Earlier this year, Electronic Arts finalized a deal to acquire British publisher Codemasters and brought the official F1 game into the EA Sports family. F1 2021 marks the return of the Formula One license to EA Sports and it’s also the game’s first release on PS5 and Xbox Series S/X consoles. The package is a refinement of the strong showing from last year’s game with a better visual presentation thanks to the stronger hardware afforded by the newest generation of consoles. The new Braking Point story mode is put front and center, but it drives clumsily over the same awful speed bumps that made similar story modes like Madden’s Longshot a forgettable diversion.
The team is under new ownership
The 2021 edition of F1 still feels very much like last year’s game. The EA acquisition came late into the development cycle and you’d never really know that this was an EA Sports title if not for the short video stinger that plays every time you load up the game. This is a cross-generation release and owners of the new consoles get a few bonus goodies for their investment. Ray-traced shadows and reflections are available in replays, photo mode, and when in the showroom. 120Hz support on PS5 and Xbox Series X, along with 4K60 mode, ensures a premium experience for those with nice TVs.
PC players can enable ray tracing features during gameplay, but the performance hit involved means you’ll probably want to use NVIDIA’s DLSS to keep things smooth out on the track. When everything is cranked up and running at high resolution, it does look great, even if it's closer to refinement than a generational leap. Everything in the sound department is a carryover from F1 2020, save for new voiceovers for Braking Point. Some of the expected tracks won't make the cut for launch, including Imola and Jeddah. They are expected to arrive sometime in the future.
Braking Point is the showcase feature this year and gets prominent billing on the game's main menu screen. It drops players into an F1 team trying to claw their way into the middle of the pack. Casper Akkerman, a seasoned F1 vet, and Aiden Jackson, the new hotshot driver, compete against each other across the 2020 and 2021 F1 season schedule. You can select from a handful of real-life teams for this mode, but the cast seems to remain the same no matter what you pick. Braking Point mixes short portions of selected races across the seasons while mixing in some contrived drama to raise tension.
As viewers of the popular Netflix series Drive to Survive can attest, the cast of characters and stories in real-life F1 can be wildly entertaining. Braking Point tries to emulate the show’s vibe, but misses the mark by focusing on its made-up characters. While I was playing for Haas F1 Team, I managed to score a podium finish (a rarity for the team) and got an email on the team-issued laptop. It said that team principal Guenther Steiner wanted to speak with me. I was excited to hear a voice-over or something and instead, I get treated to a cutscene of my character dive-bombing our teammate during a race, nearly ruining the season. You never get to interact with the real stars of F1.
You have no control over anything that happens in Braking Point. Even if you manage to overcome impossible odds and win every on-track situation you are placed into, the events play out the same. I scored a first place victory for a team that had never earned one prior. Everyone acted like nothing happened while the fake drama remained at the forefront of the presentation. At the end of the mode, the team celebrates a podium like it was the greatest thing of all time. Any possible immersion goes out the window when the game doesn't acknowledge your wins. Solo players will be better off spending their time in the career mode than with Breaking Point.
The best new addition to this year’s game is the cooperative Career mode. It’s now possible to run through multiple seasons with a friend through all parts of the solid Career mode. It’s also picked up a few new wrinkles, including the ability to sim through practice sessions and earn resource points and part discounts for your team garage. I noticed that I had random mechanical failures during the Career mode and it helped to keep things fairer between the AI teams and me.
On the track, things feel mostly similar to last year’s game. It still has the ability to draw me in like few other racing games. F1 cars have insane speed and insane grip. Settling into a run of clean laps at full speed while stuck in a pack of cars is as intense as any non-VR experience can get. Even running half a race can be physically draining with the amount of focus required. Controller and wheel users will both find lots to like here with extensive control settings available.
Everything’s up in the air
The future of the F1 series is cloudy right now. EA is the new boss, but its influence probably won’t be seen until next year’s game. F1 2021 adds a few new fixins to the strong foundation of last year’s game, along with the misfire that is Braking Point. Having the option to add dynamic dramatic events to the existing Career mode would be preferable to bland pre-rendered cutscenes that come with Braking Point. There's a lot of fun to be had with F1 2021, even if a true next-gen leap may not come along until next year. 8/10 Mazespins
This review is based on the PC Steam release. The game key was provided by the publisher for review consideration. F1 2021 is available on July 16 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and PC.
- 120Hz support for newest consoles
- 2-player Career mode is a welcome addition
- Ray-traced effects on supported hardware
- Retains solid driving feel from F1 2020
- Braking Point story mode is a big miss
- Not all tracks available at launch
- Not a big upgrade over the previous game