Need to know
What is it? The official game of the Formula 1 2020 World Championship, with F2 too.
Reviewed on: Windows 10 64-bit Home, Intel Core i7 10th Gen, 16GB RAM, NVidia GeForce RTX 2070.
Price: $60/£45, with two further tiers of premium DLC
Release date: Out now
Multiplayer: Two-player local racing in a custom season of Grands Prix, plus online ranked, unranked and league racing in up to 20-player grids.
Link: Official site
Being an F1 driver must mean a lot of weight to carry on your shoulders. I mean, when thousands of hours have been poured into crafting your exquisite race car, imagine having to face your boss after shoving it in the wall on lap 1. But what if you are the boss? F1 2020 lets you be both driver and manager in your own team, so you're perfectly entitled to ignore your own inadequacy and instead punish disgruntled aerodynamics staff by closing their R&D department.
Codemasters’ F1 series has offered comparable depth in its career mode for a few years now, but creating and managing your own team really does make a difference to the emotional attachment you’ll feel. From press interview answers to choosing the right teammate, you’re responsible for your results to the point where you can clearly trace any failure back to a poor decision that you made. And every variable, from the Acclaim stat to sponsor choice to component wear and how you fill the new calendar with off-track events, fits together with other systems to create a cohesive whole. But most brilliantly, everything eventually comes back to how you drive the car, which is of course paramount in what is still very much an action-packed racing game.
10 second penalty
Of course, it’s ‘action’ in the modern F1 sense of the word, and while there are moments of genuine edge-of-your-bucket-seat excitement as your rival exits the pits right beside you into Turn 1, there are also countless regulations to follow and necessary management of components’ lifespan that makes F1 a far more cerebral racing game than some of its peers. Lifting and coasting into corners saves fuel and charges your ERS battery that allows for greater speed boosts later on, or when you need them most in a defensive situation. Turning the wheel too hard creates understeer that wears your tyres, and running over kerbs can break delicate components. After a few years of tweaking, F1 2020 represents arguably the perfect mix in terms of driving vs management, and the 10-year career mode is the best yet, complete with shorter seasons with as few as 9 races if you couldn’t finish even one season in F1 2019 by now. It’s all likely to be overwhelming for newcomers, but anyone who knows the sport will appreciate the depth and authenticity here. And with a new ‘Casual’ driving option and the ability to turn down all of the deeper elements, you don’t need to be a fan to have fun. I let an 8-year-old and 11-year-old try it in split screen and they had an absolute blast.
The driving engine isn’t the most realistic by any means, and the movement of the cars in replay scenes still doesn’t look exactly like TV footage, which it arguably should at this stage. But it certainly plays beautifully all the same, and looks gorgeous without needing a top-end machine. My Dell G5 5500 gaming laptop with an RTX 2070 ran F1 at 1080p ultra at 70-80fps, even in the rain, and also managed around 50fps in replays, which are traditionally 30fps inthe console versions. Similarly, that new split screen mode manages around 45fps in this configuration, without any noticeable resolution hit. It’s worth noting too that there is a DirectX 11 option when loading if DirectX 12 (tested) isn’t an option for you.
Online multiplayer is fun when you can get into a game—joining is currently difficult—and while the matches are impressively lag-free, even when spectating, the servers seem a little flaky right now, with clunky host migrations and too many connection issues dropping you from the race. Even so, thanks to more stringent corner cutting rules on multiplayer this time round, it isn’t quite as full of cheaters, even if some people are still inexplicably 5 seconds a lap faster.
The AI is decent, exhibiting textbook defensive driving and impressive opportunism, though they are a little heavy-handed when defending against perfectly good overtakes, turning in on your back wheel as you pass. That aside (and my apparent inability to pit without losing some 4 seconds to the field), the racing is challenging and fun, and the rewind option is there if you make a mistake that doesn’t feel like your fault. It’s there if it was your fault, too, but relying on it too much makes the game far less rewarding.
F1 2020 is undoubtedly a brilliant use of the license, and while it’s taken time to get to this point after the series’ rocky generational leap some five years ago, we’re looking at the real deal here. I should point out, however, that the Michael Schumacher content of the special edition isn’t really worth the extra money, since there aren’t any recreated scenario races this time around (after the disappointing Senna & Prost events last year), but the liveries and podium celebrations are pretty cool if Michael’s your man, not to mention the gorgeous garage of classic cars that spans his incredible career. None of these older cars feel like they did in the old games or even seem to move authentically when you compare them to onboard footage from the time, but they certainly look lovely and it’s nice to take them for a spin. Take it or leave it, just don’t expect anything like the loving retro treatment that F1 2013 received.
But as for the main game, definitely take it. This is a brilliant, great-looking F1 sim and just keeps getting deeper the more you look into it. It’s very familiar, certainly, and still lacks the quality of car damage it had 10 years ago. It could also use a little more flair and personality in its presentation. But you’d need to have a massive chip on your shoulder not to say that F1 2020 is magnificent. It’s simply a superb game.