Releasing an annual sports game can be tricky. It’s hard to keep things true to the sport and fresh enough so that there’s a reason for players to pick it up again.
F1 2021, and the franchise in general, is uniquely placed to deliver on expectation and makes some notable improvements from its predecessors. Not all of them are immediately apparent, but they will change the way you race once again.
On the surface, F1 2021 is slick. There’s just a general presentation to the game which is familiar and at the same time more beautiful and functional. The in-game menus work better, the upgrade options in the career modes require one less step, and things just seem to click. But the streamlined new in-game experience is just the tip of the iceberg, as some of F1 2021’s best changes sit just below the surface.
Let’s talk about random faults. This is a selectable choice in F1 2021. You can choose the likelihood of whether a fault will happen and then just cross your fingers that it won’t. Now normally this would be something that would seem illogical to do, purposefully giving your car the option to glitch out while you’re fighting for position. You could randomly lose power, have a fault with your DRS, pick up a flat or your radio comms could go down. Any number of weird things can happen to your car during the race, and you have to hope that your pit crew can make the fix happen. It’s crazy to think that anyone should toggle this option on, but you really, really should. It adds a new level of immersion which makes races much more memorable and personalised. You’re almost certain to have a race experience like no other.
“…some of F1 2021’s best changes sit just below the surface.”
Tyre wear is more apparent and will really impact lap times as they start to degrade in later laps. Eventually your slicks lose almost all grip and your car becomes as loose as an uncle at a wedding reception. It’s definitely noticeable, especially when AI opponents seem to always last a third longer on the same tyres without any significant drop off in performance.
Likewise, it’s incredibly easy to find yourself spinning faster than an overclocked Ferris wheel if you even think about accelerating on an uneven surface. Using the rumble strips (the bumpy kerbs on the outside of the track) is a classic way for drivers to maximise cornering speeds by making the corners wider, and it works here as well, provided you leave the majority of your power until you’re back safely on the actual tarmac. Get a little bit heavy with the foot, and you’re suddenly a passenger on a very fast, very dangerous, and incredibly expensive personal roller coaster.
Braking Point, the new, dramatized story mode of F1 2021 is excellent, playing out like a season of the excellent series Drive to Survive. You get the drama and tension of a daytime soap opera, mixed with the prima donna attitudes of overstimulated racing drivers living on the sharp edge of high-performance sport. There’s some excellent cutscene action which adds a lot of extra spice to the mix, too. Braking Point is a fun experience with plenty of personality that stands out as a great entry point into the game.
The customisation options in F1 2021 are still limited. Most of it is down to selecting from a limited range of pre-set styles for your helmet, suit or car, and changing the colour gradually until you find the sweet spot. There are some additional options that you can choose to purchase as part of the in-game microtransactions, but the base options don’t exactly leave you spoiled for choice. Also, your character is chosen from a pre-set group of a dozen options, and while you can select a victory celebration call for your character, there are currently only four. It would’ve been nice to see more in this area to truly make your cars and drivers unique.
“In F1 2021 the cars can be your best friend or about as easy to handle as an oily otter.”
Co-op multiplayer is an excellent new feature. Jumping in and out of sessions as easily as regular multiplayer. You can compete against each other, or take on the world together. There are all the options of the MyTeam career mode, but this time you get to play alongside someone that you used to call “friend”.
In F1 2021 the cars can be your best friend or about as easy to handle as an oily otter. Control, or lack thereof, is everything to this game. There is excellent integration with all of the latest and greatest steering wheel peripherals, of which there is a huge selection to choose from. What we’re seeing here is a much more polished package with the story modes and multiple career gameplay options. F1 2021 as a franchise shows that gradual changes every year can make a big difference and once again produces a standout gateway game into the obsessively fun world of sim racing.
F1 2021 is available now on PS5, Xbox and PS4.