It's finally here, after months of waiting and teasing F1 2021 has finally arrived.
With the new game from Codemasters now available it's time to ask the ultimate question - is it any good, and is it a worthy upgrade from last year's excellent entry?
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Let's start with the most important aspect of any racing title, the actual racing.
Over the years Codemasters has refined down the feel of the F1 games and how their AI responds to on-track action. F1 2021 continues that trend. While the handling and physics models have been reworked from previous games the car still feels planted and responsive. The AI will fight it out with each other, sometimes going three-wide in unexpected places. You can still bully the AI, as their survival instincts are stronger than their willingness to push you out into the gravel, but with the addition of floor and sidepod damage, it is far riskier to get your elbows out with them this year.
F1 2021 mirrors the real world of Formula 1, with cars having reduced levels of downforce compared to last year.
That means that some of your lines and entry speeds will be different this year. Watch for the car to swing wide on corner exit as it is not as glued down as in the previous game. The changes to the handling means your F1 2020 setups won't be making the leap into the new game. Try them out and watch your ability to control the car drop to Nikita Mazepin levels.
All that just adds to the feeling of newness about the game. The HUD is far less invasive this year, blending in more naturally. With the rev counter also positioned in the centre screen as default you won't have to dive into the settings and move units around anymore either.
F2 cars still feel vastly different to the F1 cars, giving you a unique challenge and one that the F1 community will continue to love.
The lack of classic cars is a shame, there's nothing like the roar of a V10 engine after all, but given what else is on offer in F1 2021 it's not a huge loss.
Braking Point - Triumph or tragedy?
Diving into the world of linear narrative storytelling is a bold move for a sports game, and doubly so for a racing title. However, Codemasters pulls it off with style.
Braking Point puts you in the shoes of Aiden Jackson in a three-year journey, from F2 up to Formula 1. It's far from plain sailing, as Jackson butts heads with veteran teammate Casper Akkerman and the paddock's own devil in disguise Devon Butler.
Using a mix of gameplay scenarios and cut scenes to tell the story, Braking Point asks you to make daring recovery drives and late-race "Scenario 7" style pushes to make the difference on track. As you would expect, the on-track action is a winner, as you have to battle back from a puncture or work your way up the field after a poor qualifying.
It's not all good though. Balancing the difficulty of Braking Point is tricky. The first scenario, the F2 finale in Abu Dhabi, asks you to win the race, requiring three overtakes and about 7-10 seconds of gain in just three laps. That's not easy in the hard-to-handle F2 cars. However, later challenges give you a full 25% race to go from P18 to P10. Leave the difficulty the same and you can find yourself romping away with an easy race win that rather breaks the tension of the story.
Codemasters has laid the groundwork for Braking Point over the last few years, and brings it all together for Braking Point. Claire the reporter does more here than in any other mode, while Butler adds some depth to the story. The introduction of Will Buxton to the series last year meant that Braking Point could sit more comfortably in the Formula 1 universe. There are also a few other familiar names and faces in your inbox when you get back to your room after the races.
Braking Point is a hit with us, and while the replayability of the mode is slim it is well worth your time playing.
So if Braking Point is a one-hit mode, what is there for experienced players to keep them coming back?
The answer lies in the new "Expert Style". This mode is the other side of the coin from the "Casual Style" that Codemasters introduced last year.
Expert Style opens up the options for players like never before when it comes to Career Mode and My Team. It gives the seasoned pros the option to increase the rate at which AI teams gain resource points to develop their cars, make it harder for themselves to gain acclaim or money, and perhaps best of all turn on catastrophic failures.
That ability adds a new layer of realism to the single-player modes, and will make life more difficult for players without having to constantly tinker with the pace of the AI on track.
So if that's the big main positive, what are the drawbacks of F1 2021?
Well, the livery editor is still limited for both My Team and Multiplayer. You can't use shape blocks to create literally anything like you can in other racing titles. That means no recreation of famous old liveries and the inability to make your car blend in with the rest of the real-life grid and their amazing 2021 liveries.
Podium Pass will introduce more pre-set livery options as the weeks and months roll on, but as we've seen in previous years they can range from easy on the eye to down-right ugly. Perhaps the biggest frustration here is that AlphaTauri's amazing white wheel rims are of course included in the game, the player can't copy this design touch and create rims that are their team colour.
The lack of changes to Australia and Spain, while not a surprise, is something of a frustration. This is mitigated by the promise of Imola, Portimao, and Jeddah, but until they arrive the racing can feel rather similar to last year's game.
That's not really Codemasters' fault, as the official tracks have been largely the same for F1 over recent years. It just feels more jarring due to the covid-impacted calendar that has seen Formula 1 head to radically different venues over the last 12 months.
We all know why the likes of Nurburgring, Mugello, and Sakhir weren't included in F1 2020, and why Imola, Portimao, and Jeddah are coming later than the game. It just leads to a game that can feel samey.
The new HUD makes racing feel cleaner than last year, the new handling & physics create a different driving challenge, and then there's the damage model and Expert Style. Both of these things are features the community has been crying out for, and their additions are complete game-changers for us.
You can feel floor damage at all times, and it impacts the car differently to classic front wing damage. Increasing things like AI resource points should make career modes longer without asking you to bump AI speed to the point where you can't compete with your teammate anymore.
It's long been an issue that you can create an all-conquering car in just two seasons of F1 career mode, well now you can make that journey to Mercedes-style dominance much harder without compromising your on-track enjoyment.
F1 2021 delivers the high-octane racing everyone is used to but mixes in greater multiplayer options through two-player career and the new social online lobbies and the addition of a compelling and well-structured story mode.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X
Review copy provided by the publisher