For 2020, Codemasters have left no stone unturned as they seek to replicate the world’s biggest, most lavish motorsporting championship. So realistic is this game, that you can even recreate the actual pandemic affected season by running a shortened 10 or 16 race year in the game’s career.
That obligatory mention of the Coronavirus out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff.
By far and away the biggest feature in F1 2020 is the introduction of My Team, a managerial career mode where you can create and run a custom team to compete alongside the likes of Mercedes, Red Bull, Williams and all the others.
For the visual side of things, to create your team’s look, it’s building off the custom liveries that you could create and take into the online component of F1 2019, now with fictional brands to adorn the sweeping blocks of colour – real world sponsors can be pretty picky about how you use their logos. What’s inside matters just as much though, and a key consideration will be picking the right power unit of the four available – Mercedes, Ferrari, Honda and Renault – each with their own specific strengths. That said, the starting strengths and weaknesses of your car will actually stem from a season opening interview with F1 Digital presenter Will Buxton.
You’ll naturally then take your car out on track yourself to try and win races and championships, tapping into the familiar loop of R&D from previous games – this is largely unchanged, though can always be automated – but with more depth between races where you manage the team development facilities. Personnel and marketing join aero, chassis, powertrain and durability areas to research, oh, and you’ll also be in charge of hiring a teammate.
And that’s where things get interesting. Naturally you can hire an up-and-coming Formula 2 driver to race alongside you, but if you’ve got the cash to splash and a team that’s performing well enough with well equipped facilities, you can start approaching and recruiting actual Formula 1 drivers. This builds on the career mode feature from F1 2019 where drivers could move around between teams from season to season, but now you’re a more active participant in this, bidding for drivers and not just taking up a seat.
Of course, you can always just slot into the regular racing teams as a driver, just as you have been able to all along, now with the option of running a full or reduced season, or 3-race challenge through the returning Formula 2 championship. The game features the 2019 cars and drivers from Formula 2 at launch, with the 2020 season set to be added in down the line. That then leads into the full career, where you can race for ten seasons, whether it’s the full 22 race calendar or a shortened one. Given how time consuming a season can be, having shortened races return from F1 2014 and before is great to see.
Fundamentally, this is window dressing to the core action out on track, which all builds on the solid foundations of last year. The fundamentals of driving these beastly cars remain much the same as before, but Codemasters have gone into their simulation and made tweaks here and there, sometimes in response to the feedback from actual F1 drivers.
Things like the consistency of grip when getting on the throttle, how well you can throw the car into sharp turns have been brought a little closer to reality, while a new factor now tyre temperatures are tracked and managed is the tyre pressure. Oh, and if you’ve always struggled with knowing where other cars are in relation to you, despite the positional arrows, you can customise the OSD to feature a rear view window, like a mirror was dangling above your driver’s monocoque.
Most noticeable is the reworked ERS system, which Codemasters overhauled after McLaren driver Lando Norris told them it was far more complex than what they actually deal with in cars. You now have a pre-programmed ERS map, which harvests and uses up electrical energy automatically through the lap – you can see the percentage drop a little as you accelerate and fill back up as you brake. Instead of having direct input into this management, you have a simple overtake button that lets you override the programming to just spend energy, with a certain limit to how much can be spent per lap. It really is an overtake button as well, feeling immensely powerful when trying to pass or defend, but also with the risk that you can leave yourself vulnerable if you misuse it.
Though Codemasters’ F1 series has always tried to cater to a wide range of players, from novices to, you know, F1 drivers. You’ve got a plethora of assists available to you, with even more in this game that can automate the DRS and fuel mix for you, but what if even that is too much for you? Or what if even with all the assists on, you can barely keep it on track?
Well, that’s where the Casual race style comes in. This dramatically simplified the assists options, for one thing, while also giving you AI assisted steering, less punishing off-track surfaces, and even an automated track reset for if you spend too much time in the gravel. It’s a great way to dramatically lower the bar for entry, but you’d have to trust Codemasters and their market research for how much worth it’s going to add to the game. One thing it won’t do is impact the Standard race style, which is being kept separate. As soon as you head online to compete with other players, you will have to be playing with the full simulation at work, even if you do then fiddle with various assists to make your life easier.
That accessibility will certainly help if you fancy dabbling with the returning split-screen multiplayer, which brings back the couch play element that departed with the last game of the PS3 and Xbox 360 era of F1 game. Clearly Codemasters think their engine is well optimised enough to handle two views into the racing world on console – previewing the game on high-specced PC was nice and smooth, at least.
With any luck, we’ll have some very carefully planned and organised F1 races taking place by the time F1 2020 is released in July, but even without that, this is looking like a great entry in Codemasters’ long-running tenure with the series that should keep fans occupied over the summer.
Every year since 2015 has been building toward the next, and F1 2020 continues to grow in interesting and engaging ways, even if some of the features have been cribbed from last generation’s games. Still, whether you’re an F1 superfan who desperately wants to bring Stefan GP to reality, a complete novice racer looking for an easier way into the sport, or even if you’re Lando Norris who just wants the ERS to be just a little bit closer to the real thing, this is set to cater to a broader audience than ever before.