After the longest off-season of our lives, we finally got to enjoy real life grand prix racing yesterday as the 2020 F1 season began in Austria.
As the actual 2020 season has been altered beyond all recognition by the coronavirus pandemic, F1 2020 offers our only means to experience this year’s world championship as it was always intended.
So, with a blockbuster new game mode grabbing the headlines and a wealth of changes both on and off the track, does F1 2020 deliver on the palpable pre-release hype among its worldwide player base?
Racing the season that never was
No masks, no social distancing: F1 2020 presents a pandemic-free simulation of this year’s championship. All 22 races of the intended, longest-ever calendar are here in their intended order – including the brand new Vietnam Grand Prix in Hanoi and the return of Zandvoort and the Dutch Grand Prix – with all ten F1 teams, the 2019 F2 season and a host of classic cars included.
After such a heavily disrupted and turbulent start to the season, Codemasters have done their very best to present as realistic a representation of this year’s Formula 1 grid as they can. However, there are some understandable areas where the game doesn’t quite yet reflect what we saw on track this weekend.
As the last-minute raft of livery changes prompted by the sport’s ‘#WeRaceAsOne’ initiative against racial discrimination came too late to make the launch game, the striking new black Mercedes W11 livery and updated McLaren scheme are not present at release.
Codemasters’ vehicle artists have done a commendable job to include the heavily revised Williams livery in time for release day, however, and Codemasters confirmed to RaceFans that updates to the liveries of other teams will be patched into the game as soon as possible.
With only pre-season testing to judge the performance of each team by, the developers have made their best educated guess at the speed of each car, with Mercedes the unsurprising front-runner and Ferrari a clear third behind Red Bull. Codemasters have assured players that they will be offering regular performance updates to the game as the real-life season progresses.
In a smart piece of forward-thinking, when performance updates are downloaded, players have full freedom to choose whether to implement them into career mode saves already in progress, meaning it won’t disrupt the consistency of your championship when you’re halfway through a season.
Out on the track, F1 2020 makes subtle changes to handling that veteran players will notice almost immediately.
Most outstanding of all is brake response. If you’ve ever had difficulties gauging brake feel in F1 2019, you’ll likely find that you’ll have so much more confidence with your left foot or index finger in 2020. The initial braking phase is definitely more effective this year and the feel for where the limit of the brakes are with ABS off is more enhanced, particularly on controllers.
There’s also a sense that cars drive as though they are less affected by weight this season, especially with heavier fuel loads. As ever, this isn’t ‘Assetto Corsa’ levels of physics simulation we’re talking about, but F1 2020’s handling changes have earned positive feedback from the likes of George Russell and you’ll likely find that you’ll be more consistent lap-to-lap than last year’s game.
Another change for this year – prompted by a suggestion from Lando Norris – is that the ERS system has been greatly simplified to better reflect how it operates in reality.
Energy management is now almost entirely automated, with players instead granted the exciting power of the new ‘overtake’ button. Pressing it overrides the ERS for maximum deployment, giving you a concentrated burst of power to help you blast past a tricky opponent or push for the quickest lap time possible. It’s a lot of fun to use but, as ever, you have to be strategic in how you deploy it, or you’ll be punished when you run out of harvested energy.
The offline racing experience has always been a strength of the series and F1 2020’s AI rivals are as fun to race against as ever. They are a little less brutal in how they act while you’re alongside them on the exit of corners when compared to 2019 and while they still don’t seem to make as many mistakes as they did in F1 2016, they can and do mess up of their own accord from time to time, when attacking or defending.
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Becoming the 11th team
F1 2020’s biggest new feature by far is in the arrival of the bold new MyTeam mode.
For the first time ever in an officially licensed Formula 1 game, MyTeam allows you to create your very own personalised F1 team to take the 11th garage in the pit lane and compete for the constructors championship.
There’s a lot to cover regarding this eagerly-anticipated addition to the game, so we’ve dedicated a separate feature to covering all the details on F1 2020’s new MyTeam mode.
While very much a driving-focused mode – you cannot just administer the team without racing in it – MyTeam allows you to take full control of a fictional new team in which you decide what and who to invest in. From signing sponsors and a team mate to developing your car and spending money on improving your team’s facilities, MyTeam offers a whole new dimension to offline racing.
With the dynamic driver market, building your team up from regular Q1 elimination to title chasers over the course of seasons is perhaps the most immersive experience the series has offered to date and one that Codemasters will hopefully continue to build on and expand over the coming years.
MyTeam grabs the attention, but the traditional career mode is still there and as enjoyable as ever. All of the driver market enhancements and perks make the move from MyTeam, but as simply a driver, you don’t need to worry about anything over than spending resource points to develop your car.
You have different options of how to begin your career. You can now opt to first run a complete season of Formula 2 before entering Formula 1, or a shortened season of one race per weekend, or drive three short scenarios as in F1 2019. How you perform in F2 affects your reputation when you move into Formula 1, but you can choose to bypass F2 entirely if you prefer.
With the 2020 season originally boasting a record 22 race calendar, simply completing a single season in MyTeam or career mode is a marathon in itself. That’s why the new shortened calendar option for F1 2020 is especially welcome.
Rather than run the full calendar, you now have the choice of running a 16 or 10-race season instead, with freedom to choose which grands prix you want to race.
Can’t stand Monaco’s barriers? You don’t have to bother. Sick of Sochi? You don’t have to race around Russia ever again if you don’t want to.
The most enjoyable aspect about this feature is that you can change the calendar completely every season, so you’re free to rotate races in and out to keep things fresh each time.
The only quirk is that you can’t change the order of races. If you choose to race around Albert Park, it will always be the opening round of the championship. You’ll also always race Monza before Suzuka, if you decide to keep both.
It’s only a minor issue, though. If you don’t have as much free time to play as you’d like or if you prefer to do longer race distances, this new option will help to make running a whole season feel much less of a slog.
Getting your grind on
Customisation becomes a major focus point of F1 2020 with the introduction of the Paddock Pass, a new suite of unlockable, customisable liveries, driver suits, helmet designs and podium celebrations (’emotes’) that operates similar to season passes in popular games like Fortnite.
If reading that gets you worried, however, it’s important to point out that everything unlockable with Paddock Pass is purely cosmetic and has no impact on performance. While paying real world money for access to items is an option, you can earn enough in-game currency to unlock items simply through playing the game.
Over the course of the year, various ‘seasons’ will see a new suite of unlockable items available through a selection on in-game challenges, such as ‘complete six laps of Albert Park’. Doing this earns you in-game currency to spend on new items to further customise the look of your driver avatar or MyTeam.
An additional ‘VIP’ tier is available to give access to more exclusive items each season. Players who have pre-ordered one of the special editions of the game will be given enough currency to able to buy the first VIP pass and players have the ability to earn enough points to buy access to the VIP tier for the following season.
Some may feel a little uneasy at the looming sense that a microtransaction-filled future lies in store for the series, but if it operates as Codemasters claim it will – as the feature was not active at time of review – then Paddock Pass should be relatively inoffensive to most players. If anything, it may add extra longevity to the game by giving players regular things to work towards. If none of that appeals to you, however, it should be fairly easy to ignore.
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Classic cars are still present in F1 2020, albeit with the oldest class of cars from the 1970s and early eighties sadly cut from the new edition.
The new additions to the roster this year are only available through purchasing the Deluxe Schumacher edition (or winning a copy in the RaceFans F1 Predictions Championship) or in future DLC. As the name implies, the new historic models are all cars that played important roles throughout the historic career of seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher.
The beautiful Jordan 191 in which Schumacher made his famous debut at Spa-Francorchamps is joined by the controversial Benetton B194 that took him to his first world championship in 1994. The Benetton B195 that saw Schumacher take his second successive title is also included, and the final new addition being the Ferrari F1-2000 with which he claimed his first of five championships for Ferrari.
Deluxe Schumacher edition owners also get access to a selection of special themed liveries, race suits, helmet designs, a trademark ‘Schumacher leap’ podium celebration and the option to give their avatar driver his likeness. While fans of the legendary driver will likely appreciate these homages, chances are that the majority of players will want to stick with their own personalised gear.
We tried these cars out in a preview version of the game a few weeks ago:
Racing is for everyone
While online multiplayer can be a lot of fun, Codemasters’ F1 series has been crying for a split-screen local multiplayer mode for far too long now.
F1 2020 rectifies this by offering split-screen races for two players to battle each other and the AI on the same console. As fun as running full distance career mode races can be, there is nothing quite like starting at the back of the grid with a friend challenging each other to see who can get the furthest up the field by the chequered flag.
Codemasters’ F1 series may not be as hardcore a simulation as many would like it to be, but with its physics and handling, it can be pretty difficult for complete beginners, younger children or people with accessibility needs to be able to play, even with assists.
The new for 2020 ‘casual’ handling mode addresses this by adding a range of extra features to help players, including a steering assist, a reset to track that puts you back on the circuit at full racing speed if you go wildly off track and increased grip on grass and other non-track surfaces.
If you’re reading this article, there’s an overwhelming chance you’ll neither need nor use this new handling model. But it is still absolutely right that the developers provide options like this to make the game as accessible as possible and allow everyone a chance to have a go and enjoy themselves playing.
When it comes to the game’s presentation, F1 2020 offers only minor changes to 2019. The menu system is fundamentally identical, as is the user interface within the game itself, albeit with extended use of the new F1 fonts and branding.
One new change that will be especially appreciated by cockpit view players is the introduction of the virtual wing mirror which sits in the centre of the top of the screen. With the standard camera settings cutting off the actual mirrors, players now have a clear vision of what’s coming up behind without having to resort to looking back constantly.
Console players also have been granted the privilege of being able to fully edit and adjust every aspect of the on screen display, with unique layouts for practice, qualifying and racing. It’s unlikely to matter to most players, but those who will make use of it will definitely appreciate it.
Engine sounds have been resampled this year and there is a greater distinction between the four suppliers. You can also choose to activate an audio mix intended to better reflect that of a real TV broadcast of a race.
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The best F1 game ever?
With so many new features to enjoy, it’s easier to forgive the parts of F1 2020 that can feel a little samey or could benefit from more attention.
There’s still no way to save full race replays to watch back later – only highlights. There’s no way to view car telemetry without a third party app. After the Safety Car was so inconsistent for many players last year, it is still surprising to make it through a fully wet race in China without a single accident.
There are always little things that could be better, so to point them out feels like nitpicking, when the core racing and features offered this year are so impressive. With PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X on the way boasting solid state drives, who knows what the next generation could have in store for the series?
Whatever comes in the future, the fact is that despite all the coronavirus disruption to their working lives and the real world sport they are trying to simulate, Codemasters have delivered their best F1 game to date. With the triumphant introduction of MyTeam and a raft of small touches that lead to big improvements, it’s never been easier to recommend a purchase to players who already own the previous game.
Let’s hope that the developers keep listening to feedback from the drivers for next year.
F1 2020 screenshots
How we tested F1 2020
We tested the PlayStation 4 and PC version of F1 2020. The PC used the following hardware:
- Fanatec Elite F1 Set steering wheel and pedals (Buy from Amazon)
- Logitech G29 steering wheel and pedals
- NVidia Geforce RTX 2080 Ti graphics card running the game’s maximum detail settings
Buy F1 2020
- F1 2020 Deluxe Schumacher Edition (PS4)
- F1 2020 Deluxe Schumacher Edition (Xbox One)
- F1 2020 Seventy Edition (PS4)
- F1 2020 Seventy Edition (Xbox One)
- F1 2020 Seventy Edition (PC)
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Publisher: Koch Media
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