Formula 1 is back in the real world, but it’s been a long time coming. All the while through quarantine and scheduling delays, Codemasters was working to release its best racing game yet: F1 2020 for Xbox One, Playstation 4 and PC. It’s engaging and endlessly playable, though not without its caveats.
The Drive‘s Senior News Editor Jerry Perez and Deputy News Editor Caleb Jacobs—both lifelong F1 fans—tried their hands at the new title and reconvened after a week of casual playtime. Here’s what they came up with on F1 2020.
Caleb Jacobs: Codemasters’ F1 games aren’t full-on racing sims, but they’re also more realistic than, say, Forza Horizon. That’s fine by me, and I think F1 2020 does it better than in years past.
Jerry Perez: Yeah, I remember getting the first F1 game developed by Codemasters for the Xbox 360 back in 2011 and it was definitely more arcade than anything else. It was sprinkled with a few touches here and there that elevated it a little, but it was mostly just a fun F1 arcade game. Oh my, how things have changed.
CJ: There’s a clear effort here to bring F1 2020 up to a sim level, at least in some ways, and it’s definitely more refined than before. And there’s a game mode for every mood—for better or worse: My Team, Driver Career, Grand Prix, Time Trial, Championship and a host of multiplayer options. That said, it tries to be a lot of things at once.
JP: It definitely has a lot more options than before as far as what you can do with the game—I especially liked the exhibition events where you can drive vintage cars like Ayrton Senna’s McLaren MP4/4 or some of the old, V10-powered Red Bulls. However, I do feel like maybe it has too many options, and it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the abundance of events, challenges, and different ways to earn XP, etc.
CJ: Yeah, I’m with you there. We talked about this before but it’s kind of like… who has time to explore all of this? Maybe that’s not bad, but it’s a little intimidating as a casual gamer. More times than not, I have an hour or so to log on and play. If I spend 20 minutes toggling settings and flipping through menus, it feels a little tedious.
JP: Yeah, who’s got that kind of time? My kids do. They’ve got the time, especially nowadays with being stuck at home more often than not.
JP: My experience with F1 2020 began in the same way that it probably does for most folks, with My Team mode. Unlike in previous years, however, I didn’t only have to create a driver and choose a name and suit design, but I had to create an entire team!
In this mode, I had to go through the process of picking names, liveries, sponsors, and a bunch of other things that I never had to do before. You can choose to be a driver only and bypass all of this, but I figured I’d give it a shot considering it’s one of the biggest changes for 2020.
CJ: Right—that’s the biggest addition. It’s immersive and, truthfully, equally as well-done. You just have to make the commitment to the game to get the most out of it. If you can invest the time to plan team activities and upgrade your car’s sidepods before the next Grand Prix, all while keeping your sponsors happy, you’ll see a return.
It’s also worth noting that in the Driver Career mode, you now start at the F2 level and work your way up. I liked that aspect. Plus, there’s yet another category of cars to race.
JP: That’s the biggest thing, I noticed. If playing the game for a full season required a serious time commitment before, given the free practices and qualifying formats, then now even more so. I didn’t realize it at the time, but My Team required me to basically play team owner and driver. It’s definitely cool, but it’s a game within a game, one that you must keep your team alive while also racing an F1 car around the “world.”
CJ: Don’t forget the usually loaded questions you have to answer after each race at a press conference. They can either make or break your team’s morale, and you’ve gotta be careful how you word every answer… even though the answers are multiple-choice.
JP: Yeah, the post-session interviews aren’t my favorite, but given how important the media is for the teams and sponsors and so on, it’s actually cool that the game creators added that extra layer. It’s like a behind-the-scenes that lets players know that drivers have to do this in real life, and that there are consequences for their words—whether they be good or bad. Also, the in-depth interviews with a virtual Will Buxton are… ok.
CJ: The most fun I had was actually driving, and that aspect has undoubtedly been improved. Once I familiarized myself with the controls, I was able to toggle the different functions of my car while still focusing on the track. Although I’ve always appreciated the similarities and feeling as busy as a real F1 driver behind the wheel, I’m happy to kick back and play. Hitting a single button to manage ERS deployment instead of scrolling through menus while racing, for example.
JP: Most definitely, though I took a different approach. I cranked the rival AI difficulty as high as it could go and left ERS and DRS and all of that activate automatically. Basically, I just wanted to be challenged as much as possible and focus on the driving part—which I must say, the driving dynamics have come a very very long way since early iterations of the game. Especially considering I use a controller and not a fancy wheel setup.
CJ: You definitely notice changes in your car almost immediately, from worn tires to a clunky transmission. Or, more often in my case, a broken front wing…damn you, Singapore.
JP: To me, the biggest change is in how the cars take high-speed corners. The dynamics of how the cars respond to aero changes and how that translates into player feedback is monumental. You feel like you’re more in control and that’s a good thing. Yes, especially in Singapore.
CJ: Codemasters has done a good job of this for years, and it’s better than ever here. Even the graphics are improved, but still not great—I mean, the cars look stellar. I’m just not so sure about the rest. Also, pre- and post-race festivities are a bit copy/paste from one race to the next, making them feel like the afterthought they always have been for this series.
JP: The cars look great, and the tracks even more so. I was really impressed with the likes of Zandvoort in The Netherlands—what a sweet track that is. Hanoi in Vietnam, on the other hand. What a nightmare. I also hadn’t had the chance to play Paul Ricard “Le Castellet” on any game, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
But like you said, the graphics aren’t all great, and I think they truly suck when it comes to the humans. More specifically the drivers. I mean, you can’t tell Vettel apart from Ricciardo in some cases. The faces are just awful.
Caleb Jacobs: F1 2020 achieves what it sets out to—the racing is realistic, the year-over-year improvements are there and I think it’s worth noting that next-gen consoles are coming soon. We made a fuss about the graphics but both Sony and Microsoft are preparing to roll out new equipment that’s far improved. I’ll be looking for those changes next year, though.
Jerry Perez: I have to emphasize that from a racing perspective, this is the best F1 game so far. But also, the added steps and playing modes such as the My Team feature, the having to fight rivals in terms of points and qualifying, the having to meet goals to gain XP—it all just seems too much.
As a dude in his 30s who has a family, a home and a car website to manage, the last thing I want to do is play an accountant on a racing video game. I have my own bills to pay in the real world, I don’t care about balancing a budget for an F1 team.
CJ: I get that. While you’re definitely An Old, it’s tricky for anyone to allot several hours at a time to truly build their team. Then again, I think the game offers plenty of modes that you can jump into and casually play for an hour here or there. It’s just a matter of finding that happy medium that makes it all accessible for everyone.
JP: I may be An Old, but I’m sure I can run a budget and a team much better than some teen. I mean, that’s a skill to brag about, right? Anyway, yes, I agree that there are other modes to play, but those were already available in previous generations of the game, so to me, that doesn’t stand out as much.
CJ: Let’s give this a score. On a scale with Latifi being a 1 and Hamilton being a 10, this is firmly a Bottas at 8. Consistent, improved from the year prior, and as good as it’s going to get until something else changes that’s out of its control.
JP: I think fans will be pleased overall with the game. I can’t fully grasp spending another $50 to $80 for some of the new gameplay modalities, but I think that the new tracks and improved driving dynamics are what offer the most value here.
On my end, I’d have to give it a Perez—or 7 out of 10.
CJ: I get where you’re coming from, but that’s just how much video games cost now, old man. It might sound silly, but after three years of driving the same tracks on Forza 7, I was excited to see Zandvoort. Has that ever been in a game before? Probably not. And Mexico is a real treat.
F1 2020 is now available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. Codemasters supplied two review copies to The Drive for this article.