Reviews

F1 2019 Review – Podium Finish

I’ve been watching Formula 1 for as long as I can remember, having been raised on a diet of that and MotoGP. These days, though, I’m struggling to stay a fan of the sport. Actual racing has taken a back seat to managing tyres, fuel, temperatures and energy. Overtakes are almost always due to the use of DRS, a system that gives the chasing car a massive advantage on straights. Meanwhile penalties now seem to follow the rulebook to the letter, rather than follow the spirit which has seen racers being given harsh penalties for trying to actually race.

What I’m trying to say is that while the real-world sport is having some problems the Codemaster games have managed to deliver a more exciting experience than the real-life sport has typically been able to. But while the F1 games have been consistently good over the years they’ve struggled to bring anything truly exciting to each new release. That’s the difficulty with yearly franchises, especially when they’re based on real sports. But for F1 2019 Codemasters have brought something genuinely exciting to the table: the F2 series.

Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Reviewed On: Xbox One X
Developer: Codemasters
Developers: Codemasters

Review code provided by Codemasters

F1 Vs F2

I’m assuming you already know what the F2 series is, but if you’ve stumbled across this review entirely by accident and don’t know your pitstops from your chequered flags then let me give you the quick brief; the F2 series is a step down from Formula 1 and features slower cars. The main selling point of the F2 series is that all the cars use the same chassis, tyres and engines in order to really highlight driver skill. It’s basically a proving ground for drivers with the best typically moving up to Formula 1.

These F2 cars are slower than their big brothers but offer a very different driving experience. They feel feistier, more prone to spinning out. I’d actually say they are harder to drive than the Formula 1 cars which is a tad surprising. Combined with the returning historical cars the F2 machines help give the game more variety.

Story elements in racing games do not have a stellar history, usually inducing horrendous nightmares involving terrible acting and horrifying “dude, bro” dialog. Imagine my surprise, then, when the F2 series actually had some decent story stuff going on. It revolves around your team-mate and a complete arse-face by the name of Devon. We do not like Devon. Devon is a tit.

In the first of the three scenarios your car has a technical problem which is slowing you down, so the team asks you to let your team-mate go by. Do it and he’ll go on to win the race. Fail to comply or just keep going because you believe to be faster and the next cutscene changes so that your team-mate is angry at your actions. The next scenario involves you and Devon making contact, forcing you to pit. But after Devon has to pit as well you wind up with a chance to overtake him.

It’s odd that there’s no option to launch into a full F2 season before making the transition to Formula 1 and the extra speed that comes with it. But you just get those three scenarios, though you can opt to do a full F2 championship separately if you like. If you do then there are a couple of fun tweaks to how a season plays out since F2 has a slightly different ruleset. For example, each weekend consists of two races; a long-ish feature race and a shorter sprint. The finishing order of the first race dictates the grid for the second but with the first eight positions being reversed, thus the winner starts 8th and so on.

Still, Codemasters have missed a massive opportunity when it comes to integrating F2 into career mode. The biggest grievance is that you’re told doing well will potentially net you a contract with a Formula 1 team, but ultimately your performance in the three short scenarios means nothing. The first time I ran through them I aced all the scenarios and was given contract opportunities with every F1 in the paddock. Curious, I restarted the career and performed atrociously in the scenarios, including deliberately smashing into other racers. I was still given contract opportunities with all the F1 teams.

Graduating To Formula 1

To my everlasting surprise I found that it was a shame that the story elements sort of fizzle out once you get to Formula 1. Both Devon “FuckMuppet” Butler and Weber make the leap, too, but the cutscenes and orchestrated scenarios all but vanish. However, both Devon and Weber are free to move from team to team – as can all the drivers, a first for the franchise – and can thus wind up being your teamates or your rivals. And I still took great pleasure in out driving Devon and occasionally ramming him off of the track. Screw you, Devon, you horrible spunk rag.

Mostly things are exactly the same as the were in F2 2018. You go from race to race with the goal of meeting and hopefully exceeding your team’s expectations. Start a career with Mercedez and you’ll be expected to stand on the podium from the very start, while opting for a lower team like Torro Rosso means just snagging some points. Depending on your performance you’ll get new offers from other teams, and can even potentially swap teams mid-season.

For the first time in series it’s now possible for any driver on the grid to move to other teams, again sometimes even in the middle of a season. Lewis Hamilton might go prancing over to Ferrari, while Ricciardo could take a well-deserved spot at Mercedez. None of this has any real impact on the gameplay, but the F1 fan in me thrilled a little at seeing the strange driver line-ups that could emerge.

By taking part in tests throughout the three practice sessions before a race you can earn research and development points. These points can then be spent on developing new components for your car, resulting in small performance boosts that will gradually let you go from racing for 15th to racing for a podium finish. Just like before this gives you an actual reason to take part in practice sessions, and it’s very rewarding to take a low level team and build it up to championship winning status.

There’s also the chance to take part in various exhibition events throughout the season revolving around the selection of classic F1 machines. Frustratingly four cars were kept back for people who ordered up one of the two special editions. This includes the 1990 Ferrari F1-90 and the 1990 McLaren MP4/5B. You can buy them seperately, but it’s still annoying. Putting that aside, though, getting to drive the roster of classic machinery is awesome. I’ve personally got soft spots for the 2004 Ferrari, the 2009 Brawn and the 1998 McLaren MP4.

These days especially Formula 1 involves a lot of pomp, circumstance and PR work. Codemaster’s have been attempting to reflect that by having you take part in interviews where you get a few seconds to choose from a couple of stock answers to simple questions. Depending on how you respond to nosy reporters you’ll move between being a respectful sportsman or more a showman. You can also impact a specific R&D department, like perhaps mentioning how the aerodynamics weren’t up to snuff. While Codemaster’s continued quest for authenticity is great, the media aspects of F1 2019 still feel underwhelming. That’s mostly because your answers don’t have much impact. You’re told that being a sportsman or a showman will influence teams interest in you, and that what you say about your own team can affect their morale, but the differences feel negligible.

Overall the career mode has barely changed since last year and still feels terrific to work through. A little more work on the media side of things is the only area where a big improvement could have been made, and to my surprise I wouldn’t have minded some of the story elements carrying through.

F1 2019’s Handling Is Better Than Ever

There are a couple of places where Codemasters have tweaked the handling model from F1 2018. Hitting the curbs, for example, is now a riskier proposition as they can really unsettle the car, so finding that extra bit of pace is all about using the curbs as much as you can without going over the limit.

The shoulder of the tyres offer up more feedback, too. I was testing mainly using a G920 Logitech wheel and found that compared to last years game I just had more information being thrown at me through the feedback. With more knowledge of what the tyres are doing you can push things a little harder.

Everywhere else the handling models is mostly the same. Make no mistake F1 2019 is still very much an arcade racer than it is a simulator, but it manages that fantastic magic trick of making it feel realistic. Switch over the the cockpit view and F1 2019 does a hell of a job of making you feel like you’re actually in a Formula 1 car.

But that also makes Codemaster’s continued ignoring of VR support all the more frustrating. The brilliant DiRT 2.0 didn’t have VR at launch but is at least confirmed to be getting support this summer. The F1 series, though, remains firmly without the joys of strapping on a VR headset and becoming completely immersed in the feeling of driving a Formula 1 machine. For myself and many others it’s hugely dissapointing.

Last year’s A.I. was pretty good but Codemaster’s did overcompensate for past criticisms a little by making the others racers overly aggressive. They had a habit of attempting insane manevours, but now they feel more smartly balanced. I had some great wheel-to-wheel racing action with them, often spanning several corners in succession. Hell, I’d arguably say that racing the A.I. was more fun than competing online against other people. At least the A.I. didn’t try to t-bone me at every turn.

What I’m driving at is that the on-track action in F1 2019 is the best the series has seen so far. The action feels intense, the A.I. are reasonably challenging and tweaks that have been made provide more feedback than ever.

Multiplayer Is Still A Bit Messy

F1 2018 introduced a licence system for its multiplayer with the idea being to separate the serious players from the more….uh, suicidal. Driving games have always had some problems with players choosing to use other players as braking aids, so the idea that was players who deliberately smashed into others would get a worse licence ranking and only be matched up with other crash-happy racers.

The system remains largely unchanged for F1 2019 and thus sort of works. I still found myself in a lot of races with players who were all too willing to smash me out of existence. Now, there is something to keep in mind, though: the licence system will take time to filter everyone and a lot of my testing was done prior to the official release. In a few weeks to a month things could be a lot different.

But when you get a race against like-minded people it’s absolutely bloody fantastic. We’ve already covered how the handling model is superb, but when you combine it with real people who are pushing their cars to the limit the game really comes into its own.

The biggest change to multiplayer, though, is clearly the addition of official leagues. Anyone can set up a league and opt to keep it private or open it up to any player who wants to join. A league is essentially a scheduled list of races that will award points based on where players finish, with the person boasting the highest score at the end winning some fancy accolades to show off in their trophy cabinet.

Leagues have always been a part of racing games but organising them has been tricky. It’s fantastic to see Codemaster’s adding tools for players to set up proper leagues, and best of all these leagues can be scheduled so that events kick off at a pre-determined time without the league creator even having to be there. Scores will be tracked, grid penalties can be applied by admins if needed, the level of assists can be set and A.I. drivers can even be added if some members couldn’t show up.

Throughout all of the multiplayer mayhem you won’t be racing in Red Bulls or Ferraris. This year everyone gets the same car with the same performance level, at least when you’re racing in ranked mode or leagues. The upside to this is that you can now unlock customisation options and so create a unique livery for your car and driver.

While the new leagues are cool they have come at the cost of a proper online career mode. While you can set a league to private and just invite a friend or two there’s no way to set it so that you can have the proper Formula 1 teams with real-to-life performance, or the R&D aspects. I loved teaming up with a friend in F1 2018 and building up a team together, or competing against each other. The loss of proper co-op championships is a real blow.

Another weird flaw is that you can’t use the F2 cars in league play. You can use them in standard Grand Prix mode, though, so it’s a little weird that there’s no way to set up a proper F2 league.

Events have also returned. These pop up and challenge you with certain races, cars or event typres and competiting earns more currency to spend on picking up customization options for your multiplayer car.

The system feels worryingly designed for microtransactions, but so far Codemasters have refrained from adding any to F1 2019. Still, a wary eye will need to be kept on the game.

Graphical Upgrades

While the visual updates to this years game aren’t massive there’s no doubt that Codemasters have made some improvements. It’s most noticeable in places like Marina Bay where the upgraded lighting combines with the atmospheric mist to create something that looks almost like the real thing at times.

You’ll find an official comparison shot from Codemasters above. It’s quite easy to tell that the image is largely bullshit, but there is a notable bump in visual fidelity. Overall, I was happy with the improvements that Codemasters have made.

Like last year the game aims for 60FPS and it seems to hit that without much problem. There were a few stutters here or there, but nothing serious on my Xbox One X.

It’s Just F1 2018 Again

It’s impossible to review F1 2019 without addressing the obvious issue: this is basically just F1 2018 all over again. It’s a long-running problem with yearly sports games and always raises the question of how they should be reviewed. Should each new release be viewed on its own without the context of the previous games? After all, would it be fair to write F1 2019 off despite the fact that when viewed on its own it is superb? But on the other hand should the game be given a pass despite it being essentially last year’s title with some new additions that could have easily been DLC?

I don’t think there’s a right answer to this question. Ultimately it comes down to whether or not you already own last years game. If you do have F1 2018 installed then I’d probably recommend waiting for F1 2019 to go on sale. The new F2 series is certainly a fun addition to the franchise, but otherwise your ¬£50 is only getting you slightly improved A.I., slightly better handling and slightly better graphics. The new league system might be tempting, but it comes at the cost of proper online career.

However, if you’ve perhaps missed the last couple of games or indeed haven’t played any of the F1 titles to date then in my estimation this is the best Formula 1 game Codemaster’s have crafted to date. The final score you see below is based on this idea that you’re new to the series or haven’t picked up the past few games. Taken in that context F1 2019 is absolutely fantastic.

4 out of 5

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