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Game review: F1 2021 (PC)

By Darren Price, 04 Aug 2021

Over the past decade, Codemasters have, by and large, taken their F1 games from strength to strength. Incredibly detailed circuits, beautifully modelled cars, and expertly simulated physics have made the games a joy to play.

This year things change a little bit. The first change is the inclusion of the EA Sports logo at the beginning of the game. With EA’s purchase of Codemasters last year, F1 2021 marks the first EA branded Formula One game since 2003. 

The game features 21 circuits, including the postponed/cancelled Chinese, Canadian, Singapore, and Australian events. The races follow the format of the originally planned 22 races. Late additions, Imola, Portimão, and the Jeddah Street Circuit will be made available as free DLC. Istanbul Park, Turkey will not be included in the F1 2021 game.

Whilst previous years have included the more personal career mode as well as the world championship, F1 2021 goes the whole hog and includes a single-player narrative campaign, Breaking Point. This is very similar to the single-player story modes found in EA’s FIFA and NFL games. Breaking Point follows rookie F1 driver Aiden Jackson with drama both in the paddock and on the track. The story is interspersed with racing segments that portray the rivalries and friction of the Formula One Championship. It’s a great addition to the game.

Career mode, of course, returns allowing players to take their driver and team to the top. This mode can also be played in two-player locally. Players can race as teammates for the same team or against each other in a battle for the Championship. As well as racing, players get to choose strategies, make financial decisions, and select development priorities. 

As with previous games, F1 2021 features the entire race weekend. In career mode, practice sessions can be used to earn credit that can in turn be used to develop upgrades. I’ve said it before, but this really makes the practice sessions worth doing, whereas previously I’d have skipped to qualifying. And properly learning the circuits make for a better race.

Players after no-frills racing can opt to compete in a full or custom F1 or F2 Grand Prix. And there’s also the opportunity to brush up on your lap times with time trials. Multiplayer has gone from strength to strength. Players can choose from local split-screen, online casual, and ranked races. There are weekly events and players can also create or join online leagues. There’s an esports section that looks like it will go live later this year allow players to watch and apply to race in professional tournaments.

The physics seem to have been tightened up this year. For instance, I found myself more likely to spin off the track when carrying out a cheeky bit of kerb mounting when cornering. The car handling does feel better, though, with spills come across as more deserved rather than the result of twitchy controls. The sensation of speed seems better than it’s ever been. 

As with most of Codemasters’ racing games, F1 2021 deftly incorporates a full range of difficulty scaling. Players can choose from a combination of assists that include brake, gears, and racing lines indicators or opt for a brutally realistic racing simulation. No matter what level of racing prowess, F1 will accommodate you. I would, however, suggest that players switch to manual gearing as soon as possible as it affords much better control of the cars’ speeds.

EA’s obsession with microtransactions means that the Podium Pass and premium items introduced last year are still with us and will probably remain. It’s something that is easily ignored, though, if you want to just play the game as is.

As an iterative title, the F1 games tend to be an evolution and not a revolution compared to the previous year’s entry. For PC gamers, the visuals have been given a boost.       

Whilst the game is still not what I’d call photo-real, they are getting close. On compatible PCs, the game offers ray-traced shadows and reflections adding an extra level of realism to the visuals. The circuits look amazing and the detail on the cars is fantastic. 

The presentation is slick and polished, with the animated pit crews and engineers in the garages looking pretty realistic. The attention to detail incorporated into all these little, otherwise superfluous, elements make for an immersive F1 racing experience.

F1 2021 is another superb entry in the series. The inclusion of the cancelled Grand Prix races, especially Melbourne is bitter-sweet. But the whole package is a beautiful love letter to the most glamourous of motorsport. The campaign mode adds a little bit of spice to a game that is already fully featured and offering some of the best virtual racing you’ll find.

Verdict: 9/10

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