Even with minor improvements over its predecessor, F1 2021 still feels fresh and offers plenty of content to keep you in the driving seat for dozens of hours.
This past weekend, F1 fans witnessed one of the best races of the season at the Hungarian Grand Prix. My adventure at the Hungaroring while playing My Team Season 1 in F1 2021 wasn't as good as Esteban Ocon's and not nearly as bad as Valteri Bottas, but it still had its excitements overall.
I've started P17, just missing out on the Q2 but thanks to a great strategy I've managed to recover to P12, despite the almost non-existent overtaking opportunities at "Monaco without the buildings".
Anyway, now that I've wrapped up the little story about my Hungaroring heroics, let's kick off with this review.
For the first time, F1 2021 introduces "Braking Point" a brand new story mode that sees the player take place of Aiden Jackson, a young Formula 2 driver who is a rookie in Formula 1. Once you win the Abu Dhabi GP and snatch the world championship, you'll get to choose from five teams including Aston Martin, Alfa Romeo, Haas, Wiliams or Alpha Tauri.
You'll partner up with F1 veteran Casper Akkerman, who really, but really reminds us of Kimi Raikkonen. Akkerman is an integral part of the story but in order not to spoil anything, we won't be talking about that.
Every story needs a villain and F1 2021's Braking Point has one of the biggest douchebags ever - Devon Buttler - the man who first appeared in F1 2019 story mode, and boy, oh boy, he's a douche, but an amazing one.
Buttler is arrogant, confident and blazing fast and he'll be your biggest rival on the track throughout the season. Do your best to keep his mouth shut!
The story is fine, I would say. It's definitely not top-notch and there's a lot of cheesy moments with underwhelming writing. "Why would you say that?" was on my mind a couple of times during my Braking Point playthrough.
I would have loved to see more variety in the races since most of the time, you'll be somewhere down the pecking order, trying to climb your way back up and overtake as many cars as possible until the end of the race.
Most of the big events are scripted and you can't really avoid them in any way, which bugged me a little bit. It would be great if your choices on the track actually had an effect on the drivers and the story, but guess we'll have to wait for the next Braking Point story to experience that.
My first race in F1 2021 was a nightmare. I'm playing on an Xbox controller with some assists on and I could no longer dominate on my favourite tracks. I felt like Codemasters aimed for more realism this year when compared to the arcadey experience of F1 2020. And that's good.
After a couple of races, I've got a hold of it, though, and right now, I'm enjoying F1 2021 gameplay more than I've ever enjoyed F1 2020. It feels more natural and rewards clean driving more than ever before.
Finding the perfect setup is also important as the grip feels lower this time around. You'll be looking for those max downforce custom setups on a lot of tracks, which can be a painful experience if you just stick with the balanced setup that the game offers you.
As for the AI, it's another upgrade over the F1 2020's fantastic AI. You'll have a blast fighting for the position back and forth through the corners. Surprisingly, the AI also seem more aggressive this year and are prone to all sorts of errors when under pressure. You can balance this in the options, though, but it's certainly great when Alonso or Perez make a mistake, locking up their fronts while you're trying to get their position.
I have a few gripes with the wear this year. The engine components wear way too quickly and this probably needs to be patched soon by the devs. You'll see some of the components jumping 40 per cent in wear after only a couple of practice sessions, which is nonsense.
Also, the track surface in the wet can feel a bit misleading. My engineers would ask me to come to the pits for slick tires but, visually, the track was nowhere near dry. I gave it a shot and switched to the medium compound and guess what? The grip levels were pretty high. Make no mistake, this needs to be fixed in future updates too, since it takes away from the realism. Drivers are usually the ones who notice when it's time to fit the dry tire, not engineers.
The new mechanical faults system is also a nice addition that adds another layer of realism to the game. In F1 2020, I have never encountered a single mechanical fault on my car while in F1 2021, the first one happened at Silverstone, when poor Vettel behind me found himself in the could of smoke that was coming out of my engine unit.
You can choose how often these mechanical faults occur in the game's Career Mode, which is another great feature.
Speaking of the Career Mode, I've only played MyTeam mode so far and I'm having a blast. Again, it's not that big of an upgrade over the previous game in the series but has just enough new features to make it feel fresh when you're behind the wheel.
The practise sessions have received the biggest change and the usual goals like Tyre Wear and Fuel Consumption, Race Strategy and Qualification sim are no longer present on every track. On top of this, there are additional tasks that you can complete to achieve development boosts as you build your car.
Another addition is the ability to skip Practice sessions. You get to choose which tasks you want to fulfil within a limited time and each task has a percentage that shows your odds of being successful in that particular task. We found that going to the actual track is the best way to get resource points.
The career mode does not feature all the tracks that are confirmed for the F1 2021 calendar. You won't be able to drive on the iconic Imola, Portimao, and the new Jeddah track, but these will be added via free DLC, Codemasters and EA confirmed. Sadly, Turkey GP, which was officially confirmed for F1 2021 calendar earlier this year, won't be in the game. It's such a shame since Istanbul Park is one of our favourite tracks ever.
As for the Podium Pass, it's back with all sorts of goodies like gloves, helmets, liveries, podium celebrations and much more. You can unlock these by playing the game, if you previously purchased it, of course. All Podium Pass items can also be used in Online multiplayer, which is still filled with Mad Max-like petrolheads, who cannot believe that sportsmanship is the way to go for exciting and fun races. Oh well, they'll learn someday.
GRAPHICS AND SOUNDS
F1 2021 is the best looking F1 game ever. This year's iteration looks noticeably better than its predecessor with sharper and richer textures, ray-traced reflections and shadows, better environments and player models.
It's not that demanding either. I'm playing on a PC with Ryzen 3600 CPU, Radeon RX 6800 GPU and 16 GB of RAM on 1440p resolution and comfortably get from 80 to 100 FPS on Ultra Settings.
As for the sound, it's an improvement, mostly on the engine sound side of things. There's also a neat little addition in the settings called Driver Helmet mix, which tries to imitate the sound that F1 drivers hear while racing. We recommend using this one if you prefer the Helmet cam. It's more immersive than the standard sound mix.
F1 2021 doesn't bring many changes over F1 2020 but its additions are more than enough to make it feel fresh, engaging and keep our hands glued to the steering wheel for a long long time. It's the best that franchise has ever been and we strongly recommend it to all the fans of the highest class of racing out there.
Give it a go and remember, first you have to finish, as one great champion once said.