F1 2020 Review – The Reigning Champion?

Obviously the world has been a bit of a crazy place lately, so it’s hardly Codemasters’ fault that F1 2020 isn’t as authentic as last year’s game. A day one update will remove the Rokit sponsorship from the Williams car, but Mercedez sexy black livery is going to take a bit longer. And owing to the Formula 1 season starting four months late brand new tracks Zandvoort and Hanoi are in the game but won’t get seen in real-life until the 2021 season. Meanwhile, last-minute changes to the calendar mean circuits such as Mugello and Imola could potentially get used, neither of which are in the game. Exactly how Codemasters intend on handling all of this remains to be seen, but I think we can forgive the lack of authenticity this year, eh?

The big new headlining feature for F1 2020 is one I’ve been wanting for years – the ability to form your very own team and hopefully build it into a championship-winning outfit capable of finally ending Mercedez domination. In My Team mode you’re pulling double duty as both owner and driver. You kick-off by picking a main sponsor out of a few available to you, which determines the objectives you’re aiming for and your starting budget. From there you get to choose a power unit provider and a second driver. Do you want to kick-off your first season with more power under the hood, or would you rather spend the cash on a stronger second driver?

Available On: Xbox One, PS4, PC, Stadia
Reviewed On: Xbox One X
Developer: Codemasters
Publisher: Codemasters

Review code provided by the publisher.

Sadly the next part of building your dream team isn’t so cool: there’s just a few livery designs to choose from. There’s no creation suite that lets you come up with your very own awesome design. All you can do is edit the colouring of the existing four or five liveries. It’s disappointingly slim pickings, and that’s due to the new Podium Pass, which is a posh way of saying in-game item store. By completing weekly challenges you’ll earn currency to spend on new liveries, gloves and podium animations. There’s also a VIP Podium Pass which you buy with real money, although apparently throughout one season you can earn enough in-game currency to buy a VIP pass for the next season. Codemasters had these features locked leading up to launch, so I couldn’t see what sort of items are available or their cost. Regardless, the whole thing feels like a messy and unwanted addition to the franchise.

Finally, you sit down for an interview and the answers you provide will help determine your main rival for the upcoming season, as well as the initial developments on your car. For example, when asked about how I planned on nailing those overtakes I stated that we were focusing on developing our raw power. Ultimately I started off with an engine that was near the mid-field, and continued to develop it into a beast that was rivalling the big boys.

Once into the season proper you’ve got a bunch of new options open to you apart from just jumping into the races. One of those things is filling up the days between race weekends with activities from a list, like attending sponsor events, building up a certain department or doing G-force training. These all provide little boosts to stuff like department morale or your second driver’s stats.

One of the biggest things you can do is spend your starting cash on improving the six key departments such as marketing, aero development and driver training. These are by far the most expensive upgrades available, and they will unlock new R&D options, let you get bigger sponsors and more.

Speaking of sponsors they act as your biggest source of income. You start off with space for just one sponsor, but as you earn acclaim through racing and interviews with the press you’ll get to sign up to three more. Sponsors will provide weekly income, plus bonuses each race weekend provided you meet their goals. You also get a tidy lump some at the end of the season if you meet the criteria, like finishing 10th or higher in the constructor’s championship.

I’d definitely recommend ramping the A.I. difficulty up so that you can get a more realistic experience of having to properly start at the back of the field and fight and claw for every single point. On the easier settings it’s a breeze to finish well and please your sponsors, so cash is rarely a worry when in reality managing money is the biggest problem any new team in the sport faces. Even on the highest setting I never found myself struggling to juggle cash unless I was extremely stupid and tried to hire Lewis Hamilton while having a bank balance of about £50

On the topic of Lewis Hamilton, there’s a driver’s market for you to splash around in which includes all the current F1 drivers plus a bunch of generic drivers going cheap. They all have their own stats and ratings, which around bound to cause arguments amongst fans, and you can offer to sign them to your team. Your own second driver might also consider leaving, and so its up to you if you want to fight to keep them or spend some cash to pick up Vettel. Driver swaps can even happen mid-season by buying out their contract. I admit to having a deep sense of satisfaction when my initial second driver decided to move to Alpha Tauri where he proceeded to come in dead-last. Serves you right, you ungrateful potato of a driver. WolfPack Racing shall become the dominant force on the grid, and you will be nothing more than another failed racer.

Of course, there’s still research and development to do with resource points being generated by the various departments and augmented by performing tests during practice sessions. I could be imagining it, but upgrades feel like they make a more noticeable impact on-track compared to last year’s game. In particular, aerodynamic upgrades really impacted how well the car could handle bends. Regulation changes are back too, so some of your hard work can be wiped out if you don’t have the time and cash to adapt quickly enough. These ensure you can’t just max out everything over the span of a few in-game seasons.

All in all, My Team mode isn’t exactly a deep managerial sim but it’s absolutely a welcome addition to the franchise. It brings fresh, interesting new gameplay and gives you the immense satisfaction of starting with a nothing team of your own design and building it into a championship-winning beast. I hope Codemaster’s continues to flesh this out, perhaps adding some staff management, too, like choosing which engineers to hire and fire. Hell, maybe we can be allowed to find ways to “bend” the rules a little before ending up in a heated argument with the other teams and finally having to answer to the FIA.

Outside of My Team the rest of the package is largely the same as last year and it hasn’t replaced the standard career mode. You can opt to play through the 2019 GP2 series on its own or use it as a feeder for your career by performing well and using that success to sign with an F1 team. Driver moves are still an option, so you get to see Lewis Hamilton sign with Ferrari or Daniel Ricciardo leap into a Mercedez. It’s a nerdy little feature that I love.

There are more accessibility options than ever, which I appreciate even though I personally turn everything off and then slam the car into a wall because I got a bit heavy-footed with the throttle. For this year Codemasters’ has brought in three handling modes in a bid to give new players a helping hand. If you go with casual mode things like steering assist are automatically turned on, basically sucking you onto the correct driving line. Venturing off the track barely slows you down, too, and the game automatically plops you back onto the racing line with a little pat on the butt. On the other end of the scale, Elite mode turns everything off and lets you loose.

In My Team and Career mode there’s plenty of choices for race length and whether you want to participate in all the sessions. You can even tinker with the length of the season, dropping it to ten races if you don’t want to go for the full twenty. I’ll be honest, as much as I love F1 I do find playing through a full season to be a slog, so I opted to the middle setting of 16-events with 25% race distance.

Meanwhile championship mode contains numerous preset F1, F2 and Classic championships for your driving pleasure, again with heaps of customisation options. Also, split-screen has made a return! Huzzah!

As for the on-track action itself it feels largely identical to last year, meaning it’s bloody good. I still can’t tell you how realistic it is because I’ve never actually driven a Red Bull F1 around Spa at holy-fucking-christ-MPH. Still, it feels authentic to me and that’s what counts. The 2019 tactic of using lower gears to increase your cars rotation is still present, too, which makes me think its deliberate and not just a strange by-product of the handling model. I’d also wager that there’s a tad more feel under braking, and better feedback when it comes to the tyres slipping or the car starting to go into slide. I managed to save myself from spinning whereas in F1 2019 I probably would have ended up in the gravel.

In short, the handling is excellent, especially with a wheel, although I’d say the force feedback is still lacking some oomph. My Logitech G920 isn’t the best wheel around but overall the cars feel terrific to drive. Screaming around Monoco as it pours with rain and the view is obscured by a wall of water being kicked up by the car in front of you is utterly brilliant, as is trying to pull off a Webber up Eua Rouge.

Unfortunately, we still don’t get to experience the arse-clenching terror of a wet Monoco in VR. Formula 1 and virtual reality seem like such an obvious dream pairing, yet Codemasters have been incredibly slow on the uptake when it comes to VR, especially compared to other companies putting our sims. DiRT 2.0 finally got VR support months after it was released, but so far Codemasters have said absolutely nothing about adding VR to F1 2020. C’mon, Codies. It’s time.

ERS has also gotten an update so that you now have a simple overtake button, which is more akin to what the real F1 drivers use. These days Formula 1 is closer to a video game than ever thanks to ERS and the DRS systems, so they still fit in quite well. However, as you can opt to let the game handle their usage if you’d prefer to concentrate purely on driving like a maniac.

The A.I. is generally great, able to perform some nice wheel-to-wheel racing through consecutive bends. Sure, they still have moments of madness and on some tracks they are weirdly easy to out-qualify, but for the most part they provide satisfying opponents to go up against.

Going up against real people is naturally a lot more inconsistent as you have to deal with a lot of…er, enthusiastic drivers who haven’t quite learned where the brake pedal is yet. The options here are largely untouched from last year, so it’s still heaps of fun when you get matched up with clean racers and incredibly annoying if even one rammer manages to sneak into the event. But after so long working on the series Codemasters still haven’t managed to build a strong connection system, so races can be laggy and disconnects common.

If your racing tastes are a little more old-school then there’s some good news because the classic cars are back, both as invitational events during My Team and My Career, and just as selectable cars for Grand Prix and time trials. There’s also some classic Michael Schumacher cars but they are only available via the Deluxe Edition and aren’t in the regular game. That’s some BS.

Unfortunately, F1 2020 kept booting me back to the Xbox One’s dashboard when it was loading between sessions in My Team. Sometimes it would happen multiple times in a row, forcing me into a loop of booting the game back up and hoping it would get through this time. A number of times if I did manage to load in properly I had to skip a practice session or something to make it to the race. After the problems of Assetto Corsa Competizione it’s disappointing to run into another racing game with big issues. This particular glitch wasn’t listed under the known errors that are promised to be fixed by launch, either.

Thankfully on a technical level everything else was fine. There’s still too many recycled animations, character models and cutscenes, especially in My Team mode where it’s a bit strange to watch a random dude give a rousing speech to MY team while I’m sitting right there. But everything else has gotten some extra touch-ups, making this the best looking F1 game yet. And it runs at a lovely, consistent 60FPS, at least on the Xbox One X where I tested it.

Being booted back to the dashboard pretty consistently was a massive blow to my enjoyment, so that needs to get patched out quickly, but otherwise, this is the biggest and best F1 package we’ve got from Codemasters to date. My Team adds a heap of extra longevity to the game. On top of that, there’s now a dedicated E-sports menu, online leagues and weekly events, so there’s plenty of content to enjoy. The new Podium Pass system is the only question mark. Hopefully, Codemasters will resist the urge to turn its F1 license into yet another horrendous “live-service” marketplace, and will instead continue to build on their great new My Team mode and deliver outstanding on-track action for us Formula 1 fans.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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