When I covered F1 2020 last year, I was absolutely amazed. Mind you, I’m not a Formula One aficionado (the traffic in Manila would immediately remove all thoughts of wanting to be a world-class race car driver). I went in with an open mind and had an absolute blast. That brings us to F1 2021 which is set to release on July 16. To be clear, this is the launch date for the standard version. Purchasing the deluxe edition, meanwhile, allows you to play three days earlier (July 13).
So, is F1 2021 worth your while? In many ways, it still is. However, I was new to the series last year, but I’ve come in with different expectations this time around. Sadly, these expectations also led to a few disappointments.
Braking Point’s slow and steady start in F1 2021
Perhaps the most glaring problem is with Braking Point, a new flagship story mode for F1 2021. In Braking Point, you follow the journey of young Aiden Jackson from a championship race in Formula Two to his arrival on the big stage of Formula One. A little bit of drama ensues as Jackson and his teammate, veteran Casper Akkerman, can’t seem to get along. Then, there’s Devon Butler (a returning character from a previous game’s career mode). The arrogant and aggressive rival is out to cause more friction between the two much to the chagrin of your chosen team.
To be fair, having an actual story mode in a sports title tends to be par for the course nowadays (i.e., we’ve seen examples from NBA 2K and WWE 2K offerings in the past). Also, Formula One’s history has many rivalries, such as the fierce competition between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. F1 2021 tries to hinge on these ideas, but fails to deliver a compelling narrative. The plot twists, false rumors, and dilemmas are so laughably bad that you’ll cringe when you watch the cutscenes. These short scenes can happen during or after a race. If it’s the former, there’s usually a task (i.e., overtaking your teammate after a few laps). In a particular instance, doing so led to a cinematic where both drivers took each other out of the race.
At one point, I was controlling Akkerman (you get to see his perspective once you reach the 2021 season of the narrative). The team told me that I should let Jackson pass because he was faster. An objective to “prevent Jackson from passing you” popped up. By the time that bout ended, I managed to get a podium finish for Akkerman, while AI-controlled Jackson barely made it to the top 10. Did that magically change the outcome? No. Instead, Jackson remained pissed because I wouldn’t let him through.
No growth or integrated systems
Even if you manage to reach or exceed expectations in your tasks in F1 2021‘s Braking Point mode, you still have to follow the strict storyline progression. Worse, there are no integrated systems or mechanics related to character growth. I mentioned examples from other sports games and, in those cases, even a middling storyline gave way to stats, skill points, or perks. These were facets that made you feel as though you’re truly helping characters reach their fullest potential.
Unfortunately, Braking Point is just a plain and cheesy story mode that pales in comparison to both MyTeam and Driver Career options. It also has a bizarre mix of “storyline races” where you begin in the middle of a session (i.e., four to eight laps remaining), and full-on races without much fanfare (i.e., 15 to 18 laps). Since I mostly liked playing shorter races, these sessions truly tested my patience.
MyTeam and Driver Career modes
If Braking Point isn’t for you, then you can try out F1 2021‘s MyTeam and Driver Career modes. The former was the star of last year’s game, which allowed you to play as the team’s owner and driver. You’d get to select sponsors, manage the capabilities of your partner, and assign activities to help fund R&D projects. This year’s MyTeam is still as good as it was in the previous game, and you’ll realize that a lot of stuff looks familiar (even with slight changes to the presentation of upgrades). Then again, I must admit that I was a bit disappointed that there was still no Philippine flag, though I did my best to create the most Filipino-looking guy around.
In any case, MyTeam has a couple of notable additions, such as the “Focus” stat which determines the form of your partner, denoting if they have their mind on the competition at hand. For instance, if you look at the contracts page, you can see that Lewis Hamilton has a fairly low Focus stat. This might be because he’s had a bit of a slump lately, but I’ve been told that driver stats weren’t final. Another facet is the ability to recruit icons to your MyTeam organization such as the aforementioned Senna and Prost, as well as Michael Schumacher, David Coulthard, Felipe Massa, and more. However, this is only available as part of the deluxe edition of the game.
As for Driver Career or career mode, it’s what you’ve come to expect, though there are some key features. Chief among these is the option to pick a two-player campaign so you and a buddy can enjoy the season via split-screen multiplayer. For the sake of transparency, this was not available for the review build that we received. I kept getting errors that this download wasn’t finished yet, even though no actual download process appeared on the interface.
Likewise, there’s a Real Season Start option. This allows you to begin during any of the previous Grands Prix that have been completed in Formula One’s 2021 season. Simply select a player to replace, and you’re all set. Still, there are a few caveats to discuss.
At a technical glance
From a technical standpoint, I didn’t experience egregious issues while I was reviewing F1 2021. The graphics remain top-notch, and ray tracing improves visuals, especially when taking those memorable photo mode screenshots. The audio keeps you on your toes as engines roar to life. The controls also feel tight and responsive (I was only using a Logitech F310 gamepad and not a steering wheel).
Performance wise, I averaged 77 fps according to the benchmark. I do have the Nvidia RTX 3080 and Intel i9-10900K, which are fairly high-end, and these allowed me to fully immerse myself in the details and moment-to-moment action. Dynamic resolution scaling also helped so I didn’t suffer framerate drops. Perhaps the only problem was how taking Steam screenshots in the middle of a session caused a slight slowdown. I don’t expect a lot of players to be bothered by this considering the highlights/saved replays and photo mode functions that are available.
Is F1 2021 worth getting now?
To be fair, F1 2021 continues to provide an amazing racing experience like no other. You can toggle multiple assists and flashbacks, set various difficulty picks, and fine-tune a plethora of options to fit your racing style and capabilities. Moreover, the game has other tweaks related to car damage, expert options, multiplayer, drivers being part of other teams, team rebranding (i.e., Renault becoming Alpine and BWT Racing Point becoming Aston Martin), and more.
Perhaps my only gripe is that, as someone who played F1 2020, I don’t really see the need to purchase this year’s iteration immediately on launch day. Last year, I was comfortable when I spent many hours on the MyTeam and Driver Career modes. This year, I found myself playing these two modes again. I would prefer that additional emphasis and improvements were made to these two existing modes as opposed to the rather uninspired and disjointed Braking Point story. As for the remaining changes, those weren’t as impactful. Still, I surmise that opinions will be different especially for those who prefer sim-racing/realism tweaks and for the long-time fans of the franchise.
Lastly, going back to the current season, F1 2021 will receive three additional racetracks as free DLC later on: Imola (Emilia Romagna Grand Prix), Portimão (Portuguese Grand Prix), and Jeddah (Saudi Arabian Grand Prix). The first two were already held earlier this year, so only Jeddah remains. We know that once the DLC is live, the tracks can be selected when you reach the next season in your campaign. Given that these new tracks won’t be out until much later, that might be a better time to actually pick up the game if you’re still on the fence about it.