F1 2020 PC Review

2020 should have been a huge celebration for Formula 1, as it enters its 70th anniversary, but this was far from the case. The season was suppose to begin, as it does normally, in Melbourne, but this was stopped hours before the Australia Grand Prix weekend was about to start, due to the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). After a few months break Formula 1 was finally back on TV this weekend (July 5th 2020) with an action packed season opener in Austria won by Valtteri Bottas. We still do not know how long the season will be, as the organisation tries to rebuild the calendar for the rest of the season to meet the racing quota as the pandemic keeps on ravaging the world.

This has not stopped the release of the official Formula 1 racing game from Codemasters, which is now on its 11th year. The game is the only way to see the full season played out as intended, featuring all 22 courses that were to take place in 2020 – Zandvoort and Hanoi make for some challenging racing with the modern cars. Not only that, as Codemasters are celebrating the motor sports’ 70th birthday, along with its most successful driver, Michael Schumacher, with two editions of the game, F1 2020 Seventy Edition and F1 2020 Deluxe Schumacher Edition, but do these do justice to the huge history of the sport and its most iconic driver?

The biggest addition to this year’s title is My Team, as players finally get to become the 11th team on the grid in both driver and team owner. This becomes more personal than jumping into an existing team replacing one of the current F1 drivers and teaming up with their partner in the normal career mode, which is still featured here. Codemasters tried to add a personal experience with characters in the somewhat lacking story in F1 2019, but that feature never went anywhere and ended up feeling poorly implemented. My Team does not include Formula 2 within its structure, instead, starting the 2020 season as the fresh kids on the block looking to make an impact on the sport.

Creating an avatar for the game enables this to become the main driver in My Team. From here it is time to craft a unique identity before any racing begins. This means coming up with a team name, a team colour, logo and suits, accepting a power unit manufacturer from one of the four companies that deliver them to the teams in the motorsport, a first sponsor and then finally a second driver from a list of 2019 Formula 2 drivers to form the starting dream team with the limited funding available. It is fantastic to be able to finally create your own team in Codemasters’ series, but there is some design limitations here when it comes to elements of creativity. This is no Forza Motorsport when it comes to the tools available, and so the car and logo liveries are limited to set patterns, with only their colours changeable. A real shame, as with the power of creativity, we could have seen some amazing designs from people and have them shared on something like Steam’s Workshop. Still, I was quite happy with the outcome of DarkZero Racing – the colour scheme makes it look visually striking on the grid with 10 other liveries.

My Team can be split into two main features, the management and the racing. No longer is career based on jumping straight between races and adding research and development points gained from practice, qualifying and racing into the car for improvements, but now this has been intertwined within the implementation of the calendar and financial control. The role of a manager means having to fill the spare days between races with actions, such as investing in the facilities to gain better R&D, improve driver skills and the car, but also promote the team to bring in sponsorship and merchandise sales to gain extra cash to invest. Certain actions cost a specific amount of days to perform. A media storm with the drivers might take three days, while sending the second driver on a training camp will take five. These actions will change how the morale is for each department, how the second driver increases their stats and the acclaim and resources of the team. Having a popular team means fans are willing to spend cash and more sponsors will throw money at you to have their brand splashed on the car, which eventually means millions to spend on those expensive improvements. The only thing missing is the ability to do My Team cooperative, maybe the next generation games will bring that.

After experiencing My Team, I have no real urge to do the main game’s career mode. Not everyone will feel the same, so those who prefer less management can run through the normal Career and take their custom avatar through either a short sprint in Formula 2, similar to F1 2019, or do a whole season in Formula 2 before gaining promotion to Formula 1. Not much has changed in that department, for example, the practice challenges are the same as last year, so it seems most of the work went into doing My Team, which I feel is for the best, as what they have started is something much more personal than anything in the previous game, and this starts the blueprint for building on top with more features for future iterations, no doubt eventually getting to driver interactions, press briefings and building a sense of driver stories on the track, such as what is happening in the real sport currently with Hamilton and Albon.

As engaging as My Team is there is simply only one thing that has to be great, the on track element. Codemasters have iterated on this again to improve it over its predecessors. It begins with accessibility, now, this is not a bad thing in terms of the game’s handling (I will get to that in a minute), but with millions of F1 fans around the world, the official game needs to be able to allow those to play as well. Implemented this year is the Casual driving model that enables assisted steering, stops over acceleration that would cause spin outs, automatic track reset, faster off-track surfaces and simplified car options. While these cannot be taken online, this is fully usable within the career and offline two player split-screen mode.

I would imagine most players will stick with the Standard race style, which comes with its own set of assist levels covering areas like driving lines, anti-lock brakes, traction control and others. Codemasters’ games have always felt easy to play on a controller with some of the minimal assists on, so there is no surprise that F1 2020 is the same. Over the last couple of years I began playing racing games using a Logitech G29 Steering Wheel, and so most of my experience so far with F1 2020 is with that device. While I am no expect in driving physics nor have I ever been in a Formula 1 car to accurately say this is like driving the real thing, the force feedback and handling feels a bit more understandable, more easy to correct potential oversteer with the feeling coming with the wheel’s force feedback to signal loss of traction compared with last year’s game. It’s a subtle change, but enough to improve driving and the feeling of grip.

Other changes on the track, and no, there is no DAS (Dual-Axis Steering) here for the Mercedes car, is how ERS (Energy Recovery System) has changed to become the “Overtake” button, setting it to the highest mode for a quick burst of additional power. This change was to represent more the sport itself, as Lando Norris sent feedback to Codemasters about how the driver does not normally control the various power of ERS, but is told when the power is available to use. Lastly, there is now a virtual mirror for people who hate pressing a button to look behind them in cockpit view. It can be hard see cars close by – there are indicators to help with position of other cars on tracks – and if a player is not lucky enough to have three screens to view the mirrors on the side of the car (the game does not feature virtual reality), then this is the next best thing to help understand the surroundings. AI can still be a bit aggressive at times on the track, with bumps here and there, but I did feel that the cars are less willing to drive into me during high risk moves, which is a good thing. Of course, if it all goes wrong, the ability to use a flashback to rewind time is there to correct the mistake.

Everything across the package, from beautiful visuals, great audio, plenty of modes and stable online netcode for ranked and unranked servers makes for a great product and representation of the sport in the current year, but I cannot help but feel that the 70th anniversary of the sport and the special edition with Michael Schumacher should have a little bit more celebration to it. All these editions do are give special liveries, celebrations, some of Schumacher’s classic racing cars and colours for the avatar designer. Experiencing classic cars is always a plus, but why not throw in some classic circuits to go with these. I actually remember one of the older F1 titles having a challenge mode, which would have gone perfectly fine with this 70th anniversary. Who wouldn’t want to try replicate Kimi Raikkonen’s amazing comeback in 2005 at Suzuka or stepping into Schumacher’s shoes and racing his Benetton around Spa battling Damon Hill. They could even go back to the early years, as the oldest historic car in F1 2020 is the 1988 McLaren MP4/4. There is so much opportunity here to display the history of the sport that I feel this is lacking for its 70th year. It would have also made for a nice send off for the current generation, as I expect the next F1 game to make use of the next generation of consoles for the 2021 release.

What it comes down to after the excitement of “lights out and away we go” is that Codemasters are improving with each release, increasing the authenticity and immersion that the licence brings with it. The following statement is something you will read many countless times about yearly sequels, but it still holds true that this is their best F1 game to date. This should be expected, why would sequels be worse? But it does happen!

While I do not think the game does enough to celebrate Formula 1’s 70th anniversary, the rest of the elements, the actual important parts to represent the motorsport, are rather excellent and the added assists means anyone can pick up a controller and play. The additional improvements to career mode through My Team make it more interesting and personal. The physics and handling are splendid, which enables some fantastic racing, and above all, feels fun to drive these amazingly fast cars around some of the most well known circuits on the planet. While it might not be the best racing simulation on the market, there is no other place to get the full experience of Formula 1 as one of the ten teams or as a fresh newcomer on the block. If this is the final game for the current generation of consoles, then this is a lovely way to end that cycle. If Codemasters keep this up going into next generation, then expect the series to only get better, because right now, F1 2020 is a worthwhile investment for F1 fans and fans of realistic style racing games.

8 out of 10