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F1 2021 hands-on preview: HAM-VER-BOT

Codemasters' acclaimed F1 series is now under the EA Sports umbrella. What is the team cooking up for this season?

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As the world’s premier racing series, Formula 1 features the fastest cars and the best drivers that money can buy. The racing season is spread amongst twenty-four events known as Grand Prix. Each Formula 1 team packs up and transports its multi-million dollar operations to a variety of countries in an effort to capture the glory and the massive prize pools. For the last decade, the team at Codemasters has been producing the officially licensed F1 video game. Recently acquired by Electronic Arts, the studio is now under the EA Sports banner and F1 2021 is the maiden release for the new pairing.

A drive to survive

The team at Codemasters has worked over the last year to refine and polish the F1 video game experience following their outstanding release in 2020. While the general structure and soul of the game remain intact from last year, some additions have been made that aim to entice new players or other F1 fans who may not have been following the franchise in the recent past.

The feature which is likely to draw the most attention will be Braking Point. This will serve as F1 2021’s Story Mode and follows players on the path from karting star to F1 championship contender. F1 2019 antagonist Devon Butler will be making a big return as the player’s primary foil in the mode. The studio says that the events that occur in Braking Point are designed to mimic the tension and drama seen in the hit Netflix series Formula 1: Drive to Survive. 

I got to see a small snippet of cutscenes from the mode during the press preview event and it has the potential to be a wildly entertaining diversion from the main game modes if it all works out as planned. On the other hand, it could be as hokey as EA Sports’ Longshot mode from the Madden games, though I suspect many lessons have been learned from that project.

A two-player Career Mode is now on the table where you can bring along a friend to cooperatively race for glory and a joint Constructor’s Title or battle head-to-head on opposing teams. Real Season Start is a new mode that players can enter that allows the 2021 F1 season to be started from any Grand Prix. The studio will be monitoring the real-life events and updating standings, driver stats and more to make your in-game experience match the real sport as closely as possible. Deluxe Edition buyers also get access to seven legendary F1 drivers for use in all modes, including My Team and Career.

Finally, F1 2021 marks the first time this series will make an official appearance on PS5 and Xbox Series S/X. This will be a cross-generational affair, but owners of the newer consoles will get to take advantage of higher resolutions and better framerates over the previous-gen version. Ray-traced shadows and reflections will be available in the car showcase mode and replays for an even more realistic visual presentation. Properly-equipped PCs will also support these raytracing features plus the ability to enable them during actual gameplay.

I was given access to a work-in-progress build of F1 2021 following my attendance of the press preview event. It featured a truncated version of Career Mode, one-off Grand Prix mode, and Time Trial mode. Six circuits were available along with the entirety of the 2021 F1 driver class and their rides. On track, the action was largely similar to F1 2020, which is a good thing. I entered a few different Grand Prix events to see if I could spot major changes in how cars handled and for the novelty of playing as the drivers who are in new seats for 2021 such as Carlos Sainz and Checo Perez. The white-knuckle experience is still strong here, which should serve the series well during what is clearly a transition year for the development team and franchise.

Aiming for a podium

As a big F1 fan, I was very eager to see what this year’s game has in store. I was rather apprehensive about the whole EA Sports situation, but my fears have been alleviated for F1 2021. All signs are pointing to another strong year for the series and I remain excited for the push towards the next-generation visual presentation we will get in the coming years. I also found myself in a trance upon booting up the game to see a new FMV intro featuring all the hottest boys of Formula 1 staring me dead in the eyes. I was already likely to buy the game before I got the chance to see it for myself, but the 4K thirst trap FMVs of George Russell and Charles LeClerc have officially given me the shakes. F1 2021 arrives on PC and consoles on July 16.

Contributing Tech Editor

Chris Jarrard likes playing games, crankin' tunes, and looking for fights on obscure online message boards. He understands that breakfast food is the only true food. Don't @ him.

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