You know, I’m not sure how long it’ll take me to get used to seeing EA’s logo on an F1 game. This is Codemasters’ first title since the acquisition and I think more than a few people wondered what influence, if any, the new bosses would have. As it turns out, F1 2021 feels very familiar, albeit with a couple of new tricks on show.
Braking Point is F1 2021‘s new story mode. Taking place of over three abridged seasons, it presents a slice of the sport’s ascent from Formula 2 to the big leagues. Rather than racing whole races, you’re tackling shorter scenarios in each chapter. As a result, the pace of the story is pretty breakneck. There’s no slow burn to this as our cast all bang heads. You being as Aiden Jackson, a young prospect who quickly finds himself an F1 drive. Big things are expected of him, at the expense of his older teammate. Casper Akkerman is at the other end of his career. Aiden idolises him but the inevitable preferential treatment rubs him up the wrong way.
It’s a fairly easy way to force drama and you can make some real-world parallels with our two main players. Jackson might as well be George Russell in his driven quest to find a stronger seat further up the grid. Taking the antagonist role is returning irritant, Devon Butler. Whilst I don’t chime with the other two’s acting, Devon remains an unrepentant, smug villain. He fits the role well and he presents a driver who you want to take down.
If you take your Formula 1 seriously, Braking Point might be too harsh in the other direction. Devon has arrogance and Akkerman has all the doubts that come with age. They have character and motivations that Jackson doesn’t really match. He’s just very boring and wet. In reality, young drivers are exciting to watch and come with an aggression an exuberance that’s refreshing. Jackson might pull some moves in the cutscenes but, off track, he just sounds weak.
There are some cheesy moments and I find Brian, the team principal to be kind of useless. Nobody should say “Let’s push for fourth!” in anger. Part of that comes from the game trying to tell a midfield story but at least Devon’s an ever-present to chase down. Not that doing so is especially difficult. I played it on normal and found the challenges to be fairly trivial. AI’s very accommodating and it feels like a mode designed to make you succeed. In my two seasons with Williams, I came away with six wins with some of them feeling rather comfortable. It’s worth noting you’re not really holding the pack off in these events. You’re nearly always chasing the pack down and they come towards you rather quickly.
As a new mode, it’s decent. It’s very self-contained and has a tone set apart from the rest of the product. Anyone looking for a challenge might have to really crank the difficulty up but it does at least showcase where the EA influence probably lies. The tweaks to presentation also show up in career mode, although that’s a framework that is largely unchanged from the previous outing. What is new is the ability to play career mode with a friend. Operating as teammates can provide some strategy that a solitary player would lack. You could re-enact Crashgate and get away with it, probably.
Handling also feels familiar. I remember last season’s effort being the first time I could confidently drive without traction control and anti-lock brakes. It’s the same here but the DualSense throws in some sensory differences that can take a little time to adjust to. Most notably, the triggers adapt depending on how much force is being enacted on the car. Sometimes the triggers deliver resistance under braking and acceleration. It did initially throw me off my stride but it’s consistent enough to get a handle on. The haptic feedback offers more fidelity in terms of the road surface. It’s a nice use of the new tech, although you might want to find a way to silence the team radio. It’s exceptionally loud by default.
There are still things about the driving experience I dislike. Track limits are always going to be a bugbear but F1 2021 takes a rather strict approach. I expect it during time trials but there’s some anomalies present on a couple of tracks. Montreal has a rather curious line which allows you to miss one of the chicanes but god help if you so put a tyre off track at the wall of champions.
It can lead to a harsh penalty system. Online I’ve ran foul of track limits and been handed an immediate 3 second penalty. In single player, you get a warning but don’t appear to get this courtesy in multiplayer. Admittedly, playing shorter races might have something to do with that.
Technically, the game’s presentation is well done, if not especially advanced from last year’s model. It looks good with the tracks and vehicles lovingly rendered. It’s missing accurate calendars at launch but they are forthcoming in a patch. Given how changeable the schedule has already been, we can forgive them for that. Weather effects remain immersive and variable. On base settings, you’d be hard pressed to tell this apart from the PS4 version but there are some tweaks you can make to push for higher framerate and resolution.
Sound suffers from the usual problems. The engines sound authentic and hearing traffic behind you is always welcome. Unfortunately, Anth and Crofty’s commentary remains as unnatural as ever. The post-race presentation retains the usual celebrations and I’m finding it a little stale. I’ve also found some technical bother in my time playing. During press conferences, Akkerman’s responses would remain unvoiced whilst the interview would continue at the required pace. Odd, given that Jackson’s lines were fully voiced. Speaking of those interactions with the press, they remain mechanical and pitched towards your R&D team instead of being something more dynamic.
What we do have in F1 2021 is a product that still manages to build on the foundation of what came before it. With Braking Point, it’s a fun if short and cheesy effort at an F1 narrative. The real meat and potatoes remain in the game’s career mode which feels a lot more familiar. The AI remains aggressive and racey although their default pace seems too slow for my liking. There’s still problems with track limits and some technical bother but it’s a decent start on the new hardware.
+ Handles well with the DualSense used expertly to give the player more feedback.
+ Plenty of content to enjoy outside the showcase story mode.
+ Two-player career mode is a great addition.
- Commentary remains fairly unnatural.
- Some technical problems although patches seem to have rectified the more fatal problems.
- Track limits feel inconsistent and punishing at some tracks