F1 2019 review – almost championship quality
Codemasters has brought their annual release forward and added more features than ever to their new F1 game but could they have done more?
As with any sports game tied to an annual release, the challenge is not only to improve what came before but to innovate year-on-year. It’s a tricky thing to get right and at the moment many of the big franchises are struggling to justify the hefty price tag of a new game every 12 months.
Codemasters decided to make things even more difficult for themselves this year, by releasing F1 2019 more than two months earlier than usual – in order to bring the game closer to the real life racing calendar. To do this, they expanded their development team, which in turn meant they could focus on a long list of new features, which in itself is mightily impressive. Given these circumstances you could almost forgive them if they had just updated F1 2018 to this season’s cars and divers and left it at that.
But despite this self-imposed deadline, early impressions of F1 2019 are good. The menus are slick and easy to navigate. There’s a dedicated area for F1 esports, if that’s your thing, and the showroom provides a good five minutes of fun reminding yourself of classic F1 cars of days gone by.
Personally, I just had a quick flick around the menu before heading to career mode, where I expected to spend most of my time on F1 2019.
There is something of a blind spot in the majority of sports games at the moment, when it comes to career mode. Forgive me for switching to more familiar territory so quickly but take a look at PES and FIFA, where their career modes have barely been touched in years. Madden feels stale and the F1 series up to this point was heading the same way.
Now though, you begin your career in F2 and are given dialogue options pre and post-race that have a clear effect upon the trajectory of your career. You can play the sporting teammate or an odious maverick only with eyes for podiums and championships. Whatever path you take can provide boosts or penalties to your car and your team. It’s clever and gives career mode a story-like feel and makes sure it’s not just race, race, race.
But there could be more. The F2 ‘season’ is in fact just three scenarios and although I found myself sucked into the rivalry with the irritatingly smug Devon Butler, as soon as you progress to F1 the cut scenes disappear and you’re more or less plugged back into the same career mode every fan has experienced since F1 2014.
Despite its shortfalls, fans of the series will be delighted to see driver transfers occur during your career and, as one of the most requested features, stands to make F1 2019 a must-have purchase for career mode obsessives.
Onto the track and a quick admission – I love F1 but I’ve not played an F1 game in many years, so I went into this anxiously wondering what I would get out of it. A lot, as it turned out.
Visually, it looks fantastic on console. The presentation of the circuits and the media furore of a race weekend is also expertly done, with Anthony Davidson and Tom Croft’s analysis readying you for the speed and tension you feel in these elite machines.
Then there are the races. As a rookie, I guess the best word to describe my experience is ‘carnage’. On an open track I’m fine but as soon as you throw in turn 1 and 20 cars haring towards it you’re asking for trouble with me behind the wheel. I think Baku was the only race I managed to get my Alfa Romeo through the first two turns without losing part of my front wing and even that one ended in retirement five laps later.
It’s tough but that’s absolutely fine. It’s also exhilarating and that’s fine too – encouraging even. This is what I want to experience behind the wheel of an F1 car and Codemasters has done a fine job of recreating that.
After many race weekends, a pattern became clear though. I was qualifying on the front of the grid in my measly Alfa Romeo almost every track before getting obliterated in the race. There’s a chance it’s me, and my race craft and strategy is awful, but there’s also a strong suggestion that the balance isn’t quite right with the artificial intelligence. This is presumably something that can be tweaked in a patch though, so we’ll keep an eye on that one.
Otherwise, the computer drivers are very stubborn when you’re hunting them down and opportunistic on attack, without being suicidal. So when I wound up in midfield battles it just amplified the intensity of driving an F1 car and the sheer terror you feel going wheel to wheel at 200 mph. In short, it’s fantastic fun.
Elsewhere, online races are something I intend to take on after a few more hours in the car. The game does a good job of making you feel like you’re quick and talented but the reality of racing genuinely good sim drivers over the Internet is daunting at this stage, though I get the appeal.
You’ve also got Championships mode, essentially a series of challenges to a theme: the Asia-Pacific Series or Legendary Tracks Classic provide the solo player with variety away from career mode.
Credit to Codemasters for adding numerous features to this release. Credit to them for bringing the release forward too. This time last year everyone was still playing F1 2017. And credit to them for making a polished game that lets a rookie such as myself feel like an F1 driver, even if in reality I’d be at the back of every grid the moment I ramp up the difficulty or take someone on over the Internet.
There are still areas that can be improved upon and although career mode took a step forward, there’s plenty more they can do for F1 2020. Overall though, this is a great driving sim and one that will keep longtime fans engrossed and newbies on the edge of their seats.
In short: A slick sequel with promising, if shallow, career mode improvements. But it’s moving in the right direction and not far off achieving elite status.
Pros: Looks stunning, sounds terrifying, and the added story element to career mode bodes well for the future of the series.
Cons: Early release has left some new features lacking depth. Variation in AI ability across race weekends is currently too extreme.
Formats: PS4 (reviewed), PC, and Xbox One
Developer: Codemasters Birmingham
Release Date: 28th June 2019
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