F1 2021 first impressions – Racing just hit a new gear

Alfa Romeo and Haas racing in F1 2021Codemasters

The Formula 1 season has been exhilarating from the start this year, and Codemasters’ first offering under the umbrella of EA Sports, F1 2021, brings fans at home closer to the high-octane action than ever before. After getting a chance to get our hands on the wheels of the newest iteration of the series, there’s a lot to talk about.

Developing a sports game every year is tough, there’s no doubt about it. There’s only so much that can change in a calendar year in any sport, and often this leads developers to start tweaking with things that don’t need to be touched, just to make it feel fresh.

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Thankfully, Codemasters and EA Sports haven’t fallen into that trap after F1 2020. Last year’s offering was widely viewed as one of the best the series has ever seen, and with F1 2021, the team has taken the franchise’s gameplay to new heights, looking better, sounding more realistic, and playing better than ever.

Along with a host of new features like the new ‘Braking Point’ story mode and co-op Career Mode, F1 2021 is set to be the most immersive Formula 1 game to date.

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Haas and Alpine cars racing around Melbourne in F1 2021Codemasters
F1 2021 sets a new standard for how good racing games can look.

Championship-quality gameplay

The end-all, be-all for racing games is the gameplay, and F1 2021 takes another step forward in that department. Taking last year’s improvements and fine-tuning, taking a car out on track feels fantastic. The way the cars steer is as fluid as last year, but it feels like you’re punished harder for your mistakes. At times with 2020, it felt like understeer or oversteer didn’t really matter, though you’ll need to be as close to perfect as you can be to eke out the fastest lap time, just how it should be.

The great thing about F1 2021 is the fact that it’s built for everyone, no matter your skill level. After introducing the Casual race style in 2020 for players who like to jump on and race casually, Codemasters have opted for an Expert race style in 2021. A way to “lift the curtain on advanced race features,” Franchise Game Director Lee Mather told us in a special Q&A Presentation that the new system will allow players to “really change the actual progression and experience they have” in F1 2021.

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In multiplayer, new ‘Beginner’ and ‘Experienced’ Social Play Lobbies will let players quickly jump into races that suit their skill level or preferences, while extensive work has gone into the game as it releases on next-gen consoles like the PS5 and Xbox Series X for the first time.

With performance and graphics boosts, ray tracing, and improved load speeds, it looks better than ever, but the most impressive thing for us was how great the game sounded. Sitting in the cockpit of an F1 car should sound noisy. The sound of the engine should roar in your ears as you push down the throttle, and F1 2021 absolutely nails it. No racing game has ever captured the intense audio of a racing car quite like this.

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Lewis Hamilton in a Mercedes in F1 2021Codemasters
Driving an F1 car feels better than ever in F1 2021

Braking Point – ‘Drive to Survive’ style story mode

The headline addition to F1 2021 is Braking Point, a brand-new story mode that Mathers says takes inspiration from the hype around Netflix’s Drive to Survive. Set across three seasons, players will start in F2 during the 2019 season, and progress through to F1, where they’ll be able to drive for one of five teams: Racing Point / Aston Martin, Alpha Tauri, Alfa Romeo, Haas, or Williams.

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F1 fans will play through a “beautifully written story, full of exciting characters and drama,” as Aiden Jackson, and will meet a host of new faces along the way such as rival Casper Akkerman, team boss Brian Doyle, and fan-favorite Devon Butler, who makes a return from F1 2019 to play antagonist once again.

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Two-player Career Mode & Real Season Starts

Codemasters have been hard at work on Career Mode too. Last year’s MyTeam returns, allowing players to manage and drive for their own team in the F1 World Championship, but one of the most exciting additions to the game this year is Two-player Career Mode. 

In a “complex multiplayer system,” friends work together and race for the same team to win the Constructor’s Championship, or race against each other for different teams to compete for the Driver’s Championship.

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Both players will be able to do R&D to improve their cars, fight for new contracts with other teams, and build acclaim, bringing a new level of competition to the always-popular single-player mode.

On top of that, F1 2021 will feature a ‘Real-Season Start’ option for you to jump into the F1 2021 season as it plays out. Players can replace one of the 20 drivers on the grid and inherit their points from the real-life championship, updating after every race weekend. Don’t worry about cars getting left behind either, as Codemasters intend to simulate R&D throughout the season to make sure the fastest cars in real life are the fastest in the game.

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Lando Norris leading the pack in F1 2021Codemasters
F1 2021’s two-player Career Mode will let you battle against your friends over a full season.

Our early test only gave us the opportunity to test five of the 23 tracks that make up the 2021 Formula 1 Season, but we were immediately blown away by how good the game looks and feels.

Along with new upgrades to driver statistics, the ability to utilize the new Quick Practice mode to avoid spending time on track for more casual racers, and a revamped menu system, F1 2021 feels like a major step forward without reinventing the wheel.

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F1 2021 is currently in its beta phase, but racers will be able to get their hands on it when it releases on July 16 It launches on PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

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