When Codemasters published the release trailer for F1 2020 on April 15th, during the depths of a raging global pandemic and a nationwide lockdown, many questioned the timing. But the fast-paced, time chasing world of Formula One never misses a beat. Even Covid-19 could not stop the excellent 12th instalment of this popular franchise.
The Codemasters' F1 game franchise began on the Wii and Playstation Portable in 2009. It is fair to say it has developed a long way since then.
New generations of consoles and computers have helped players to experience what only a select handful of the world's greatest drivers have. Formula One is one of the most complex, technologically innovative and enthralling sports on the planet. Codemasters have been working extremely hard since 2009 to allow gamers to experience this. The developers have been aided by the fact that the F1 game franchise has slowly been recognised by Formula One itself. Details such as the authentic broadcast package have added to the immersive level of detail and made gamers’ experiences as realistic as possible.
Sadly, the global pandemic hit Formula One hard. The sport faced a 3-month pause whilst a revised calendar was drafted. Like most sports-based video games, the F1 game franchise usually allows gamers to play the real season.
F1 2020 will always be known as the game that let gamers play the 2020 season that did not happen the way everyone expected it to.
All three F1 2020 editions were released on the Playstation 4, Xbox One, Steam and Stadia platforms. 2020 is an extremely special year for Formula One. This year is the 70th anniversary of the much-loved sport, with the first race held at Silverstone in 1950, won by Giuseppe Farina in an Alfa Romeo.
The Seventy Edition of F1 2020 reflects this, with gamers having access to excellently designed car livery, podium celebration, helmet, race suit, gloves, boots and player badges which can all be used to customise the racing experience. 2020 is also the year that Lewis Hamilton can win his 7th Drivers World Championship title, equalling the record set by the great Michael Schumacher.
As a result, Codemasters have used the F1 2020 Schumacher Edition to pay homage to this great driver. According to the F1 2020 website, gamers can, “take to the circuit in four of his most iconic cars and receive exclusive content including Michael Schumacher-themed multiplayer car liveries, helmets, race suits, and a podium celebration emote. You can also embark on your career using a Michael Schumacher driver model.”
In a non-Covid-19 utopian world, Formula One was set to travel to Vietnam for the first time, to race around the streets of Hanoi in 2020. It was also set to travel to the Netherlands and to the retro-feeling Zandvoort circuit to quench the thirst of the orange army of Max Verstappen fans.
Sadly, both races have been cancelled for this year, but Codemasters have managed to include both circuits in the game. This is extraordinary, considering the circuit in Vietnam is a street circuit and construction was paused whilst the pandemic escalated.
Both circuits are beautifully designed and constructed in the game, with surrounding buildings and textures adding to the realism of racing. One of the most impressive features of the franchise is that Codemasters can create such accurate recreations of unfinished tracks that are available to play before the real-life race takes place.
Like other developers, Codemasters have used the next generation of consoles and computers to take their graphics to a new level. The F1 2019 trailer was released last year with great excitement at how realistic the graphics were compared to real life. Some even struggled to differentiate between real and virtual views.
F1 2020 has continued this evolution, with the graphics adding to the realism of the whole experience. I found the lighting and rendering extremely impressive on the night races around Bahrain and Singapore. During the day, the updated weather system created clouds with more depth and rain that now obscures vision in a much more believable way.
Over the years, Codemasters have added more and more background buildings and scenery to each track. It's almost to the level that makes drivers want to turn off the track, drive through the barriers and explore their surroundings! Also introduced in F1 2019 were F2 cars, the feeder series to Formula One. These make a welcome return in F1 2020. Racers are able to drive F2 cars and race against the future stars of Formula One. These cars are a welcome, very different challenge to their F1 equivalents.
Thankfully, you do not have to be a hardcore, veteran of the F1 game franchise to be able to play F1 2020. A wide range of assists such as Traction Control, Brake Assist and Dynamic Racing Line can be set to either Casual or Standard settings. This means that even a complete novice can bump and scrape their way around the streets of Monaco. Over time, a gamer can progress with fewer and fewer assists to see if they can tame even the most difficult of F1 cars. Also, the AI opponent's skill level can be adjusted between ‘Very easy’ (0) and ‘Ultimate’ (110). The gameplay customisation does not stop there. The car ‘Setup’ is an important way for racers to find speed and lower their time. From adjusting the front wing angle to the tyre pressures, it is another way for racers to fine-tune their cars to beat their human and virtual opponents.
One of the new features in F1 2020 is the use of ERS. This battery boost of electronic power can be used by the driver around the lap to increase top speed and acceleration. This means you can tactically use the ERS to aid the defence of a position or to try a daring, last gasp overtaking on the last lap. If you dare to run with fewer assists, there is much more time to be gained.
There are so many ways that F1 2020 allows each racer to customise their gameplay experience. The many customisable setup and assist options mean that F1 2020 is an extraordinarily addictive and enthralling game and creates a different experience for each different gamer.
Time Trial is one of the most popular features in the game. The ability to test your speed against other drivers, both amateurs and Pro Series professionals on every circuit, in modern and 16 classic Formula One cars, is a huge challenge. The 16 classic Formula One cars span 4 decades and are all recreated beautifully. The nostalgic engine notes and liveries are a reminder of the rich history of the sport.
For those gamers who prefer a more structured journey, there are two options: Driver Career and My Team. Driver Career allows the gamer to experience a 10-year career in F1 or F2. Start in the F2 feeder series and earn that dream drive, or jump straight into a 10-year career within an F1 team.
In the past, the F1 game franchise has suffered from staleness and longevity issues in career mode. I have on more than one occasion completed a 20 race season only to have to start the following season again with very little change.
Over the past two games, Codemasters have focussed on this well-known issue by creating driver transfers and a new ‘Research and Development’ program for gamers. There is now much more motivation for racers to go again in search of that Drivers Championship. The ‘Research and Development’ program can be found in Driver Career and My Team. It allows gamers to get ‘Resource Points’ by completing team objectives and Practice Programmes, in order to unlock developments to make the car quicker and handle better. This gives an objective to the otherwise dull practice sessions.
Racers can also handle their own contract negotiations and change teams, freshening up the grid, creating a new layer of interest season to season. In all honesty, I have not played much Driver Career in this game because of how exceptional My Team is, one of the brilliant, major new features in F1 2020.
My Team is one of the best, most unique career mode features I have played on any video game. Sir Jack Brabham is the only Formula One driver in history to drive a car carrying his own name, his Brabham BT19, to the FIA World Drivers Championship in 1966. F1 2020 allows gamers to be the next.
Gamers are the boss and number one driver of their own created team to become the 11th Formula One Team on the grid. Gamers can create their own avatar, race suit, helmet design, car design, colour scheme and team logo. Pick the team sponsor, engine supplier and negotiate 2nd driver contracts/transfers. Use sponsorship income from race performances to upgrade factory facilities. Develop the car, manage engine/gearbox components and face the media in press conferences.
My Team not only encourages gamers to continue racing season after season chasing the ultimate prize, but it also creates a community discussion around the choices made in My Team. This makes the game more accessible, drawing new fans in to the game.
My Team is only available in the F1 format. I believe the next step is to allow a team to begin in F2 and let them work their way up towards the F1 title. Nevertheless, it is a welcome headline addition to this edition of the franchise. In my opinion, this is the solution to the major drawback of Codemasters F1 games of old.
There is a huge community of online racers on every F1 game in the Codemasters franchise. This is spearheaded by the growing popularity of the F1 Esports Series, which races on the current edition of the game.
During lockdown, celebrities and Pro Esports gamers raced together to fill the void left by the postponed real-life races. This won the F1 game series a whole new following of fans that has made F1 2020 even more popular. Esports has a prominent place in F1 2020. People of all skill levels playing the game can now attempt to qualify for the next edition of the F1 Esports series. Organised League Races are a popular way for racers to compete against each other and F1 2020 recognises this fact, whereas in the past this was always not the case.
Online lobbies where racers can compete against gamers from all around the world are split into Ranked and Unranked events. The game recognises your skill level and pairs you up against other racers of your standard. This is a good feature as, in the past and now mostly in Unranked Online Lobbies, serious and non-serious racers clashed causing first corner chaos.
For the first time since 2014, Splitscreen makes a welcome return to the game. I became frustrated that I could only race against friends if they had the same platform and game. Now, thankfully, Codemasters have reintroduced this feature and it will hopefully attract new fans to buy and download the game. Hopefully, the next step is to follow other game developers and create cross-platform play to enable gamers to test themselves against a wider range of opponents. I must also mention that, in this game, the online multiplayer connection has felt much more stable and I have experienced significantly less lag and fewer extremely frustrating dropouts.
Areas for Improvement
F1 2020 is a fantastic game. However, it still has some small issues.
Codemasters have introduced the Podium Pass and understandably followed the route of other game developers. The Podium Pass is an area of the game where gamers can spend Pitcoins and use XP to unlock car, helmet and glove designs as well as new Podium and Pose Emotes. XP is earned through clean racing and challenges, a welcome introduction that encourages racers to explore otherwise unexplored areas of the game.
However, the Podium Pass does not have enough content or levels compared to the amount of XP earned and does feel like it is trying to encourage the gamer to spend real money, in the form of Pitcoins, to unlock new features too much.
In gameplay, the AI drivers' decision making is questionable. They still have a tendency to try ridiculous overtakes or crash on straights. I like the unpredictability of the AI, but some of this has been taken a little too far which can detract from the overall race experience. Also, the Safety Car can be brought out for strange incidents and not for more obvious big crashes, but these really are me nitpicking.
F1 2020: Final Thoughts
F1 2020 is, in my opinion, the best F1 game in the Codemasters franchise.
Refreshingly, it feels like they have listened to gamers' issues with previous editions and created excellent solutions.
My Team is a great feature which stops the game from feeling stale or repetitive when played for a prolonged period of time.
The gameplay customisation options and various assists allow all types of gamers to have an enjoyable experience without the game feeling too easy or difficult.
The graphics keep getting better and more realistic each year. F1 2020 feels like it is reaching the limit of what is possible on a video game. Apart from the small issues with the Podium Pass and AI decision making, this game is the real deal.
After F1 2019 was released, it was difficult to see how Codemasters could create a game even better. In F1 2020, Codemasters have created an F1 game that will go down in history as their best, at a time when history will remember this year for something entirely different.