Formula 1, like almost everything else in the world, has seen some tweaking and readjusting as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The first race of the season just happened last weekend in Austria, as opposed to a couple months ago in Australia, and the season has fewer events in fewer locations this year. But you’ll still be able to live out a traditional season in the video game “F1 2020.” It’s the latest installment in the officially licensed racing game series from Codemasters. Not only does it have all the teams, locations and events from the 2020 season that never was, it features classic cars as well as an all-new mode where you create a new racing team from the ground-up. And as we discovered, it’s a title worth checking out even if you don’t follow F1 closely, or are even that into racing sims. Check out our impressions below, and if you’re interested, you’ll be able to pick up “F1 2020” for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 or PC on July 10.
Multimedia Producer Erik Maier: For anyone who has had a chance to tune into our twice-weekly livestream, you might have picked up on a few things. First, I really hate sim racers, and second, I have the attention span of a gnat. Because of that, I was initially skeptical of this game. Simulator style games raise my hackles immediately and in-depth menu systems cause my pea-sized, ADHD-addled brain to start checking out in no time. Prior to “F1 2020,” not only had I never played an F1 game before, but I had never played a game that marketed itself as a “sim-cade” style racer before, and naturally I was curious. I’m a big-time arcade racer guy, so my hope was that if it didn’t skew that direction by default, I could hopefully at least set it up to play arcade-y enough to where I would find it fun.
I was able to do exactly that, and I really like this game so far. There are two main single player modes that it features, “Driver Career” and “My Team.” Driver Career is definitely the choice for you if you’re just looking to focus on the driving. My Team seems to have everything Driver Career has, but it also includes the added challenge of managing your racing team, dealing with salaries, signing contracts … basically, pretty standard sports game team management stuff. I didn’t hate it, but that stuff being more on the sim side didn’t grab me like the actual racing did.
The most important thing to me in any racing game is if it feels good, and this one does. The game provides you with a ton of customizable options for your controls, so you can essentially make things as hard or as easy as you want on yourself. If you don’t want to go through every single option, though, the game offers up two main choices, “Casual” and “Standard.” I played on both, and I thought they both felt great. The cars felt very sticky (which I think is a good thing) and they did what I expected them to do based on my controller inputs, which unfortunately isn’t always the case in racing games. “Casual” was, of course, a bit easier, perfect for someone without a ton of experience, but even “Standard” with a few modifiers felt good to me as well, and I’d consider myself aggressively average at racing games.
I do have a few minor gripes that I’d be remiss not to mention. An obvious one is that the graphics on the Xbox One S are nothing to write home about. They’re totally serviceable, but fall short of some of its competitors. My other main gripe is that it’s not quite as idiot-proof as I’d like it to be. I absolutely understand the challenge of walking the line between making this game accessible for arcade-loving plebs like me as well as hardcore simulator gods like my compatriot Joel, and they definitely did well in my opinion, but there were still just a few things that left me scratching my head. The biggest one, perhaps, was that after completing 90% of my first race, which took 25 minutes or so, I got black flagged and disqualified with one lap to go because I didn’t realize that I absolutely had to change my tires before the end of the race for some reason. I wish the game would’ve been throwing that detail in my face somehow so I didn’t feel like I basically wasted my first 30 minutes with the game. Idiot-proof it a little more, ya know? Overall though, I’m a fan of this game and I intend to keep playing it, probably mostly in Driver Career mode and mostly with modified “standard” controls. If you’re into racing games, this one is definitely worth a look! If you want to see it in action, check out our livestream every Tuesday and Thursday at 2 p.m. Eastern Time. We don’t always stream this game, but I can already tell I’ll be coming back to it often in the next few weeks.
News Editor Joel Stocksdale: Well first I need to dispel the myth that I’m a driving sim god. Demi-god would be more accurate at most. Regardless, I’ve spent plenty of time playing racing games of all types from pure arcade types to serious simulations, as well as everything in-between. And a lot of the games I’ve played that try to straddle the line between either extreme end up not being especially satisfying either way, but that’s not the case with “F1 2020.” Key to this is the broad set of driving assists and modes that can be applied. These include the Casual mode that reduces the effects of setting tires off pavement and offers steering and braking assist as well as assistance with the F1 cars’ aerodynamic and hybrid boost systems. As Erik noted, it makes it a breeze for players new to the genre to jump in.
The Standard mode has realistic physics on all terrain, and is what I spent all my time playing on. It also allows for the various assists from Casual mode to be switched off, or simply toned down. If you want, you can have simulation levels of damage, strict course cutting penalties, no traction control or ABS, unassisted pit stops, full control of your boosts and more.
I adjusted my settings toward the middle, keeping ABS, medium traction control, pit stop assistance, but no boost assistance and simulation damage. This allowed me to still need to concentrate on my braking and cornering, as well as planning how to use my energy recovery and aero aids, but with enough of a safety net to account for my lack of experience with F1 games specifically. It was a great blend, and even less experienced players could probably enjoy the Standard mode with more assists turned on. That’s a testament to the tight, responsive controls that offer plenty of precision. And the fast pace of F1 comes across clearly in the game, making it exciting and heart-pounding throughout the race.
The depth of tweaking in this game is impressive, too. While you can certainly be successful when accepting the recommended upgrades, tire and pit strategies, and car setups, micromanagers will be pleased to know they can fine tune the cars’ settings and team strategies extensively. The My Team career mode goes further, since you develop a whole new team from the ground up. You hire teammates, decide how to manage resources for engineering, choose your engine, pick sponsors and, much to my delight, pick out logos and paint schemes for your team. I do wish the livery creator was a bit more in-depth with various decals that could be positioned and manipulated for truly custom looks, but it’s a strong first step. This mode in particular will keep you really busy for plenty of time.
I do have a couple of gripes, though. I agree with Erik that there are a few things that could use a little more idiot-proofing. For someone new to the sport, it would be nice to have a tutorial mode that goes through key control items such as the energy recovery system and drag reduction system. A slightly more stern race manager during races would likely be helpful for newcomers as well to make sure they don’t make mistakes like not pitting. Another customization gripe comes in the fact that you can’t save specific colors to reuse in your logos. Except for one category, you have to reproduce your hues for every piece of racing suit, logo and more. That’s frustrating when you’re trying to coordinate. Finally, the AI difficulty is set by default to 25/100, which the game says is easy. In fact, it seems almost too easy for the default difficulty, as I was beating top drivers with much slower cars without much effort. Of course like almost anything else in this game, that can be tweaked, and I would strongly recommend bumping the difficulty up to 50/100 right away for any mildly experienced sim racers.
But on the whole, “F1 2020” is an excellent all-around racing game. It’s fast, involved and surprisingly easy to get into. It’s most certainly worth a look for casual and hardcore driving game fans alike.