Coming two whole months earlier than the usual yearly update of Codemasters typically superb tie-in to the pinnacle of motorsport, F1 2019 doesn’t just add a new release window to its roster, nor does it simply run through the annual driver, livery and rule updates either. This year’s iteration focuses on adding more depth and replayability than ever before, and it’s this ambition that promises to elevate the game to new heights. Have the team been able to capitalise on the introduction of new elements, or has the earlier release window compromised that vision? That ever present balance between top speed and handling is one that feels like it’s translated itself to the digital version of the sport this time around.
Last year’s Formula One game was arguably the best incarnation I’d ever played. It ticked every box as a fan of the sport and presented something of a conundrum as you’d think that the only way would be down after that. How would Codemasters approach bringing something new and different to a franchise that they’ve had for 10 years to avoid becoming complacent? Face it, after nailing the way it played they could have just continued to update the sponsors and driver names and put out the same game again for a couple of years. They’ve not gone down that route though, they’ve opted to make some changes that bring us closer to the current action and keep things interesting by leveraging the assets available from the past. There are several new additions that define the direction of the F1 2019 and make it a much more accessible experience… sort of.
First up there’s the highly publicised Legends content (if you’ve bought that version) which gives the option of picking Senna or Prost and taking part in 8 unique challenges plucked from the 1990 season. It’s a thrill to see the likenesses on screen, but much more of one to get behind the wheel of the McLaren or Ferrari and battle things out on track. The older hardware is raw, brutal and less forgiving than the modern day counterparts, and they are genuinely tough to drive if you’ve opted to remove all the assists, yet that somehow doesn’t make it any less fun. Even without the Legends content, there are special events in F1 2019 to take part in that let you get to grips with historical cars in a variety of scenarios on the current tracks. These bleed over to some degree through the second new addition, the deeper career mode and the inclusion of the F2 championship. Perform well and there’s a chance to take on your rivals in the special events over the course of a season.
Starting a career this time around doesn’t just drop you into a test in an F1 car, it has you take part in a few races during the 2018 F2 season where performing well will open up offers from various Formula One teams. The F2 series is a great addition and one that will test your skills as much as the headline event. Playing yourself through the season, you’ll come across two rival drivers (Lukas and Devon) who will interact with you off track as well as on, acting as friend and foe to provide some drama in the paddock. These two follow your step up to the big leagues and remain as rivals over the course of the 10 year career, and Devon in particular adds motivation to wipe the smug look of his face. Obviously, this is if you make it out of F2 in the first place – the cars might not have the same power as the top tier, but with less in the way of downforce and tech onboard they are a handful if you’re not careful on the brakes, or decide to boot the throttle coming out of a corner. The inclusion of the junior formula works as it really does feel like a career progression and that you’ve earned your spot at the top; and the authenticity is maintained with the relevant TV graphics and the inclusion of Alex Jacques and Davide Valsecchi commentating.
Maintaining the career focus, the press interviews return at the end of a session, whether this is practice, qualifying or the race; and responses contribute to the overall team performance as well as your standing in the paddock. Decide to be a dick and you’ll go down the showmanship route, just don’t expect the team to offer you preferential treatment. Be humble and there’ll be short term R&D boosts to push the car development on. Interestingly this year, the R&D section has some recommended inputs and helps guide your hand if you’re not sure where to put the effort in. Don’t expect that everything will have a noticeable effect though, there’s a high chance in the lower teams that the parts will fail in production and you’ll have to go through the research process all over again. It’s possible to co-ordinate a strategy of making the relevant department feel good in the press then picking their parts to upgrade, but with the random Q&A timings it’s not guaranteed to work every time. However it plays out, it does a nice job of feeling like you’re owning your progress and drives a commitment to the team and wanting to do the best for them.
The next biggest change for F1 2019 is the multiplayer side – it’s been split out into several different sections and is more configurable before. Its real highlight is that the FIA developed multiplayer car is unique to that mode and it’s a level playing field in the public lobbies (there’s still the option of the F1 or F2 cars in private though). For those with groups that want to run a persistent competition over time there’s the option of Leagues which creates a set of races that everyone invited to the league can take part in. Scheduling these for specific times of the week or running them ad hoc is easy, though because they require concurrent play they aren’t the same as RaceNet’s other leagues that support cross-platform tracking and competition. Weekly events have been added to the main online mode to keep things interesting, and provide a full race weekend to score points over and hit the global leaderboard with. It’s another indication that Codemasters want this game to last longer than the current season, which is backed up by the eSports offering.
With a calendar on the menu screen that shows all the upcoming events, both in the real and virtual worlds, there’s a real push to inform every player that F1 2019 has a healthy eSports following. Not only can you see when the events are coming up, there’s a portal to watch what’s been going on, and the opportunity to take part if you think you’ve got the skills to make it through the qualifying rounds. This will mainly be for the elite amongst us, yet there’s a certain pleasure to be had in at least giving it a go and seeing how far off the pace you really are. In honesty it’s something that I’m surprised hasn’t been included in other games, and the ability to stay on top of what’s happening in that space when it’s front and centre on the display makes it appealing. Who knows, we may even see some of the top competitors appear in the game at some point – given that the career mode now allows the real world drivers to switch teams over time it’s not beyond the realms of possibility.
That’s not all that’s new either. There’s been a graphical overhaul of the environments, with Monaco being particularly noticeable; the rules have been updated to reflect the current regulations; tyre compounds changed; the full F2 2018 championship can be played in isolation (with the 2019 grid being added for free later); super license improvements; multiplayer customisation including altering the livery of your chosen car; an automatic highlights mode; and a really nice looking showroom to admire the detail that’s gone into the building the models. It’s all very impressive and underpins the work that’s gone in over the 10 months since the last game. That being said, on the PS4 version I’ve reviewed, there have been quite a few glitches and niggles, including one complete lock up for the machine forcing a hard reset. It feels in parts like it’s skipped a QA test somewhere and there are a few bits of clean up left to sort out like the overly zealous track limits and collision fault apportionment; throwing you to a cockpit garage view and expecting you to change settings without the aid of binoculars to see the monitor; and most frustratingly, the rev counter and manual gear shifting that seem completely out of sync at times which results in being the slowest out on track.
In a game based on a sport where the tiniest of elements can have an effect on performance and the strive for perfection is ever present, little faults here and there are really noticeable and manage to spoil the overall experience. Well, for the hardcore at least… or maybe just me? They are by no means something that will derail the enjoyment of the racing though, there’s a huge amount available to get stuck into, and each foray into a new mode will have you losing hours in the pursuit of grabbing the fastest lap or shutting the door on someone trying to overtake you. The whole game this year feels like it’s softened to entice in the more casual gamers – definitely with the career mode, somewhat with the Senna/Prost advertising (even considering the £20 premium for that content) – and yet it maintains the options for those that love the simulation racing whilst catering for those wanting to get into eSports. F1 2019 is the complete package and will keep fans going well beyond Abu Dhabi’s finale in November.
A PS4 review copy of F1 2019 was provided by Codemasters PR team, and the game is available from the 25th June in the form of the Legends Edition for around £65, or the Anniversary Edition on the 28th June for around £45, on PS4, PC and Xbox One.