Yearly update impresses, but it may be too similar to its predecessor for some.
- Developer: Codemasters
- Publisher: Codemasters
- Genre: Racing
- Release Date: 28/06/2019
- Platforms: Xbox One, Playstation, Windows PC
- Reviewed on: Xbox One X
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with Formula One. Whilst I’ve always had a love for motorsports, racing’s premiere marque hasn’t always left me enamoured in the way that the British Touring Car Championship has. A lot of this is due to the way the sport’s rule changes have affected the cars, with the series going through periods of dominance for certain teams. Whilst the racing may not have that uncertainty in the results that other championships have, the cars are inarguably faster than ever before and in the midfield at least, there is still some exciting racing to be found.
Whilst the annual changes and improvements to the structure and regulation of real world F1 may not have led to more exciting racing, when it comes to the virtual representation of F1, Codemasters has managed to achieve what its real world namesake has not. Codemasters’ F1 series has been going from strength to strength, with each yearly iteration improving on the last as it has developed into one of the best single-series racing games of this generation, and has easily provided the best F1 games ever to appear on a gaming console. While it may not have introduced many groundbreaking new features over the years, the incremental upgrades across the board have resulted in finely honed driving mechanics and a highly polished experience.
The Codemasters F1 games have always looked great, especially since the introduction of 4k and HDR following the release of the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. F1 2018 looked fantastic, however F1 2019 has still managed to make gains to the fidelity of the graphics, with new lighting making the night races look stunning, and the new weather effects serving to further the immersion. The tracks look just like you would expect, with the various gameplay viewing angles all rendered beautifully, and there is a real sense of speed as you hurtle round the track. Whether it’s while racing, viewing replays or taking some shots in the photo mode, F1 2019 really does look astonishingly good. I would say the daytime races don’t look that different from last year, but seeing how good that game looked it’s hard to mark them down for that, especially as the night races look so much better.
For 2019, the inclusion of the F2 championship (and all of its cars and drivers) has added more substance to the game, as well as providing a more accessible starting point to newcomers to the series. The slower cars are still just as much fun to drive as their upper echelon counterparts but the lower power and grip encourages you to adapt to the handling nuances and learn the best lines to take around the 21 circuits included in the roster.
The cars themselves have excellent handling characteristics, with the top tier carrying phenomenal amounts of grip, allowing you to really push the cars to their limits. Midfield and back-marker cars are a bit harder to control, although they are still fun to drive, while the F2 and classic cars all have a different feel again, with each having different strengths and weaknesses.
This diversity in choice really adds to the overall appeal for me, and with a full suite of driving aids available to use, whatever your competence you can tailor the game to be as accessible or challenging as you desire. Whilst the F1 games have always benefited from an excellent handling model, they’ve managed to make noticeable improvements, with inputs feeling much smoother and with the increased feedback as you approach peak grip, this is easily the best they’ve produced so far.
AI has had a bit of a rework too. Rather than hug the racing line, they will actively try to block you or make moves to capitalise on your mistakes. While it isn’t as good as a human opponent (or as reckless), it’s a marked improvement from the AI in previous games or indeed, most other racing games.
Career-ing round the track
Your career starts in F2, where you have a few short scenarios to complete. I would have loved to see the option to do a full F2 season in career as it seems like a missed opportunity to me, but these scenarios are good fun; one of them has your team issuing orders for you to allow your teammate to pass after a mechanical failure on your car, which I promptly ignored. A cut scene after the race had my furious teammate marching up on me, criticising my decision as it may have lost the team points (despite me winning and him finishing third). These interactions really serve to make the on-track action feel more meaningful, it’s just a shame these aren’t continued into the main career in F1. Hopefully Codemasters will add more of this in F1 2020, as it adds a story element that places more consequence to your actions on and off the track.
When you make the transition to F1, your F2 rivals will follow you up and take seats in the other teams in your tier (so if you choose Ferrari, your F2 rivals will be in Red Bull and Mercedes). I can see what they are trying to do here, although without the cut-scenes and interactions with your rivals it’s not really necessary. I’m sure most F1 fans already have established drivers they would prefer as their rivals, as adding these two fictional drivers when I started in F1 meant I was missing LeClerc and Gasly, as well as Bottas, whose seat I took in Mercedes.
The competitive F1 season pans out in a similar fashion to previous games. You have practice programmes to complete to earn RP for upgrades, then either the full 3 stage eliminator or ‘one-shot’ (a single lap to determine grid position) qualifying, followed by the race itself, with the new addition of the fastest lap point being included. There are no real story elements at play here other than having your F2 rivals to compete against, but while that’s not really important in a racing game, having seen the potential for meaningful interactions in your short stint in F2, it’s something I’d have liked to see more of.
The main menu has had an overhaul and it’s a big improvement from last year, with a much cleaner design and easy to navigate menus. It’s slightly disappointing, however, that the workstation you use in career mode looks almost identical to the one found in F1 2018, along with the sub menus and research and development tree. As the old adage goes, ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’, but they could have made it look nicer.
Claire is back…
Interviews were reintroduced to the series for F1 2018, and whilst repetitive and largely pointless, they served as a means for the game to offer you rewards in the form of bonuses to team morale, which in turn improved the chances of your upgrades being successful. If you played the previous game you will already know not to expect too much from these interviews, and like before I just chose the answer that would be most beneficial to me for the upgrade path I was following.
A new feature for F1 2019 is team transfers for the official drivers. Depending on their success in the previous season, drivers will move up or down within the teams over the ten seasons of career, with the current drivers being replaced at the top of the field by the new up and coming drivers. It’s a relatively small change but it’s welcome to see drivers other than Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel challenging you for the podium each race like in last year’s iteration.
Aside from the career, there are a few other modes to keep you entertained, with time trial making a welcome return. You can do time trial in either F1, F2, or one of the 20 classic cars across all of the tracks in the game, and see how good (or bad) you perform against the best in the world, or people on your friends list. Ghost cars can be selected from your previous best or any other car on the leaderboard and it’s a well presented mode if you enjoy chasing leaderboards.
Ah, the good old days
Invitational events are here again, with even more classic F1 cars to race around the circuits, and the difference in the handling models is pronounced. With a range of cars from the 70’s and 80’s, all the way up to championship winning cars from Brawn and Red Bull, there’s plenty of variety on offer. The classic cars look, sound and feel significantly different to the modern F1 cars, and the loose nature of the handling makes for a totally different driving experience. It’s good to have variation to help maintain interest, and the wide selection of classic cars and scenarios add some great extra content to bulk out what is already an excellent package.
Multiplayer has seen a bevy of improvements. You now have the option to create or join leagues, and league admins have the ability to issue penalties and edit results, which should be a real boon to anyone running events. You can set these as private or public, and with the addition of an attendance rating, you can vet potential racers based on their likelihood to turn up to races. Super Licenses also make a return, and with the improved penalty detection they should help you get together a lobby of like-minded drivers. Players’ super licenses can be viewed while they are offline now, which is an invaluable tool while attempting to create a fun and competitive league event. These may only be small improvements, but they all add up to make F1 2019 one of the most fully featured multiplayer racers available to date.
New for 2019 is the ability to customise your cars livery and your driver gear for multiplayer races. You are restricted to changing the colours on existing designs rather than creating your own from the ground up, but it still allows you to make a distinctive paint job on your car and outfit for running in the online series’ and leagues. You can earn credits to unlock a larger selection of customisation options, although some require an additional purchase from the Xbox store, with new liveries for your car costing £1.99 each.
The graphical upgrade and incremental improvements in some parts may not be enough to entice owners of F1 2018 to jump aboard, but for newcomers and fans of the sport the raft of features on offer here makes the whole package a very attractive prospect. There’s still things that could be improved, such as expanding the story, but overall, F1 2019 is one of the best racing games to ever grace our screens, and you’d be hard pushed to find a more fun alternative.