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Formula One’s official game is now in full release for the 2021 season. Codemasters has brought a full story mode and another annual round of improvements. But is it enough to justify the upgrade from 2020?

F1 2021 is the latest installment of the F1 series from developer Codemasters, and the first under their new Electronic Arts parent company. This year’s edition is hardly an overhaul, but it does build on the strengths of previous titles in the series and delivers a solid gaming experience. Below is our review of F1 2021 for PC.

Intro to 2021​

Codemasters has some highlighted some of the new or improved features for 2021:
  • Braking Point – A new story mode focused on rivalries and relationships both on and off the track
  • Two-Player Career – You and an IRL friend can compete as a team or against each other in Career mode
  • Real-Season Start – Jump into a season based on current standings in Formula One and drive the remainder of the season
  • Updated Driver Stats – Drivers’ statistics have been updated based on recent real-world performance
  • Casual, Standard and Expert Modes – Get as in-depth as you’d like with various modes that determine the amount of input required from the player

Graphics​

Graphically, the F1 series has essentially stagnated, albeit at a very visually appealing level. F1 2021 can be stunning to look at, just don’t expect to experience those looks in VR or triple screens natively. The game carries heavy console influence in its presentation, so playing on a single screen is how it was meant to be enjoyed.

Various graphics level presets and customization options are present, and the visual presentation can range from good to near lifelike. F1 2021 is not unusually strenuous on graphics cards either, so sustaining good frame rates across various tiers of video cards should be possible.

Sounds​

Codemasters has been tasked with recreating arguably the worst sounding F1 cars in history, so don’t expect the core gameplay to wow you with engine notes. Classic F1 cars like the F2004 and its screaming V10 like we’ve seen in previous years aren’t present here, so the F1 and F2 sounds are all users can expect to hear.

Credit should be given though to the secondary sounds. Added touches like the DRS beep, radio calls, broadcast music, and commentary are all essential to creating the ambiance and immersion we’ve come to expect from the series, and once again it’s delivered well.

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Content​

The F1 games’ annual release format has been greatly affected by the COVID-19 schedule adjustments in the real-world race series. Codemasters has been unable to keep up with the comparatively short notice changes to the F1 calendar, and in some cases tracks that will be raced on this season are missing altogether in F1 2021.

Also on the content front, the classic F1 cars are conspicuously absent this time around. Drivers like Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Michael Schumacher can be acquired in-game, but not their cars. Granted, the classic F1 cars from previous years have been viewed by some as a sales gimmick, but more content variety in a racing title that features only two series should always be welcomed. The game does include the full 2020 F2 series cars in addition to all of the 2021 F1 cars, however.

All of the scheduled tracks for the 2021 Formula One calendar are present here. As we’ve seen, that calendar is undergoing significant changes. Some of the tracks are starting to show their age as well, and new laser scans would be a welcome update for future titles in the series.

Multiplayer​

It took only a few hours after the game was released before aliens starting flexing on social media with impressive hotlaps in F1 2021. This continues to be a key part of the online experience in F1 games. Only a few days removed from official release, a 1:30.000 lap at Silverstone won’t even land you in the top 10,000 in the world. This speaks both to the popularity and the talent level of the player base.

Of course, online racing is a big part of the series as well. F1 2021 offers gamers plenty of opportunity to jump into an online race thanks to solid player counts. Those online races are subject to rammers like previous titles, and expect to find the most well-populated races to be held at Monza, Spa and Silverstone.

Single Player​

F1 2021’s most highly touted addition this year is Braking Point. Braking Point is a full story mode, putting players in control of a character that progresses from Formula 2 into a career in Formula 1. Players will be responsible not only for winning races, but also controlling relationships off the track. This mode is well done and should serve as an intriguing entry point for those who have been pulled into the sport by Netflix’s popular and drama-rich Drive to Survive series.

The Braking Point story is obviously geared toward those looking to commit to this title over a longer period, but for those looking to use F1 2021 for casual offline races, Codemasters hasn’t left you hanging. The AI you race against shows excellent awareness, and computer-controlled cars will fight you hard to hold their current positions.

The Real-Start feature is impressive too, allowing players to jump in to the current F1 season as it stands and finish out the calendar. It’s another nicely done level of immersion in the title, but of course it won’t matter after the season finishes.

F1 2021 RaceDepartment Review 006.jpg


User Interface​

Again this year, Codemasters doesn’t allow PC users to navigate menus with a mouse. Most of the menus are reasonably well laid out, but recurring issues such as the escape key not exiting you from menu screens are still present. The interface appears to be unchanged beyond cosmetic details in this edition.

Driving Physics and Force Feedback​

This year’s F1 title likely won’t change the minds of fans or critics of the series concerning the driving experience. The cars behave nicely overall, though low speed corners tend to produce a crunchy understeer effect that feels unnatural given the capabilities of the car. It does feel nicely hooked up around fast sections like the Maggotts, Becketts and Chapel complex or through Eau Rouge and feels reasonably nimble around medium speed corners.

The force feedback feels about the same as previous years. It’s sufficient to give you some idea of when the car is beyond its traction limits, though it doesn’t have the detailed road bumps and tire scrub that we find in higher end racing simulations. It often feels like your car is floating rather than connected to the road by soft rubber. It’s not any worse than what we’ve come to expect based on previous years, but unfortunately not any better either.

One final note on the handling is that the rain driving feels great. It gives a good sense of reduced traction without feeling overdone, and the curbs can be either benign or problematic depending on the angle and speed you attack them with.

Overall​

Codemasters has done enough this year to pique the interest of returning fans of the series, but nothing in this title is particularly groundbreaking for owners of recent editions. The Braking Point story mode is an interesting and well-done feature, likely most suited to new fans of the F1 game series or those who are new to the sport in general.

F1 2021 carries on a tried-and-true formula Codies has utilized for this series and haven’t pushed themselves past their comfort zone. The fun we’ve come to expect from the series is present once again. Hardcore sim racers should temper their expectations before diving in to F1 2021, but for as amusing romp racing alongside some of the most famous race drivers in the world, this title has a lot to offer. If you weren’t a fan of F1 2019 or 2020, the returning features and characteristics will likely have you feeling the same about 2021.

Next year should prove interesting in this series given the new car regulations. Between having a new parent company and Formula One undergoing significant changes, that comfort zone is soon to be broken. For now, Codemasters has played within their abilities and delivered another fun and competent title. It does enough to justify the upgrade for most fans of the series, and the new story mode makes this a great time for those new to the series to jump in.

Did you buy F1 2021? Let us know in the comments below what your impressions are so far and make sure to submit your own rating and be sure to check out our rapidly growing F1 2021 modding section and vibrant community forum.

Note: Reviewed on PC with a wheel and pedals.
About author
Mike Smith
I have been obsessed with sim racing and racing games since the 1980's. My first taste of live auto racing was in 1988, and I couldn't get enough ever since. Lead writer for RaceDepartment, and owner of SimRacing604 and its YouTube channel. Favourite sims include Assetto Corsa Competizione, Assetto Corsa, rFactor 2, Automobilista 2, DiRT Rally 2 - On Twitter as @simracing604

Latest reviews

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Pros: - Graphics: Any way you look at it, the F1 games have been looking fantastic for a few years now, and F1 2021 is no exception. This is particularly noticeable in night races.

- Atmosphere: No other sim or game will come close to the way F1 reproduces the feel of a race weekend or a championship.

- Accessibility: Controller and wheel users alike will feel at home. Complete beginners have a variety of assists to choose from, with everything turned off, the cars are a challenge to drive and extract maximum pace out of them.

- Braking Point: The all-new story mode is very captivating, focusing around the careers of young Aidan Jackson and veteran Casper Akkerman.
MyTeam: Anyone who has ever dreamt of having their own F1 team or has drawn up their own F1 cars as a kid will love this mode. The best part is: You get to decide how deep the you want to dive in - the player can do all the managment and development himself or turn off some parts of the mode to focus on the driving part.

- Multiplayer: A broad base of players means no lack of multiplayer servers.

- AI: If you are looking for an offline experience, the AI helps massively with that. They are very aware of you, defend and attack, and make mistakes as well - I have been turned into pretty blatantly at times, but that happens in real life as well.
Cons: - No mouse steering in menus: A PC exclusive problem - it is impossible to navigate menus using your mouse. Finding out what button on your wheel does what can be infuriating at times.

- Missing content: Unlike in previous years, no classic cars are present in the game. The 2019 F2 cars are only playable in the very first chapter of Braking Point, the 2020 F1 cars are exclusive to that mode at the moment as well. As of the release, only the 2021 F1 and 2020 F2 cars are available for single player modes, with the 2021 F2 cars set to be added later on. The same goes for tracks like Mugello, Imola and the new street circuit in Jeddah.

- Force Feedback bug: On Thrustmaster wheels, you will have to update your firmware every time you turn on your PC before the game's FFB will work with it. The wheel and pedals itself do work as intended if the firmware remains untouched, but there will be no feedback.

- Kerbs: They seem to be very slippery in a lot of places, so having to find out the hard way where you can and cannot go is a bit of an annoyance.
Having played F1 2021 for about 12 hours at the time of this review, I am positively suprised by the game - before '21, the most recent F1 game I played was 2014. I had seen lots of videos about the series in the meantime but always heard about how it would be too arcade-y, which is not the case. Sure, it is not a full sim, but if you want it to, it can be a real challenge.

The AI know how to race you, the cars need precise input but also quick reflexes when the back steps out (which it will if you're to trigger-happy with the throttle). The atmosphere of an F1 weekend is probably unmatched and will draw any F1 fan right in.

There are a lot of game modes on offer, which will keep players busy for quite a while. The new story mode Braking Point is very interesting and captivating - at least so far, since I am in the middle of the second F1 season. I was sceptical that it might be a bit of a cheesy story, but so far, it has done a great job in keeping me motivated to play.

A bit of a downside are the various oversights like the lack of mouse support in menus on PC, a bug which requires Thrustmaster wheel users to update their firmware each time they boot up their PC if they want their FFB to work and unreasonably slippery kerbs in some places. There is no historic content either, meaning classic cars are scrapped altogehter - which is a shame if you are an F1 history nerd like myself.

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Pros: The AI are the most fun to race they've ever been. They will defend, they will fight, they will attack. They are less afraid to be risky, and sometimes that will pay off for them, sometimes they will end up facing backwards They are good fun to race against.

The Braking Point story mode, if you're interested in that sort of stuff, is very, very well done. The writing is very good, the animations are also done well, and the scenarios they drop you in are good fun.

The sounds are better than ever in my opinion. There are probably still better sims out there, but the engines sound the best they ever have in my opinion.

The new customisation in Career Mode is a very good touch. Things like the rate you or the AI earn resource points or acclaim can now be adjusted (separate toggles for you and the AI, so you can make it easier or harder as you please). You can also increase or reduce the frequency of the safety car and AI engine failures, and random car failures for the player are included for the first time, and can also be adjusted or turned off. If you are a career mode player (like me), I see these as a game changer.
Cons: Braking Point is probably a little bit easy. Even on the hardest of the three settings, I could easily compete against the AI on a controller and complete all but one of the challenges first time.

MyTeam is pretty much the same as last year. If you aren't too bothered about the right branding or new tracks, then you would probably be fine sticking to MyTeam in F1 2020

There is still more to be done on the customisation side of the cars.

No VR. As someone on a controller this doesn't affect me in the slightest, but if it is a deal breaker for others then fair enough.

No mouse support. Again, I use a controller but I can understand why this could be annoying for others. Especially given all the effort they've gone through to refresh the menus this season.

Classic cars are gone. This may be a deal breaker for some, but Codies clearly feel they weren't getting enough engagement. The only reason they would have been worth keeping was if they added new ones. A they didn't, F1 2020 is still available will all the previous classic cars.
I've had the game a few days now as a casual, controller player. These are my first impressions.

I haven't yet tried Multiplayer or driver career so I can't comment on them, and as a controller player I don't feel like I'm in the best place to comment on the physics so I haven't. That said I do find the handling more 'fun' this year, and you can also definitely notice the lack of downforce compared to 2020.

I have given this a 3 out of five rating if you are not someone who plays these games religiously (as one of the games that is easier on a controller than say ACC or PC2, but more realistic than Forza or Dirt 5, I find myself on the F1 games a lot), but has previous versions. I would recommend it if it's on sale for more than about 40% off, for some possibly even more discounted. However, if you haven't played one of the titles in a long time and you are a big F1 fan, I would give this 4 out of 5.

Comments

@peppepino first sentence in Overall section of article I think answers this and I agree.
Not worth it :D

With Indy game coming in 2023, it will become interesting. As better game could take possible viewers from one championship to other one. We gamers can only win from this.
 
I've had the game a few days now as a casual, controller player. Here are my conclusions:
Pros:
  • The AI are the most fun to race they've ever been. They will defend, they will fight, they will attack. They are good fun to race about.
  • The Braking Point story mode, if you're interested in that sort of stuff, is very, very well done. The writing is very good, the animations are also done well, and the scenarios they drop you in are good fun.
  • The sounds are better than ever in my opinion. There are probably still better sims out there, but the engines sound the best they ever have in my opinion.
Cons:
  • Braking Point is probably a little bit easy. Even on the hardest of the three settings, I could easily compete against the AI on a controller and complete all but one of the challenges first time.
  • MyTeam is pretty much the same as last year. If you aren't too bothered about the right branding or new tracks, then you would probably be fine sticking to MyTeam in F1 2020
  • There is still more to be done on the customisation side of the cars.
I haven't yet tried Multiplayer or driver career so I can't comment on them
 
I've had the game a few days now as a casual, controller player. Here are my conclusions:
Pros:
  • The AI are the most fun to race they've ever been. They will defend, they will fight, they will attack. They are good fun to race about.
  • The Braking Point story mode, if you're interested in that sort of stuff, is very, very well done. The writing is very good, the animations are also done well, and the scenarios they drop you in are good fun.
  • The sounds are better than ever in my opinion. There are probably still better sims out there, but the engines sound the best they ever have in my opinion.
Cons:
  • Braking Point is probably a little bit easy. Even on the hardest of the three settings, I could easily compete against the AI on a controller and complete all but one of the challenges first time.
  • MyTeam is pretty much the same as last year. If you aren't too bothered about the right branding or new tracks, then you would probably be fine sticking to MyTeam in F1 2020
  • There is still more to be done on the customisation side of the cars.
I haven't yet tried Multiplayer or driver career so I can't comment on them
I haven't commented on the physics as I'm a controller player so don't think I'm best placed to comment on that. But I find the handling good fun this year.
 
As usual, same **** game with a terrible lack-of-simulation features/fbb/physics and lack of PC support features (mouse, triple screen, VR, etc...). Just slapped a logo with a new year with meaningless changes... Can't wait for the F1 license to be transferred to another studio.
 
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Definitely a Steam Sale pickup for me. I'm a sucker for the classics, I assume those are coming along as a paid DLC (?)

I do enjoy these games and think they are extremely well done but, for my preferences and priorities, it's not a $60 value for me when I still have things I want to do in 2020.
 
the real question is: if you ve got f12020 it s worth buying or not?
Honestly no. I bought it 'cause well, I do every year, and every year I feel as dirty as a farmer caught in a compromising position with a goat.

I haven't checked but I'm pretty sure the 2021 livery mods for the 2020 game are freely available here which should make it feel more like this season.

At least this year we have the promise of some new tracks relevant to the season to be added down the line, which leads me to the next point....

Honestly I really think it's a bit of a waste of time reviewing a modern title at release. Sure people want to know what there getting right now, but for the first 6 months we're effectively early adopters testing a beta version, and not really knowing how it's going to pan out.

Could you imagine reviewing ACC at version 1.0 and expecting that review to stand today.

That said, I think it's a pretty fair review of how F1 2021 stands at the moment,
 
I have played maybe 2 hours on it so far. I get the feeling that most of the efforts was spent on the Braking Point thing, sadly. I haven't tried it and have no use for it, I hate these scripted story modes in general and that's not what I'm looking for in a racing game.

The rest is pretty much the same as usual. If you like these F1 games, you can always pick up F1 2021 at a Steam sale. If you don't like them, don't bother. If this game wasn't about my favorite form of motorsports, I would not buy.

No mouse support and not offering the 2021 F2 cars on launch day is absolutely ridiculous. I'm ok with downloading three additional tracks at a later date, but when it comes to Imola and Portimao, I can't really understand why they are not in the game. It feels a bit... lazy on Codemasters part. That's the big difference between F1 2021 and sims like AMS2 or ACC: I get the feeling that F1 2021 is a cash cow for some big corporation, while AMS2 or ACC are done by people who really care about racing and simracing. That, and the fact that F1 is done for console players and the other two are done for PC players.
 
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It is the almost exact same game since 2018, so no VR in 2018, no VR in 2019, no VR in 2020 and of course no VR in 2021.
Why would they bother, as long as there is a public, eager to buy the same game again and again, Good for them.
Looking at the big amount of players attendance on Steam, F1 20xx is a success.
We might get VR when they cannot milk the same cows again and again.
Meanwhile we can get our fix, in VR with better physic in other titles, so no biggie. :roflmao:
 
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I know it's very specific to my personal needs, but the two player campaign is a killer feature for me. Been playing F1 2020 a lot with my nephew, but we always had to use excel sheets to track championship points over multiple sessions. What a nuisance.

Now not only is that fixed, but we can also develop our cars through seasons and have offers from other teams and so on. It's amazing.

Apart from that i don't see much improved. Overall the improvement pace has definitely slowed down. Now with EA ownership, i fully expect them to double down on that podium pass nonsense that keeps nagging you all the time.
 
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I see tons of people complaining about these annual releases (both in F1 and MotoGP) being too evolutionary and I still don't understand why people buy every game every year. We should all know better and have manged our own expectation. Granted, its a small sliver of people who do this, but they are the vocal minority.

I still play and enjoy F1 2019, I have no need to upgrade yet. Same with NHL, I was playing 2017 until I could pick up 2020 for $10... And I was happy as a clam.
 

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