For fans of racing and gaming since the 80s, both F1 and the Grand Prix inspired video game has changed considerably; the huge technical leaps on the track in the last 40 years are mirrored by the near photo-realistic games such as F1 2019. But as the technical advances on the cars haven’t always necessarily been beneficial to the sport, has Codemasters crafted a great game or a sterile simulation?
Tumbleweed City 3, Adrenalin Athletic 1
Watching Formula 1 can be like watching paint dry. I should know, I’ve watched it since the glory days of Senna, Prost and Schumacher and for every race featuring nail-biting high speed chases to the chequered flag, there are three or four turgid clock-watching endurance tests. But it just takes the one great event every so often to bring me back for more.
And Codemasters are back for more with this their tenth edition of the F1 licence. As with most yearly sports licences, there are the usual team/roster updates and the gameplay and graphics have been noticeably improved, in fact this 2019 version boasts an astounding graphical representation of the cars and circuits, with noticeable improvements to the lighting effects in particular.
The biggest change comes in the shape of the fully licensed F2 championship which is featured as a separate option to the F1 career, opening up a whole new championship to play with.
F2 is also integrated when you start a new Career, with three short F2 race scenarios preceding the F1 season. You are thrown into the midst of a fierce rivalry against another driver at the end of the season and these are fun introductions to the main event and reminiscent of the drama from the TOCA/GRID games.
These add a human element to the racing and are a welcome distraction from the previously straight laced iterations of the Codemasters F1 series. Unfortunately the human drama dissolves when the F1 season starts, and subsequently seems out of place without an evolving narrative thread.
Once you’ve signed with one of the F1 teams on offer, you can then get stuck into the season, tailoring almost every race attribute to your needs. The difficulty slider is a useful inclusion and allows you to increase the aggression and skill of the other drivers as your racing improves during your career, enabling a sweet balance of challenge and satisfaction.
Three optional practice sessions are available before qualifying, and it’s during these that you can learn the track, get a feel for the right set-up for your car and also to earn valuable credits performing tasks for the team. These include tire management, fuel saving, optimal lap times and track acclimatization where you go through gates in order to follow the optimal racing line. This may all sound rather dry, but it’s actually satisfying hitting the targets and at the end, you can plunge the money back into developing your car.
One-shot qualifying follows which features ghost cars of the front runners, and is a high speed grab for the front row. Codemasters trademarked ‘Instant replay/Flashback’ option is there should you hit a wall and need to rewind and learn from your mistakes.
Race for the prize
Onto the race, and the four preliminary sessions have nicely ramped up the expectation and excitement by the time you are sat on the grid watching the lights.
As your accelerate, the sense of speed is tremendous, particularly when you are jostling for position through a set of high speed corners or chicanes and the feel of the car is a nice balance between simulation and arcade. Driver assists can all be gradually switched off once you grow more confident so beginners can graduate from an easy drive with full assists to a level of fastidious and mercenary punishment for any driving errors once the hand holding is turned off.
The damage modelling is one element which seems undercooked, with a huge smash merely knocking off a wheel or front wing and temporarily bouncing the cars around. The collisions are rather bereft of fibre-glass shards and this has a fairly large effect of diminishing the impact of what should have been a significant mess on the track as is the usual outcome of two F1 cars colliding.
The omission of convincing collisions and the lack of dirt on the track (and subsequently the cars), results in a feeling of sterility which perhaps can be overcome with the processing power of the PS5.
Cold, dead eyes
The podium celebrations are well choreographed, giving a great sense of occasion with a nice voiceover commentary and driver of the day. The facial models for the fictitious characters are perfectly functional, but the poor F1 driver representations are very last-gen compared to other modern sports simulations. Not the most important element of the game, but considering the high standard of graphics elsewhere, the human modelling needs a bit of work to maintain consistency.
The ‘Race Highlights’ replay is an entertaining option allowing you to see snippets of the most competitive highlights in a smoothly cross-faded montage. Unfortunately it’s somewhat sterile; a more televisual version with commentary (however rudimentary) would be something to aim for on future editions.
After each race, you’ll be required to answer questions from the press on your thoughts about the race and any incidents which may have occurred. These between-race interviews are a nice idea but the limited answers may as well be marked ‘Cocky git’, ‘Thank the team’ and ‘Generic sporting riposte’ as they are so cut and dried. The outcome of these questions affects your respect level within the team and your Sportsmanship or Showmanship level.
Before each new race you will be offered some optional challenge events where you can earn extra credits or kudos, often by overtaking a set number of cars or completing a lap in under a set time using a classic F1 car. The classic cars retained from previous versions of the Codemasters F1 series are great fun to drive and a nice change from the high-grip modern cars.
These optional arcade-style diversions between the official races in the calendar manage to break up the occasionally dry and long-winded race events and are a welcome addition.
Your contract during the racing season is always under scrutiny and you may also be offered another contract mid-season, as are some of the other drivers. Drivers switching teams is a quirky (and highly unlikely) diversion away from the normal licence restrictions and makes for some crazy and entertaining scenarios during the racing season.
Stuffed to the gills
Aside from the F1 season, the game is stuffed to the gills with content for the lone player with a raft of challenges, time trials and the F2 career. There is an equal bounty of multiplayer options, with daily challenges and eSports competitions joining the usual fray of online racing.
The optional extra Prost/Senna DLC content would have been fine if it were free but the meagre selection of challenges don’t justify an extra charge. A full 1989 season instead would have been a much more tempting proposal. F1 2019 is the zenith of Codemasters’ increasingly impressive run of Grand Prix games and rarely falters in its passionate recreation of the sport. The addition of F2 is a logical boon and allows fans to appreciate the career curve taken by the professional F1 drivers.
The slightly half-baked character models, poor collision modelling and pointless Senna/Prost DLC can all be overlooked for the moment as the base game is both graphically astounding and highly playable. Still, there’s work to be done on future editions, and perhaps some classic F1 seasons could be added to show how the sport has developed and as a reminder of the amazing drivers from previous generations.
There’s not enough here justify a new purchase for owners of previous iterations of the game though, unless the F2 season is enough of a draw.
F1 2019 is out now on PS4.
Review code kindly provided by publisher.