F1 2021 offers an improved experience with the first release since Electronic Arts acquired Codemasters keeping the series on an upwards trajectory.
GPFans Global was granted early access to the latest F1 console release and I am happy to report the news is largely positive with the only gripes nit-picky and relatively small.
The major new addition to the release was the 'Braking Point' story mode and there is no better place to start our comprehensive review.
Braking Point follows the story of rookie driver Aiden Jackson and seasoned veteran Casper ‘Cas’ Akkerman. Devon Butler returns as the villain of the piece and, whilst I shall refrain from sharing too many spoilers, the fictional driver is every bit as unpleasant as in his previous appearance in the 2019 release.
Story modes in sports games often feel contrived and more of a bonus feature than a main draw and although there is an element of this, the mode is engaging and shows the human aspect of competing in the sport.
Yes, the story follows a script so targets must be hit to progress, but the story is involved enough to make you want to hit these targets. Like a good book, the mode was difficult to put down once it had been started.
Even if you usually avoid story modes, this should be the exception to the rule.
This is what you want to know. How do the cars look and feel? Well, I am pleased to report the feel is a vast improvement with the rear of the cars, as is the case in the real world, far less stable than in 2020.
If you are a serious gamer, set up work is crucial to unlocking lap time in a way never seen before. I was able to register competitive times at most tracks but even small tweaks had a considerable effect on my pace, a factor that only encouraged further play.
When racing, dirty air is a far greater consideration than ever before. Judging the correct distance to gain a tow rather than being in dirty air is a welcome challenge meaning the feeling of pride at getting this correct is greater than ever.
The new damage model is also challenging with almost the entire car able to cause a problem. Bargeboards, the floor and sidepods ar the highlights with the front wing a constant problem too.
Whereas before, small amounts of damage were manageable with minimal effort, a tiny hit on the front wing will leave you with massive understeer and the effect of tyre wear is substantial. I was playing with simulation damage, the highest setting, so if you are prone to a hit or two, maybe turn that setting down a bit.
Of course, whilst I have so far listed numerous positive aspects of the game, there are a number of drawbacks although, as said at the start, these are mostly small details.
We do, however, start with the big one - the tracks.
The game will eventually feature the full, originally planned calendar for the year meaning Portimao, Imola and Saudi Arabia will all be added, but upon release, none are currently featured.
The changes to layouts in Spain, Abu Dhabi and Australia have not been made either. Whilst this can be forgiven with regard to Abu Dhabi as the changes were only recently announced, the other examples have been known for quite some time so the failure to reflect this is somewhat disappointing. At this point, it is unclear if the updated layouts will be added as free additional content at a later date.
In the nit-picking category, however, the AI can be somewhat dimwitted in its defensive driving with backmarkers determined to retain position even when you trail them only due to having recently stopped.
In the real world, this would not happen and it does feel the defensive nature of the AI is either turned fully on or off. There is very little, if any, in between.
Although I am a fan of the new damage model, currently, the graphics do not reflect the damage. Hopefully, this will be altered with patches and updates in the future, but for now, this remains a criticism.
Play your own way
There can be no escaping the fact that F1 2021 has been designed more for the simulator audience than for fans of the old arcade-style games EA Sports was previously famed for.
In its difficulty settings, however, the game can go from totally inaccessible to one of the most user-friendly offerings on the market.
A sliding scale of difficulty is the first and easiest way to find a comfort zone with damage ranging from none to simulation, the same for tyre wear and fuel usage, genuinely allowing a player to design an experience around themself.
The handling of the car will still take some getting used to, but that is nothing a few laps on time trial won't sort out.
This is the best F1 game to have been released so far. There is no question about that. The graphics are stunning, the feel is challenging and rewarding in equal measure and it does not feel too much like a copy and paste of the last game.
Yes, career mode, 'My Team', is a slog and not much has changed there since last year, but that mode was solid enough last year so few changes were needed.
I would have liked to see the classic cars return again and, although classic drivers are available in 'My Team' they don't offer much other than simply being there.
A solid game, an improvement on before and I am now extremely excited to see what the future has in store for the franchise.
GPFans is a multi-platform, multi-language brand dedicated to Formula One coverage. We bring you all the ins and outs of the sport, 24/7, everything from up-to-the-minute news and features to the latest viral stories and clips.
We believe that a new generation of exciting, outspoken drivers will make F1 more popular than ever before, and we want to give our users access to as much of their heroes as possible, on and off the track. From Lewis Hamilton to Max Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo to Sebastian Vettel, we provide in-depth analysis of every every Grand Prix in the season, from Australia to Abu Dhabi.
With Formula One under the new ownership of Liberty Media, how the sport is being covered is evolving, and GPFans will look to be at the heart of this progression into new media, as one of the fastest-growing sites covering the king of motorsports.