last-gen console version gives you a free upgrade to the superior version too. For more information on F1 2021, head to the official website.
- Plenty of gameplay modes - Braking Point story is great for newcomers - Physics engine faultless as always.
- PC version is last-gen console version - VIP paywall has lots of cosmetics behind it this year - Braking Point has some teething issues.