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February 2023

F1 2021

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Racing
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Codemasters
Release Date: July 16, 2021

About Tony "OUberLord" Mitera

I've been entrenched in the world of game reviews for almost a decade, and I've been playing them for even longer. I'm primarily a PC gamer, though I own and play pretty much all modern platforms. When I'm not shooting up the place in the online arena, I can be found working in the IT field, which has just as many computers but far less shooting. Usually.


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PC Review - 'F1 2021'

by Tony "OUberLord" Mitera on July 13, 2021 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

F1 2021 is a new next-generation racing experience, featuring the teams, drivers and circuits for the 2021 FIA Formula One World Championship.

Buy F1 2021

With most annual games, I get a touch mad at their incessant need for yearly releases. I was prepared to level my ire at F1 2021, especially since I only picked up the previous game three months ago. The previous iteration was mechanically solid, so F1 2021 improved upon the other areas of the game that are not related to tire models or racecraft. It has resulted in a compelling title that's buoyed by the new Braking Point story mode.

It is worth diving right into Braking Point, which is the new story-driven mode. Inspired by the drama of Netflix's excellent "Drive to Survive" series that follows the drama of F1, Braking Point is a fictional story that features F2 driver Aiden Jackson as he transitions over to driving in F1. The player chooses which mid-tier team Aiden signs with: Alfa Romeo, Alpha Tauri, Aston Martin, Haas or Williams. It is a cosmetic choice and results in minor changes, such as emails from real-life team principal Franz Tost for Alpha Tauri, but it's also one of the few early choices you can make.

The plot of Braking Point is linear and is meant to tell Aiden's tale. His teammate Casper Akkerman dislikes him to the point of purposefully shunting him off the track. In my preview of the mode, I described antagonist Devon Butler as having "the most-punchable smirk," and he loves to play mind games with Aiden to throw him off balance. Between races, you take calls from your mom, field questions from reporters, and read emails from journalists who want to learn all about F1's newest rising star.

One issue I have with the mode is that it tries to make you feel like you are in Aiden's shoes, but it does not maintain that depth. You receive mundane emails from your team about how a journalist has been trying to interview you, and about how your personal assistant was unable to connect you with the journalist … and then later read in the social media feed about how great the interview was. Since you provide answers to the press in other segments, it's jarring for the game to get into the weeds with pedantic emails but never actually let you see the interview.

It is a nit-picky example, but it is also not the only one. In one early race, your only objective is to beat your teammate, who is cruising along in 14th or 15th place. Win that race, and the announcers in the post-race coverage will talk as though you took home 10th place. The lines are voiced by actual Sky commentator David Croft, and it's not as if they are going to record lines for every outcome, but it further makes you feel that the game is telling its own story, and your actions don't necessarily influence it.

Despite these minor shortcomings, I found F1 2021 to be engaging, and as much as I love playing my own team in my solo career, I would often break up sessions in that with a chapter or two of Braking Point to see what happens next. It is not exactly like "Drive to Survive"; no people are being interviewed by an off-screen person, and there's no candid footage of drivers and team principals when they're not actively racing. It is more like a good movie where you must drive in the occasional racing scenes.

To its credit, F1 2021 does a good job of breaking up the racing scenes. Sometimes you play as Aiden in a race with a tire blowout, and you must regain some lost positions. In other sections, it is a simple race with straightforward goals of either winning or at least beating a particular racer or team. Sometimes, approaching an objective triggers a cut scene that adds an unexpected dramatic twist in the middle of the race.

The rest of the game is very similar to what the gameplay was in F1 2020, with a few key differences. The My Team mode has seen updates, such as expanded interview questions and critical team events. These events are usually hard choices, such as whether you want to improve your second driver's pace by 7 points or his racecraft by 7 points. The tech tree has also been redone and is now a tiered menu system as opposed to the arcane tree in the previous game. None of these changes are earth-shattering on their own, but combined, they to freshen up a game mode that was already enjoyably complete.

Other additions are bound to elevate the game for some players. The career mode can now be played with two players, either both racing for the same team or as competitors with their own teams. I was unable to check this out for the purposes of this review, since the game was not out yet, but I look forward to badgering a couple of friends until they relent to us forming an awesome racing team to take it to Mercedes.

The game also features a "real-season start" mode that allows you to pick up the current real-life F1 season as any driver for any team and race from any point in the season. Can you duplicate Lando Norris's success on the track, but perhaps with fewer penalties? Give it a shot. The game will purportedly update soon after every real-life race weekend with the newest results, the changes in the championship standings, and with simulated research and development progress for each of the teams.

The practice sessions in last year's offering were not always the most enjoyable. It could be tough at times to complete everything for some players, and the approach became repetitive. F1 2021 reinvents practice sessions by breaking it into three individual programs with somewhat randomized goals. Hitting the goals grants benefits such as development team boosts or resource points to spend on R&D. For the goals that you struggle with, you can play the practice mode as a manager and assign blocks of time to attempt certain goals.

For all racers except your own, the game now features a new stat: Focus. The stat can go up or down based on everything from performance in a past race to interview answers. This state is intended to measure a driver's "readiness and motivation" and has an overall impact on a driver's ability to perform. Honestly, it is not something that you as the player need to (or can) micro-manage. It is something that you can look at and say, "Hey, my second driver has been killing it, but I now see that their Focus stat is high, and I can understand why." As such, it is also incredibly easy to overlook and attribute successes and failures of a driver to happenstance.

The game can be played well on an Xbox controller, and I found the implementation of gamepad control to be perfectly suitable. However, if you intend to turn off all assists and race as realistically as possible, I found throttle control and fine steering inputs to be difficult on a gamepad. Obviously, this problem is made much more manageable with a wheel and pedal setup, but I also suspect that some players will turn traction control to its lowest setting of "medium" and have fun with the game all the same.

Either way, the developers have improved how the car handling feels. I am neither a racing phenom nor the son of a Russian billionaire, so I have no shot at claiming any F1 experience, but everything about the physics of the car handling feels predictable and rooted in some form of reality. You can skip over a curb, and while it unsettles the car, you get a feel for what is going on with the physics, and you can provide the proper inputs to react, all within one-tenth of a second or so, when it all matters.

It all shapes up to make F1 2021 more than, well, F1 2020+1. The new game has applied a generous amount of polish to the things that it carried forward, and the new modes, such as Braking Point and the two-player career mode, add some appreciable entertainment to a solid racing game. It is equally enjoyable to an F1 nut as to someone who is entering the sport fandom, and I have been having a great time whenever I fire it up for a few laps.

Score: 9.4/10

Reviewed on: AMD Ryzen 7 3700X, 32 GB RAM, NVidia GTX 2070 Super, Thrustmaster TMX Pro, Spectre Carbon 2.0 Racing Cockpit

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