They may have struggled to deliver the goods back in the early 2010s, but in recent times the Codemasters team have kicked on to produce some of the finest racing experiences available on console, with F1 2020 being the pinnacle of them all. Now though there’s more pressure than ever on the racing kings, as they not only have to appease the fans, but need to answer to their new paymasters of EA. It’s a bit of luck then that F1 2021 manages to provide all the glitz and glamour that the F1 community demands.
F1 2021 is the first F1 title to make the most of the power of the next-gen consoles, but whether you are playing on the most powerful consoles to ever be created, or those which are slowly coming to the end of their lifespan, you’ll be sorted with this Formula One experience.
It’s probably best to detail the variety of game modes present first, before eventually getting to how things play out. And Codies have ensured that there is enough here to cover what any F1 fan could really want… and then some.
In terms of what the solo racer is after, F1 2021 is able to provide numerous options. There are the standard Time Trial modes that will have you pitting your skills against the clock, and a Grand Prix section lets you set things up how you see fit, enabling the creation of a full race weekend of events before taking to the track. There’s also the 10-year Career mode which will see you proving yourself as being amongst the finest racers in the world, either left to concentrate on just the driving – in the Driver Mode – or as team owner and driver in the My Team option. It’s the latter which is super deep in terms of immersion as you are left to not just create your team, employ second drivers, hunt down sponsors, allocate time and resources to a variety of different departments, and ensure you are balancing the cash books in the process, but also to deliver what is required on the track too.
With reworked angles from games of the past, and a UI and menu system that is relatively easy to get to grips with once you’ve spent a few moments understanding just how deep things can get, the career is an utter highlight of F1 2021 and will be the go-to solution for those looking to spend long-term time with this racer. There are easily hours upon hours of gameplay found in here alone.
There’s also a full two-player career mode available too, with you and a friend able to either play out things individually on the same grid, competing for the very best race seats, or joining forces in the cooperative mode and attempting to finish a season with your team taking home a straight 1-2, reveling in all the glory that comes from that.
And then there’s Braking Point – a collection of different scenarios which are all brought together via an intertwining story, introducing players to Aiden Jackson, Casper Akkerman and the villain of the piece, Devon Butler. It’s these three who are the stars of what Braking Point is able to offer up, yet there are some decent cameo roles from others too.
It covers the course of a couple of seasons of racing as players are placed into specific racing situations and tasked with saving the day. This may mean that as Jackson you are left to prove yourself as a star of the future, or thrown behind the wheel of Cas’ car as he looks to cement his place – and his reputation – on the grid, with each driver having to weigh up the pros and cons of their decisions both on, and off, the track. The problem comes in the form of Butler, an antagonist who just loves to stir things up. Whether you pay any attention to him or not may will decide the placement of seats in the team.
For the most part the race scenarios which play out are fairly swift affairs and as Codemasters have picked just a few races from a couple of seasons as focal points, the whole narrative of Braking Point is over after just a few hours – and that’s a shame. What is there is brilliantly done and some of the off-track action and cutscenes are hugely immersive; up there with the finest storytelling moments you will find in any racing title. But ultimately it’s a bit too short and there’s really very little reason to ever play through it again. That said, it certainly leaves Codemasters the chance to build on Braking Point ideas in future iterations of this official racer.
Whilst there is plenty to enjoy off the track in F1 2021, and the options available to players this year really do tick pretty much every box, F1 2021 is a racing game at heart, and it’s the racing action which needs to be the main talking point. Honestly, there’s very little to fault here.
Drivers, teams and tracks are all officially licensed across F1 and F2, and whilst some real-world stars will need to drop out of the action as narratives and player actions dictate, if you’re looking to join your real-world heroes, this is the game which allows it.
Once you get behind the wheel, Codemasters excel, always able to prove themselves as the kings of the racing video game. Nothing is different this time around. That’s because visually F1 2021 is an utter stunner, more than capable of detailing everything that makes the F1 scene sparkle. Cars look brilliant, tracks are hugely detailed and on-board systems like ERS and DRS are actionable at the touch of a button. It’s also easy to keep in touch with any team engineer, as they happily provide info on how any race is unfolding, when pitstops should occur, how your tyres are handling and the like.
The racing itself is hugely immersive too, particularly if you utilise one of the on-board camera angles, and switch off – or on – the car assists as you wish. Anyone familiar with real-world F1 racing will be at home here, nailing apexes, hammering down straights, switching up brake bias and downforce levels, and ultimately becoming the F1 star they have always wanted to be. Car handling is superb: you’ll feel the camber and roll of circuits and begin to understand where, when and at what level tyre grip will start to give up. It’s even more hectic with variable weather types; understanding when to push, and when to hold, is key to success. With an AI level that can be as fast and aggressive as you wish, and race weekends that play out to your own preference either in terms of time or difficulty, and once more Codies have absolutely nailed the driving and racing experience with F1 2021.
It sounds great too. The TV broadcast settings and real-world commentary teams come to the fore with the dulcet tones of David Croft, Ant Davidson, Davide Valsecchi and Alex Jaques setting the scenes, with F1 and Drive to Survive’s Will Buxton playing a key role in aiding the immersion. The cars sound superb too. Engines scream, tyres squeal, engineers are clear and precise in your ear (although admittedly are occasionally a bit slow to react to what is happening on the track) and even the post-race interviews are decent enough to take in – although strangely the character models used here and in the pits could well still be enhanced. In fact, even though Codemasters have been honing their F1 experiences across the last few years, the visuals, the audio and the power of the race craft pushes the line higher than ever before.
In terms of how F1 2021 covers the multiplayer bases and there’s pretty much everything you would expect. Splitscreen options are there for local players looking to battle for every corner, yet it’s the online scene which is most prevalent. Social Play will allow you to jump into race types that are suited to your skill level and style, with options like one-shot qualifying and five lap races with collisions switched off available for those new to the grid. There is the chance to move up to longer race types and stricter rules for the veterans of the scene who are just looking for some instant racing. But of course, you can create your own sessions how you see fit, inviting friends or strangers into race events that are completely customisable. In fact, it’s crazy how much is amendable in F1 2021 and this means there will rarely be an instance where you can’t find, or create, a race that is of interest.
For the hardcore though, it’s the Ranked Play, Weekly Events (with full practice, qualifying and races at pre-determined times) and Leagues which will probably be of most interest. It’s only really possible to understand how these (especially the latter) will play out as F1 2021 is populated in the weeks ahead, but initial signs are extremely interesting.
There’s obviously the inclusion of a whole section of F1 2021 dedicated to the F1 Esports Series too. After becoming a bit of a staple during the lockdowns of 2020, when the F1 real-world racing was on hold, it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out once more. There’s a good chance that come October 2021 – when the Pros get onboard – and then in the Winter of 2021 when eSports challenges open up to the general everyday fan, that this will become a serious focal point.
F1 2021 is probably the most in-depth, customisable and amendable F1 racer to date, so much so that there’s little that any fan of the sport could ever really want more of. Yes, it would have been nice to see Codemasters go deeper with their Braking Point story, yet it’s extremely tricky to find anything too critical of what they’ve produced with F1 2021. After honing their skills with some glorious F1 racing experiences over the years, once again the latest edition manages to be the finest yet and should be the go-to racer for any fanatics of the sport.
Hit the tracks once again with F1 2021 on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One – pick it up on the Xbox Store