Story modes in sports games are like marmite. Some love a single-player focussed narrative, mixing some humanity and drama in with all of the sporting action, while others decry them as hollow facsimiles of feature films that have invariably done a better job at some point in time.
The truth, as with most things, is somewhere between the two. We’ve had some great examples like Madden 19’s Long Shot, while others, like Codemasters’ own TOCA Race Driving series, ran the gamut of sporting cliches. With F1 2021, Codemasters are taking another shot at immortalising the world of motorsport with a tale to truly match the on-track thrills. It’s quite the task.
Braking Point is the pun-laden title for this particular parable, with you taking on the role of F1 rookie Aiden Jackson as he attempts to make a name for himself. You will inevitably find yourself embroiled in a series of scrapes with both teammate Casper Akkerman and bitter rival Devon Butler too, leading to some encounters almost as intense as going wheel-to-wheel with Lewis Hamilton.
Sitting down with the opening hour of the Braking Point story, the first thing I had to do was decide on a difficulty setting for this particular plot, and then settle on which team you’re going to try to take to the top. In a nod to actual realism, it’s the lower ranked teams that are going to take on punt on your unproven skills, with Alpha Tauri, Aston Martin, Alfa Romeo, Haas and Williams your qualifying quintet. I opted for Williams since I’m of an age where I actually remember them winning championships, and now seems the perfect time for a meteoric rise back to the winner’s podium.
The final choice you’ll find here is the ability to customise your racing style. There’s a Casual setting for a simple and straightforward approach, Standard brings in an extra layer of authenticity, while Expert cranks everything all the way up, apart from the assists. The most extreme setting gives you a whole range of customisation options with which to truly bring you closer than ever to the track. No matter your interest level or proficiency, Codemasters want to get you out on the track.
The prologue sees you joining Aiden Jackson at the climax of the 2019 Formula 2 Championship, with your early task being to get him over the finish line in first place to secure a winning season. There probably wouldn’t be much of a story here if this a walk/drive in the park, but it gives you a nice few laps to ease you into things before jumping to big leagues. It leads into a rendition of the 2020 season that starts (as was once planned) in Melbourne.
From here, Braking Point can be broken down into three distinct parts: driving sections where you take over for a portion of a race, pre-rendered story cutscenes and downtime in your private room where, while I’m sure many younger F1 stars would relax by playing a spot of Call of Duty, FIFA or even some F1 2020, you will be catching up on TV headlines, scrolling through social media feeds and checking emails. While it doesn’t all feel essential – hair and makeup details from your PA and the like – It all serves to bring Braking Point together, and you’ll soon start to feel like you’re in Aiden’s skin, or at least understand him.
You’ll need to give that a little time, as first impressions may not be completely positive. He says all the right things in front of the cameras, but is really just a scared kid, and his upper class British delivery may not be for everybody. I don’t particularly know why I found his presentation jarring at the outset, but you’ll find that melts away as you get drawn into the on-track action.
When it comes to racing in Braking Point, the game drops you into particular sections of a race with a predetermined goal – such as catching and passing your veteran teammate in the space of a few laps and then, after a cinematic incident, to see the race out. Handling is tight and feels fantastic in action, similar to what Codemasters achieved last year, while the jump to PS5 brings a renewed clarity to the visuals. Combining them with the impressive cutscenes means that F1 2021 is closer than ever to achieving its dream of perfectly capturing this incredible motorsport.
It all looks pretty damn good though, even if some of the lip-syncing is a little off. All of the main protagonists look like actual people rather than pit crew avatars that have been given a lick of paint, and, at least as far as our opening preview is concerned, there seems to be more than enough drama to draw you in – Devon Butler is such a mischievous rotter, isn’t he? I’m certainly looking forward to following the rest of Aiden’s story, especially as it’s tied into what is set to be Codemaster’s most fully featured F1 outing yet.