If we’re going to maintain honesty on this website, I’ll start the review with this: I am probably the least qualified person to review F1 2020. The last time I took any interest in Formula One, Nigel Mansell was zipping around in his blue, white and yellows Williams FW14. I only know which car it is because it’s on display in the in-game gallery.
Beyond watching it at my grandparent’s house, I have little knowledge of the goings on with the sport. All your teams, your drivers and vastness of programming that make those little cars belt around the track at high speeds is far beyond my comprehension.
Having played F1 2020 for a while… it still is. But, we’re here to be impartial and give these games a damn good go as a fairness to reviewing them. And would you know it, F1 2020 delivers on everything it sets out to do.
But is the racing alone enough to carry a game to people unfamiliar to the sport, or do you have to have some background knowledge of running a successful team? Let’s suit up, grab our helmets and buckle our seat belts, as we look at some of the fastest racing outside of Wipeout…
Drive Fast and Look Good Doing It
Much like WWE or FIFA, F1 games have had an annual output with all the usual updates relevant to the sport. Naturally, it also comes with tweaks and polish to graphics as one would expect. So, to someone who follows these religiously, they may not notice any difference from previous offerings.
Whereas to me, who hasn’t played one of these since F1 World Championship Edition on the SNES, it looks incredible. Cars realistically shimmer and shine when they’re preened for display, every panel buffed to that mirror shine. When they’re out on the track, you want to keep them pristine whilst you’re belting about at 170mph… well, as you should do anyway. Crashes are bad for business.
All of the tracks for the 2020 season are faithfully rendered in game, including the new Hanoi Street Circuit and the Circuit Zandvoort from Singapore and Holland, respectively. These events may have been cancelled due to real world incidents, but the Codemasters team have still made the effort to include them. Whilst all the tracks do look incredible, it’s more of an ancillary thing for me. The fly-by’s and aerial shots before a race look great, but once you’re zipping by, it’s all eyes on the track.
I will say, though, that the weather effects are incredible. Admittedly not so much the sunshine and cloud, that’s just standard. The rain, however, is beautiful the way it lays on the track, throwing up reflective little hydroplaning traps if you’re not quick on the reflexes. Even falling rain is a sight to behold, as it sleets across and bounces off your car. If you’re playing with a behind-car camera, it’s wonderful seeing it splash off both car and track. Yet if you’re like me and you’re playing with a cockpit view, seeing it from a somewhat second-person perspective is so… immersive, for lack of a better word. Of course, it’s also terrifying having to adjust to a corner after pushing insane speeds on a straight with rain in your face.
As is par for the course (or should that be track), you would expect there to be a Season/Career mode in a game as deep as this. Well, there isn’t… there’s two Season modes in F1 2020. Talk about being spoiled.
Before you can start one, though, you have to see out the end of a Formula 2 season. Think of this as your practice run, your tutorial into the world of fast paced racing. F2 being considered the penultimate step before that elusive Formula One fame, this introduction gives you a taste of what to expect both on and off the track. Besides the few races, you’ll be given some examples of the media interviews you’ll experience later (although they have no outcome now). Once you’ve finished that season, it’s onto the big leagues for your player-named driver. Mine was named Speedy McSpeedface, because I clearly take this whole thing seriously. Moving on…
The first choice is your bog-standard: you pick a team to race for, from all the greats like Williams, Mercedes and Ferrari (and more), and take your way through a full season. You can choose the length of the season too, so if you don’t fancy a full twenty-two course one you can cut it to fifteen or ten. You can even cater the race length, having some courses do as little as five or ten laps as opposed to the full 40+ that can be on offer.
The second career path is the My Team option which, as the name suggests, lets you entire a season with your own team. This is the meat of F1 2020’s career mode, as it were, which lets you micro-manage almost every aspect of your team and car. But we’ll delve into that shortly.
Race days in either mode are more than just one practice lap and then you’re on the grid. On a basic level there’s two practice runs, a qualifying event (which can be a one-shot qualifier or timed until you get the desired position) and the race itself. Yet on a deeper level, the attention to detail and car management is staggering.
You could quite easily do the build up to race day with the same car setup and loadout, and to be honest, I did. For the aficionado though, there is so much more you can do. Tire changes, “practice” engines to get used to the track before switching out for your shiny racing engine, fuel management… the list goes on. Like I said, I would love to be able to tell you what half of it all means. I just wang it around the track in whatever my crew advises for me. That’s why I pay them.
Fortunately, the game does teach you about everything if you do have the temerity and patience to learn it all. Whilst the game is definitely more on the sim side than an arcade racer, it’s not so elite that it won’t teach you what’s what as you play. Maybe over time I will learn the fine nuances that make my car worth the multi-million pound investment that I sunk into it…
Underneath It All
Whilst all modes offer an in-depth look at how your car functions, My Team is the way forward if you want to establish and build your reputation and high spec car to your liking.
As you progress with your own team’s progression (team Zippy Zoom Zoom, for me. Again, not taking this seriously) you’ll earn money for each race. Much like any business, you earn funds and winning fees from your sponsors and such, which you then put back into the car and team. Team being the optimal word here, as your teammate’s progression will also add to the overall money pool too. He is, of course, driving the same car as you.
These earnings can then be distributed into several avenues of car development, from aerodynamics and downforce to engine power and performance. Your Research & Development team progression is much like that in say, Marvel’s Spider-Man, in that each branch has a skill tree. Developments happen in real-time, so investing in engine research could take a few days. And also like in life, there is a percentage chance of failure, or not the result you wanted.
Your teammate also has their own kind of development tree too, in that you can invest money in them to essentially “race better”, as well as renewing contracts and such. Failure to keep maintain a decent working relationship can (and will) see them flounce off and leave, if you’re not careful. Fine, Zippy Zoom Zoom doesn’t need divas.
Again, for those familiar with this kind of model in their F1 games are going to be in their element with this. For those not, it’s not too taxing to get the hang of it. The joy comes from performing well in races, then funneling that back into your own dream team, as it were. You’re the underdog, the eleventh team in this season that rises to the top. But with great driving power, comes social responsibility…
To Be The Best, Like No One Ever Was… Except Maybe Schumacher
It’s not all about the racing that makes F1 2020 so enjoyable to play. I mean, it’s mostly about the racing, otherwise why would you bother? But part of the joy, the real sense of immersion in bringing a team to the spotlight is the off-track goings on too.
One of these features, besides the day to day management of a pit crew, teammate and R&D unit are the post-race interviews you take part in. If you’ve ever played a Bioware RPG, you’ll know what to expect. For those that haven’t, you’re presented with multiple choice answers when prompted. These vary from being modest in your accomplishments to being downright arrogant about your ability, as well as team-related questions.
While the personal questions have no real outcome, the team based ones do, to an extent. If, for example, you’re asked what aspect of the car helped you reach podium today, you can pick which focal point you feel did (engine, aerodynamics, etc). Whichever you pick, you’ll get a little notification at the bottom of the panel telling you “X team liked that”, which helps your overall compatibility with said department. It doesn’t have any massive long-term implications, but it’s always nice to keep everybody sweet and singing from the same song sheet.
Feeling The Need For Greed
Now, this is usually the part where I summarise the game, and give you a yay or nay at the end of it. Normally I would, but there’s a couple of things I want to touch on beforehand.
On a positive note, multiplayer is a strong feature in this year’s iteration. Now, I’m not known for my online shenanigans, generally preferring to play single player games. That being said, the few times I did get a race online (having received my copy pre-public launch), I enjoyed the respect and seriousness of how people treat this sport. None of the “smash into the first corner” that you’d see in Forza, for instance. And for all of you local players, F1 2020 has you in mind too: local, splitscreen play is back! Alright, it’s not exactly a revolution, but it’s nice that it’s there as an option.
The negative, then, is one that gets me every damn time. I refer, once more, to the insidious inclusion of microtransactions and “in-game currency” bullshine. Part of any game that has a progression system is the joy in unlocking something for your efforts. Hiding these behind an in-game currency system, which in turn is governed by a real-world monetary mechanic, is asinine. It’s just such a shady practice that needs to go.
I don’t care that it’s only for peripheral things like liveries for cars, or podium/winning dances and gestures, it’s still awful. You should be able to unlock these through graft, not hide them behind monetary paywalls no matter how well you do. It’s the problem I had with Trials Rising, and it’s brought its stank over to the serious world of Formula One motorsport too. The sooner we drop this mechanic the better, I say.
A Strong Finish
Minor corporate greed aside, F1 2020 is an amazing game, both in style and substance. I may not know half of what my car does, or even how DRS works properly, or how to navigate my HUD menu whilst doing 192mph on a straight, but I had fun trying.
For a novice to the sport, like yours truly, I had a blast learning whilst playing, as any good game should inspire to do. I still know little about it all, but I’m confident that I can handle myself on a track now. Not against people online, but enough to finish a career.
Visually, it’s not pushing for peripheral excellence like Forza Horizon or SnowRunner. The focus here is the car, both yours and the other nineteen on the track. Codemasters have pushed the boat out in visual fidelity on the vehicles, as well as the technical know-how under the hood.
I can’t pretend I know how well it holds up to the real world politics and machinations of the sport, but for both pros and novices alike, there’s one of the deepest racing games I’ve ever played in here. Seasoned veterans will take to this like a duck to water, but that shouldn’t put a novice off. Hell, if I can enjoy it, then so can you.
Whilst it may seem daunting, there’s a wealth of things to do in F1 2020 for newcomers and hardcore devotees alike.
F1 2020 is available now on PS4 (reviewed on PS4 Pro), Xbox One, PC and Google Stadia.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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