Review by Matt S.
Over a number of years now, Codemasters has steadily built the F1 series into a top-flight racing game contender, and one of the few in the genre that manages to straddle the line between a serious simulation for fans of the sport, and something accessible to help the sport find new fans. F1 2020 is the best effort to hit that brief to date.
When you think about F1, the sheer sensation of speed is more important than anything else. These vehicles are exclusively built around that, and any video game that feels in any way pedestrian will fail to capture the spirit of F1. F1 2020 nails the need for speed, turning racing into an exercise of near twitch control, and really demanding that you master racing lines. After all, at the kinds of speeds involved, being out by fractions can result in lost places. In comparison to some of the other racing games out there, F1 2020 is more forgiving; the physics engine and handling is more “arcade-like” and while I’ve never driven an F1 car I do imagine that that would be the case with the real vehicles too.
But also in comparison to some racing games out there, F1 is brutally unforgiving. Lose control even slightly and your race will be over. Make mistakes and the tyres will wear faster. Don’t pay close attention to the masses of data available on your car and its condition (while still driving around at over 200 km/h) and you’re likely to make strategic mistakes that will cost you at the end. F1 is more accessible in getting you on to the track quickly. The mastery curve for it, however, is a very, very long.
Career will get you up to speed, though, and F1 2020 does have a good career mode that allows you to journey all the way from being a rookie in F2 through to leading the pack in the main show. What’s great about the way career mode is organised is that there the developers really work hard to make the practice and qualifying sessions worthwhile. Rather than simply endlessly looping around a course to learn it, there are all these basic little minigames you can play through – for example, driving through a series of gates on the track to “learn the curves” which, if completed properly, give you bonuses on race day. It’s a long, meandering career thanks to the number of events, each split over a number of “days” worth of driving, and the process of being promoted from F2 to F1, but it’s rewarding to see yourself up on the podium when you do get there.
Speaking of tracks, one of the greatest features of F1 is the number of different tracks there are to race on. Most other racing games only have a fraction of this number, but the developers couldn’t get away with lopping off events arbitrarily, so they’ve been forced to include the entire season. With there being more variety in tracks and conditions for F1 than ever – night races and street races included – the game ends up having more content than you’d expect in any other racing title. Throw in the vintage races and other novelties, and F1 2020 is a truly comprehensive effort.
It just doesn’t look quite as good. I know it’s a superficial thing to complain about, but racing games have developed a fine tradition of “car porn”, showing off the machines on the track in the best possible light at all times. The recently-released Assetto Corsa Competizione, for example, is a feast for the eyes. While you can argue that F1 2020 is too fast to really care about the scenery anyway (and the vehicles aren’t of the same aesthetic quality as cars in other racing games), the presentational elements of F1 2020 come across as a little too functional for their own good. The sensation of speed is there, and that’s a visual treat in itself, but this isn’t the game that you’ll want a rich photo mode for.
Now all of the above applies to last year’s edition of the game, with relatively minor enhancements to the career mode for 2020 being close to the sum of an otherwise roster update experience. Were that the case there would have been no reason to pick up this year’s title. As it turns out, though, there is a very good reason to pick up this year’s title; My Team.
My Team is F1’s take on franchise mode, and while it’s a little simple and primitive compared to what we see in some other sports games, it’s a great start. You create a new team from scratch – the 11th team in the F1 series – and are tasked with managing just about everything; engaging with sponsors, building an F2 feeder environment, developing rivalries with other teams and making sure you’ve got enough cash left at the end to invest in development and pay salaries. You want to build your team’s reputation so you get invited to special races, earn additional sponsorships, and gain access to other perks. The skeleton of an excellent franchise mode is there in F1 2020. It’s going to take a couple more iterations before My Team becomes a reason to buy the game for the most casual F1 fans, but for existing fans who already enjoy the core racing experience, this is an excellent addition to an already excellent package.
F1 is my preferred format for racing, and I would argue that Codemasters as given more respect to the F1 license in building it up over the last few years than anyone else. F1 2020 is on the cusp of being a top-flight annual licensed sports game like 2K’s NBA, EA’s FIFA and Sony’s MLB The Show, and it has managed to get there without nickel-and-diming consumers to anywhere the same extent. This year’s edition might be iterative on the track, but the off-track improvements show that Codemasters hasn’t yet run out of ideas yet either.
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb
The critic was provided with a copy of the game for the purposes of review