Pit Confirmed, Keep Pushing

HIGH The attempt at a story mode.

LOW The worn-out gimmicks.

WTF Bottas winning GPs in 2021.

F1 2021 is the latest entry in the annual Formula 1 simulation franchise. I’ve been a customer for half a decade now, and also reviewed last year’s entry. What I called for then was a freshening up for this year’s installment, as well as a wish to see F1’s narrative potential seriously explored. I’m happy to see that the devs have delivered on both fronts, although the usual problems surface once the player gets settled in.

Since 2020, driver and team career modes were the usual selections for single-player racing. Driver focuses on the player entering a fictional F1 competition, while team career focused mainly on the management skills of the player who both drives and organizes a commercial team of two drivers in F1. Both modes offered menu-based simulation off the road, and realistic race simulation while racing, including a first-person on-board view.

However, even if team career was last year’s unique addition, the developers have done well to move on to another new experiment — Braking Point.

Similar to other career modes, in Braking Point we play as a rookie driver. In this case, we’re helping Aiden Jackson (Britain) win the Formula 2 Championship and enter F1 signing at a mid- to low-tier team of choice. We are joined by teammate Casper Akkerman, a Dutchman like me — although his English accent resembles a German or Scandinavian rather than a Dutch one. The choice for these nationalities must not be a coincidence, seeing as in this year’s actual F1 season, British legend Lewis Hamilton and Dutch rising superstar Max Verstappen are duking it out for the title.

The unfolding story is essentially about the difficult rise of Jackson’s career and Akkerman’s final years in the sport, in which he seeks to achieve his last moments of glory and establish the legacy of his career — a lovely counterpoint to the Hamilton-Verstappen situation. However, halfway through the mode, we start playing as Akkerman instead, and this provides a nice change of perspective, especially since the relationship between the drivers is a major element of the narrative.

Interestingly, rather than letting us drive entire races, this mode predominantly highlights only a few segments of races with certain objectives, often featuring comeback top ten finishes in the final few laps. Traditional AI is thrown out in favor of the difficulty of the scenario itself, such as a prescribed challenge to gain three places in the last three laps. These scenarios are combined with spectacular cutscenes featuring story events, such as crashes.

To me, this direction makes the story mode far more immersive than before, as I hardly felt a need to correct mistakes as much as I did in other modes, which then allowed for a more engaging story experience.

While the emotional and competitive development of the drivers’ narrative ends up being merely interesting at best, I applaud the developers for going in this direction and would love for them to pursue it further in future installments, especially since there is already so much merit in its current state. My favorite part? Between races, I could access Jackson’s or Akkerman’s email and Twitter feeds, which I deem very realistic compared to actual social media discourse  — small, enriching details like this made it even more worthwhile to be in their shoes.

Finally, it’s worth noting how 2021 feels on track, because it’s quite different from previous iterations. The major change made is to the curbs — they’re much more prone to spin the car off-track. This means much more caution going into high-speed corners, because a single contact could ruin a race. There is (as always) the option to use a flashback and redo sections on command, but relying too heavily on these mulligans makes any race feel less organic, especially since AI drivers hardly spin at all.

Still, I believe the change to be positive overall, since it makes the player more vulnerable and delivers a more realistic feel, which is what a simulation is all about. My other issues with F1 remain in the details — a perpetually underwhelming press simulation, a revised practice program that makes the available programs completely random for no good reason, and most prominently, a wildly unrealistic simulation of the other drivers on circuit, which hardly ever displays any of the suggested skill discrepancies.

I appreciate F1 2021 for its experimentation with new modes and options, proving that this franchise is much more than the average annual drivers’ update. Not only does driving feel more realistic than ever, 2021’s story mode is a pleasant surprise that I hope attracts further development for the series’ next iteration. For now, though, it remains a great F1 simulator that will generate the same excitement happening in the real world’s F1 competition right now.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Codemasters and published by EA Sports. It is currently available on PC, PS4/5 and XBO/X/S. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 40 hours of play were devoted to single-player modes, and the game’s story mode was completed as well as a majority of a driver career season. 0 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E and contains Mild Language. 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. The word “hell” is heard in the game.

Colorblind Modes: Colorblind modes are present, but only for the dynamic racing line (the ‘ideal circuit line’), not for the overall display.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. While this game’s races are playable without sound as the distance to other cars has a clear visual indicator, I find navigating menus and contextual info on screen, especially in the story mode, to be difficult because the text is very small.

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

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