Box for Repairs, Please

HIGH The extensive modes.

LOW A downgraded career mode.

WTF Ferrari competing for grand prix victories.

I don’t generally go in for big-budget annual sports franchises, but the F1 series is a notable exception. Its emphasis has always been on ever-more-realistic simulations of Formula 1 championships while offering the most advanced (and simultaneously accessible) professional sport simulator out there. While the 2020 installment continues the strong performance of the franchise overall, I’m sad to see that some previously-existing issues have only become more apparent.

2020’s major single player modes are the traditional driver career and newly-added team career. Both employ a first-person view and menu-based simulation when not on the road.

In the driver career mode, the player can start the competition with any team of choice at the start of the 2020 season, or race a single Formula 2 season in a fictional variant of the preceding 2019 season. I liked these options, but was a bit surprised that my performance in F2 had little impact on who I could sign with in F1’s team of choice. I also noticed that the story-driven rivalry elements present in 2019 were now absent.

Furthermore, much of the narrative content from last year remains unchanged. The press still ask the same corny, unrealistic questions and I was still only capable of giving predictable, dumb answers. The team’s staff and engineers still emailed the same messages about the circuits I would be racing on, and the race commentators repeated an embarrassingly limited selection of intros and outros.

Luckily, the extensive race modes remain intact (or are improved) and the player has vast options to create their dream simulation. For example, one can choose to drive a full race, 50% or 25% of the distance. There are also AI difficulty and driver proficiency options. For example, I consider myself good at memorizing the correct lines for quick lap times, but I’m terrible at handling a car. Therefore, I can put the driver proficiency at a low level, but the AI at a very high level and thus create an engaging simulation.

F1 2020 increases such options and is also seemingly aware of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impacts on the season in real life, as the player can accordingly choose to race only a part to more closely resemble what’s happening in the real world.

While these improvements and tweaks are great, when it comes to the actual racing itself there are several unresolved issues.

One problem is how robotically the AI performs. Depending on its level, it races at a certain pace but never makes mistakes like actual drivers would. This means that I can keep up at a certain level but I can’t match the AI’s ability to drive the same stretch without failure. Since I’m a human being, this flawless competition led me to overuse the “flashback” option to correct my own mistakes. Running races like this hardly feels organic.

Another issue is how penalties are hardly ever awarded for obvious aggression — I’d often intentionally bump into the car ahead and ruin its position, but would get away with just a simple warning (and vice versa). This leniency occurred the majority of the time and unrealistically makes this sort of reckless behavior a solid strategy.

A final issue worth mentioning is how quickly the player’s team progresses compared to its competitors. Every team in Formula 1 is constantly improving their car’s performance — things like aerodynamics, power, chassis and durability — but the player’s resources are overabundant. Starting with a middle-of-the-pack team means topping the field at the end of the season, ruining the challenge and giving a lopsided sense of progression.

All of the annoyances I’ve just listed from the driver mode also extend to the team career mode, but even so, it still managed to divert much of my attention based the premise alone. In addition to competing as a driver, the player controls their own team including managing contracts, signing sponsorship deals, picking an engine manufacturer and directing research and development. What makes this mode an exciting fit for F1 is how I became invested in making my team the best in the field — and when my accompanying driver underperformed, I was emotionally attached to his failures.

With F1 2020, the franchise expands on what it does best — realistically simulated F1 experiences with a low barrier for entry and high quality of execution. It also shakes up a lot with the team career mode, but at this stage the thing I really want to see from 2021’s installment would be addressing the persistent, longstanding issues to improve the quality of the experience overall.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Codemasters. It is currently available on PC, Stadia, PS4 and XBO. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 38 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and one full season of the career mode was completed. No time was spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E with no descriptors. The official description reads as follows: This is a racing game in which players can drive Formula One cars on real-world tracks. Players compete in a variety of game modes that include Career, Time Trial, Championship, and Grand Prix.” There is nothing child-unfriendly about this game, the most apparent violence is from cars bumping into each other at high speed and their bits flying off.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are some audio cues during racing which are helpful in determining the distance to an opponent, but nothing that’s crucial. The dialogue is mostly subtitled, but the subtitle size is small and not resizable. I’d say this game is not fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.

David Bakker
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