The series has evolved greatly from the early days on the PS3 and Xbox 360 to its current incarnation and while hardcore simulation fans may not have been fully satisfied with the direction the franchise has taken, Codemasters have provided an accessible, deep and – above all else – fun series of racing games worthy to hold the official Formula 1 license.
But does this year’s edition, with its radical changes to core modes, give fans a much needed injection of excitement, or will it prove as forgettable as last weekend’s French Grand Prix?
Fresh coat of paint
The first thing you’ll notice about F1 2019 is how the game’s front end has been refreshed, with a welcome new main menu system making it easier and quicker than ever to get to the mode you want.
It’s been a long time coming, but F1’s official game series also finally incorporates the sport’s full brand identity, with the revised Formula 1 font and genuine world feed graphics package now featuring prominently in the game’s heads-up display. It’s a minor touch in the grand scheme of things, but it truly enhances the authentic Formula 1 feeling.
On track, there’s not much new to report when it comes to handling or how you go about the business of thrashing the world’s quickest racing cars around virtual circuits.
From race starts to pitting, to how cars feel to drive and the methods and controls used to operate them, everything feels fundamentally similar to previous entries. There is a slight sense that AI opponents have been tightened to be less erratic when it comes to wheel-to-wheel combat, but they still manage to get in your way at the worst possible point during your final qualifying lap.
Hardcore players may pick up on some subtle differences, such as the sausage kerbs at Monza’s chicanes having significantly greater clout to them this season, but if you’ve played any of Codemasters’ current generation versions, it’ll take you no time at all to get up to speed.
Graphically, the game has never looked better. Colours feel more vibrant than ever under the light of a summer sun. New lighting enhancements add the slight haze to night races that come with artificial light. And wet races are more daunting, with spray now enveloping the cockpit when following another car making visibility poorer than ever before.
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Fantasy Formula 1
When it comes to game modes, the headline new addition for this season is the inclusion of Formula 2 – one of the features fans have been most consistent in calling for over the years. We’re happy to report that Codemasters have given this new section of the game the complete works.
With full licensing, all 2018 teams and drivers featured with 2019 to be added post-launch, online integration and dedicated commentary from Alex Jacques and Davide Valsecchi, Formula 2’s franchise debut does not disappoint. Whether a casual quick race or a full season, you can enjoy a truthful F2 experience here.
The spec nature of the sport’s official feeder series makes it perfectly suited to short, frenetic action when you fancy a change of place from lengthier, management-heavy F1 races. While the car itself lacks the performance of its more powerful siblings, it is still refreshing to thrash the Dallara chassis around all of the game’s 21 circuits and four shortened variants.
It also forms a major part of this year’s career mode, which sees a new story element included for the very first time. As we’ve already touched on in our first impressions of F1 2019, if you choose to take part in the F2 prologue in your career, the mode’s two new fictional driver characters, Lukas Weber and Devon Butler, will graduate to the premier category alongside you with their own career narratives running in parallel with yours.
If you don’t mind how this breaks the ‘realism’ of your career, it’s actually an intriguing new twist on a mode that is otherwise functionally identical to last year. You still have the freedom to select which team to initially drive for, you’ll still work to develop your car with points earned in practice programmes and you’ll still be signing contracts to increase your standing in the team or even switch to a rival team.
But this season, you won’t be the only one making moves in the driver market.
Yes, arguably the biggest single change to career mode in the history of Codemasters’ series is that AI drivers now finally have the freedom to transfer to different teams. This is no minor adjustment. It opens up a world of reality-bending opportunities but also adds a much needed element of variety and intrigue to career mode.
Will Max Verstappen remain loyal to Red Bull in your career, or will he potentially make a blockbuster move to Ferrari or even Mercedes at the end of a season? Could Lando Norris and team mate Nico Hulkenberg return McLaren to the top? Theoretically, anything is possible.
While the teams and circuits will remain the same from season to season, the active driver market is a small but powerful change that helps break up the monotony that can seep into to the 10-year-long career mode. Coupled with the dynamic team performance, regulation change shake-ups and the potential for even more F2 drivers being promoted into the field, you may enjoy some very mixed-up grids during your career mode this year.
Taking on the world
With Liberty Media placing an emphasis on Esports in Formula 1 since taking ownership of the sport, it’s little surprise that the multiplayer side of F1’s official game series has grown over recent entries.
F1 2019 boasts the richest multiplayer offering the series has seen to date. At the heart of multiplayer this season is the brand new, entirely original standard car designed solely for online multiplayer competition. Rather than equalising the performance of existing F1 team cars, this unique model, designed to fit the real 2019 regulations, will be driven by all users during meaningful online competition.
The real benefit to a dedicated multiplayer car is that you can now customise the look of your online challenger from the livery design and colours down to your avatar’s racing suit, gloves and helmet design. You are limited to preset livery designs and sponsors, but you are free to customise the colours of your car as you wish. Alongside a selection of suits, gloves and a slightly expanded selection of helmet designs, there’s enough variety of options here to allow you to make your own multiplayer car feel truly reflective of your identity.
Designs are unlocked using Competition Points earned exclusively through success in online modes, with a handful of ‘premium’ designs available only if you’re prepared to cough up some extra cash. You don’t have to use the standard multiplayer car for public unranked and private league races if you don’t want to, but you’ll be behind the wheel of it for all of the game’s main competitive online modes, including the new events.
Events have been overhauled for this year and now look set to provide all the excitement and tension of competitive league racing without the commitment. Each week, a new circuit will be selected for the upcoming weekend. Throughout Monday to Friday, you can take part in practice sessions and earn Competition Points for customisation items by completing practice programmes – with only one shot for each practice session and no flashbacks available.
After completing practice, you can try and set a competitive time in qualifying, used to set the matchmaking for the race at the weekend. Finally, you can take part in one of the regularly scheduled but limited event races over the weekend, with your performance in the race earning you points for finishing position, discipline and whether you finish. This then determines your place on the leaderboard against the world, with Competition Points and trophies awarded based on a tier system, similar to online rallies in Codemasters’ DIRT series.
It’s a simple but actually quite effective way to spice up online racing. It gives you a meaningful weekly race to look forward to that you can fit around your schedule – perfect for those who enjoy racing online but perhaps don’t have the opportunity to commit to a lengthy league schedule.
For those who do, however, leagues have expanded functions this year with abilities to schedule races to specific dates that will appear on the game’s calendar and customise an icon and medal for your league that champions can then show off to the world on their online superlicence.
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Worthy of Senna and Prost?
Unfortunately, not all of the game’s new modes hit their mark. As the main selling point of the game’s most expensive ‘Legends Edition’, the ‘Senna and Prost’ mode will prove a disappointment for many fans of the sport’s history.
F1’s most iconic rivalry isn’t presented through engaging scenario challenges or virtual facsimiles of their most dramatic clashes. Instead, the Senna and Prost mode boils down to a handful of the time attack, overtake and pursuit challenges from invitational events in career mode using Senna’s McLaren MP4/5B and Prost’s Ferrari F1-90. That’s it.
No videos or introduction to add context to which moment in the rivalry the challenges are supposed to represent. Simply choose which of the two to drive as and complete a brief challenge event on 2019-spec circuits against the AI. There’s six challenges in total to complete, but you only need to successfully finish three of them to unlock the two cars for the rest of the game’s mode. It’s the only area where F1 2019 clearly fails to live up to the potential that it offers.
Aside from this one let-down, the classic content happily returns in full with all models included in last year’s game present in F1 2019. The two new additions to the roster, appropriately enough, include the McLaren MP4-25 and the Ferrari F10 – both from the 2010 season that saw Codemasters’ official F1 series make its debut on HD consoles and PC.
Outside of the main modes, there are some welcome minor improvements to this year’s title. After a decade of not being able to save in-game replays from offline or online races, you can now export a highlights clip of any race you do to your hard drive. These short, automated highlights are restricted to the TV cameras, and you can only save up to five at one time, but they do a good job of capturing the major moments of your races for you to look back on and allow you to immortalise them in photo mode.
Another nice little touch is the showroom. Clearly inspired by the encyclopedic Gran Turismo series, it allows you to view and learn more about every single car in the game – from the 2019 cars, to all ten Formula 2 teams available at launch and all of the 22 classic cars. Not only does it allow you to admire the gorgeous models that Codemasters have produced of all the machines included and take shots of them, the specs and history of each car and team is also provided, giving casual or even brand new fans the ability to learn more about what makes each classic car so special.
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Despite having more content and modes to enjoy than literally any other official Formula 1 game that has ever been produced, it’s still difficult to judge how far to recommend F1 2019 to long time players of the series.
There is no question about it – this is comfortably the best F1 game Codemasters have made to date and arguably the best virtual representation the sport has ever enjoyed. If you’ve never gotten behind the wheel of a virtual F1 car before, are a relatively new fan of the sport or even just a fan of good sports or racing games in general, it’s never been easier to recommend a purchase than it has with F1 2019.
At its core, the actual racing gameplay hasn’t changed much over the last three entries in the series. But to hold that against F1 2019 is to forget how good the racing side of this racing game actually is, especially compared to the early days of the series.
Not only does the game look excellent and have accessible but challenging handling, the damage system on ‘simulation’ setting remains the most punishing that we’ve ever seen in an F1 game. Racing against AI on longer distances races can be testing of your concentration and you really do feel like you’re in a race, not a time trial against robots. The career mode is deeper than ever, with a complex and rewarding R&D system that allows you to take any of the sport’s ten teams to the championship if you’re committed and talented enough.
But despite all this, there are still some minor details that will nag at experienced players and take away from that fresh ‘new game’ feel. The practice programmes in career mode are identical to last year, which makes undertaking them to maximise development points feel somewhat repetitive. As perfectly practical as Jeff the engineer is at giving you information, it might’ve been nice to have a fresh voice to hear over the radio or even incorporate him into the story to give him characterisation.
And as good as the pre and post-race presentations are and as detailed as the circuits look, you can’t help but feel disappointed to see the same sequences and animations played out that you’ve already seen hundreds of times over the last three games, while David Croft’s line about a circuit “eating rear tyres for breakfast” remarkably still remains in the game even after all these years.
While we didn’t experience any obvious glitches or errors during our extended time with the game, the complexity of the game’s systems means that Codemasters will likely be refining the gameplay experience over the coming months through patches, so don’t expect the launch day game to be reflective of the final experience.
It’s hard not to feel that we may be reaching the limits of what can be reasonably possible on current hardware. With Sony and Microsoft having fired the starting pistol on the countdown to the next generation of consoles, perhaps the future of F1 games lies in the massive potential of VR and cloud technologies?
Whatever the future may be for the series, the bottom line is that F1 2019 is a fun Formula 1 game loaded with content that improves on every key aspect of both offline and online gameplay.
A decade into their officially licensed F1 series, Codemasters have delivered their best F1 game yet. And what more could we ask of them than that?
F1 2019 by Codemasters
Publisher: Koch Media
Price: £64.99 (Legends Edition, PS4 and Xbox One), £54.99 (Legends Edition, PC), £45.99 (Anniversary Edition, PS4 and Xbox One), £39.99 (Anniversary Edition, PC)