F1 2021 Review

July 17, 2021
Also on: PC, PS5
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At the start of Joss Stone’s 2007 album Introducing Joss Stone, nineties football hardman Vinnie Jones orates a monologue about change. In it he states that although the players change, the song — or in this case the game — remains the same. It describes the sport of Formula 1 pretty well but so too does it describe the Formula 1 series of games from Codemasters. Building on the successes of each previous installment, whilst features have come and gone, the core of the game has remained relatively unchanged. It’s this strong core of a faithful recreation of the sport paired with an engaging handling model on both wheel and pad that has helped rejuvenate the franchise to what it is now.

Last year’s outing brought the excellent team mode into the franchise whilst doing away with the Drive to Survive style single-player campaign. It was no bad thing as it was half-baked and was only relevant for your character’s first season in Formula 1. This time around F1 2021 has decided to go back to Devon Butler but as an entirely separate mode rather than wedged at the front of a solo career. This allows F1 2021 to fit in very nicely with its EA Sports stablemates where single-player story modes have become commonplace. If you missed the memo about EA buying Codemasters, it was announced last December and completed in February of this year and whilst we’re not too sure how that will affect future titles, F1 2021 was well into development before any of this took place.

Under the lights

The cars look even prettier with all the rays

Despite that, though, many may see F1 2021’s podium pass and the ability to buy in-game currency for real-world money as “typical” EA shenanigans. However, the pit pass existed in F1 2020 and could be ignored without detriment to your game and the same still holds true. It merely acts as a conduit to reward you with cosmetics such as racing suits, driver poses and car liveries. Beyond that it does nothing to affect you or your created team’s performance on track. Even the VIP pit pass only serves to give your more exclusive items at each level so why you would want to spend money on it we don’t really know. It’ll be interesting to see, though, whether the contents of the VIP podium pass will change to reflect the lack of classic cars.

With the constraints that the current world climate placed on development, Codemasters stated that F1 2021 would not have any classic cars to race. Instead, they wanted to focus on making the game the best it could be, especially as, like many of this year's games, it would be a cross-generation title. Their omission is keenly felt, especially in the single-player modes. They provided a much needed alternative to the grippy yet boring sounding cars of the current F1 paddock. Being able to light up a V10 Ferrari of yesteryear to scream up Spa’s complex of Eau Rouge and Raidillon was glorious. Hopefully they will make a triumphant return in the future but until then we have something else in their stead. This year, you can hire one of seven, carefully chosen drivers of the past, in the My Team game mode. 

It's a good job he has the right type of tyres on, eh?

Eau Rouge, in the wet.. wish me luck!

This Icons Pack is included as part of the deluxe edition of F1 2021 and features Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg, David Coulthard and Felipe Massa. Now, whether or not you consider some of these drivers icons of Formula 1 is most definitely up for debate, but that’s by-the-by. In any event they are available for you to hire as your teammate should you so wish however we’d probably find it more interesting if we could team Ayrton back up with Alain and see whether they could both make it out of turn one at Suzuka this time around. These icons have very high stats to reflect their iconic status and thankfully you need to increase your team’s stature before you can hire any of them. In the context of the podium pass, if classic cars don’t return for a while, it will be interesting to see if new icons are released in future Podium Pass seasons and whether or not those icons will be rewarded as part of the VIP version.

This is pure speculation but the fact that the podium pass has returned shows that Codemasters was keen on monetising its Formula 1 games long before EA took them over. Now that they have, could we start to see an Ultimate Team style game mode leveraging the excellent My Team mode but with booster packs and so forth? We shudder at the thought. As it is now, these iconic drivers don’t provide any instant benefit and merely provide additional choices for when your team has become successful enough to lure the top drivers. For some, being able to pair themselves with drivers such as Prost, Senna or Schumacher will be quite the lure towards purchasing the deluxe edition but they provide little beyond being big name teammates to your fictional F1 superstar.

Why isn't there a VR mode?

I don’t mind the halo, after a while you don’t really notice it

Of the two main additions to F1 2021, Breaking Point is probably the mode most will take to first. In it, you start out as newly promoted rookie Aiden Jackson. Paired with the seasoned Casper Akkerman, Jackson is out to prove to not only the rest of the grid but himself that he belongs there. Along the way you’ll bump into pot-stirrer extraordinaire Devon Butler and a few other familiar faces from the F1 grid. If you’re a long time F1 fan, you’ll no doubt spot some nods to previous teammate rivalries from the famous “Fernando is faster than you” moment to Nico and Lewis battling it out for position and it all ending in tears. Breaking Point seeks to draw upon the vast history of F1 and combine some of these moments into a cohesive story and for the most part it works really well.

Its best decision was the one to make it a completely separate mode away from the single-player career. As such you can avoid Devon Butler altogether or dip in and out of the story whilst you play as your virtual driver in your single-player career. It’s an obvious choice but it allows for a greater expansion on the experiment of F1 2019’s story mode. With a clearly defined start and end point to its story, it no longer fizzles out after your introductory season to F1. There’s a wider range of characters and cutscenes to help the drama unfold and a finale which no doubt sets up a sequel in next year’s entry into the series. Narratively it works and whilst the story isn’t a strong one it’s believable in the context of Formula 1 and anyone who’s been hooked by Netflix’s Drive to Survive will no doubt be keen to experience their own version.

The guy does not look happy

Say hello to Aiden Jackson, star of Breaking Point

If you’re more keen on trying to take Lewis Hamilton’s seat and driving him on to success this season you could also take advantage of the real-season start option in the single-player career mode. Here you can choose to start your F1 season at any point and have the game reflect the current season’s standings. So, should you start at this weekend’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone, you’ll have Max Verstappen on top with Lewis thirty-two points behind. Unfortunately you can’t be Lewis Hamilton. Instead, you would take his seat and race on as you in his stead, a missed opportunity of a game mode perhaps, but still no less fun. It also adds longevity as you can create any multitude of scenarios and challenges for you to undertake depending on where and who you take over.

Like any driver, the most important tool in your arsenal is the point by which you are connected to the car: the steering wheel. In a gaming context that will likely be either a gamepad or a wheel peripheral. The latter is still the recommended way of interaction as the rather wonderful force feedback model will relay back, sometimes subtly, just what your car and its four tyres are up to. It’s also easier to open the radius of your steering with more control allowing you to get power down earlier than if you were on a pad. This will, in general, lead to quicker and cleaner lap times. That isn’t to say F1 2021 isn’t playable on a pad, because it is, but even the smoothest of steerers will find some tracks and corners tricker than they would if they were using a wheel. It’s still a shame, though, that the Xbox continues to lack support for more than a few buttons. With wheels such as Thrustmaster’s SF1000 sporting Xbox support, it’s about time Xbox pulled their finger out and allowed a greater amount of inputs from peripherals.

No, I don't know why I took THIS photo

Okay, photo mode is quite addictive

Much like last year’s track listings, F1 2021 has some that we won’t be racing at this year, namely the Canadian, Australian, and Chinese Grands Prix and we will get Imola, Portimao, and Jeddah available as DLC in the near future. This means at launch there are twenty-one tracks to choose from and, post-DLC launch, there will be an amazing twenty-four tracks overall. This will no doubt provide many countless hours spent perfecting setups for leaderboard attempts and online players with an ability to make up some really interesting season calendars. For the fan, though, it allows a greater than usual track roster list to allow you to go out and enjoy the scenery by way of the excellent photo mode which, on the Series X looks stunning with all the ray-tracing you can handle.

Going back to Vinnie Jones and Joss Stone, the same intro ends that the truth is that you’ve gotta have the balls to change. Both in real life and virtually, the 2021 F1 season will mark an end. The end of the current regulations and beginnings of a new, ground-effect future as well as the last game built just as Codemasters and the beginning of an F1 game developed fully under EA’s watchful eye. Both have had the balls to change but it will be interesting to see if either strategy will pay off. Whatever happens going forward F1 2021 marks a fitting end to Codemasters solo ownership of the franchise. The omission of classic cars aside, they’ve yet again managed to iterate and improve on last year’s title enough to make F1 2021 a worthy upgrade over its predecessors.

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F1 2021 yet again improves over its predecessors in enough ways to make it the version to be on and to upgrade to. Whether or not this trend will continue under EA’s stewardship remains to be seen. The story mode isn’t perfect and the omission of classic cars is a huge shame, F1 2021 is still a fantastic game through which you can live out your childhood motorsport dreams.
Pete Taylor

A long time gamer since the days of the mighty ZX Spectrum +2. The bug really bit when I got a Sega Mega Drive 2 and it hasn’t let up since. Huge racing fan but I also enjoy losing myself in a well-told RPG and management sims. It doesn’t have to be good-looking to win my heart, it’s what’s deep down inside that matters.