The 2020 season has finally started. Despite a feeling that F1 will never start this season, we were enthralled and treated to a chaotic first race of the season in Austria over the weekend. Now that the official start of the season is underway, it is the perfect moment to kick-off the new career in a Codemaster’s Formula 1 game. Typically, we’re used to starting a new season in the previous year’s title. Conveniently, we’re blessed to begin with Codemasters’ F1 2020 title at the start of this season.
Both Formula 3 and Formula 2 started their seasons over the weekend too. It’s the latter where F1 2020 ups the ante once again. Unlike F1 2019, where you had a short three-race season to get things moving, a full Formula 2 season awaits you alongside the 2019 Formula 2 grid including the infamous Mahaveer Raghunathan. The “My Career”-mode is technically the same as F1 2019’s ‘My Career”-mode but with the extended Formula 2 championship. However, where F1 2020 truly shines is the new “My Team”-mode.
Being able to create your team in the “My Team”-mode is the icing on the cake. Not only can you start your team, create liveries for the drivers and car, but also attract sponsors. Earning money is a game all in itself, needing to balance the books while using the cash to purchase drivers, test the car, and pay the engine suppliers. The more you earn, the more you can afford – even Lewis Hamilton!
The upgrade system is influenced via interviews, affecting moral at the respective departments. The happier a department is, the faster and more reliable the part you want is manufactured. Parts are manufactured using points that you collect during a race weekend’s practice sessions, which comprises mainly of a set of achievements to accomplish within a set given lap time.
Not only are upgrades influenced by interviews, but they are also influenced by sponsorship money. Sponsorship money changes your approach over the course of the season in “My Team”-mode. When creating a new team, you can choose from a set number of liveries and change their colours – unless it’s a preset livery such as the 70th Edition or Schumacher’s livery.
Once your colours are selected, it’s a matter of choosing a primary sponsor. The sponsor brings in the immediate cash injection and gives bonus money at the end of the season, as well as race weekend money. The sponsor is vital to your career and helps pay for everything you do.
Immediately, the cash is hit with a need to select one of four engine suppliers. Depending on the sponsor chosen, it will affect the engine choice as well as the second driver choice to race alongside you. Every engine is rated with a performance and reliability stat that affects your car in a big way during the race, but also going for a Ferrari power unit over a weaker Honda can wreck your chances of progressing quickly in the development race.
It’s a balance of initial trading performance for slow pacing, or take a hit at the beginning but out-develop your rivals. Gaining as much money as possible – quickly - is a must, and completing the sponsorship goals will do this. There are opportunities to upgrade your various departments to increase the output of every portion of your organisation; better sponsors, better driver simulation training, wind tunnels, engine supplier contracts and more.
Every department has subsections to spend your hard-earned cash on too, and they all give a predicted time to completion. A monthly calendar has every job plotted along with race weekends. To help the wait in between races and to help out with the team’s sponsorship, driver, and other technicalities, you can preset days within areas of inactivity to boost your organisation in one way or other.
I would have been quite content with a shallow management addition to F1 2020, but I did not expect something so massively in-depth. All that’s missing now is having an AI driver racing in your stead, and you taking the reigns of a managerial role co-ordinating the race as it happens.
Your teammate can improve their stats depending on the resources set during the season, and choosing a teammate like Hamilton at the latter stages of your career will make him doubly hard to beat, especially if you set the AI difficulty to 80+.
If there are a couple of things I feel that’s a little off is Artificial Intelligence and track limits. While F1 2019 was brutal but somewhat fair, F1 2020 seems to step the mark that much further and penalises you for every little bit of contact received, whether it was your fault or the AI’s. There was one instance where I was ahead of Stroll by a good half a car’s length, when on a right-hander, Stroll turned into me, spun me out, and I got a 5-second penalty for impeding and dangerous driving.
There are many other situations similar to the above, which include track limits. When you’re taken off-road and get a penalty for leaving the track, it’s hardly fair when you can’t avoid the situation. Granted, most of these issues happen during times when there are multiple cars involved, but the AI feel like they are not aware of the player at times. Having track limits where even having one tyre on the white line is counted as off. Perhaps these can be adjusted in a future patch, especially track limits as sanctioned during race weekends.
Despite these shortcomings, the driving feels considerably more enjoyable than F1 2019; whatever they have done to the physics model, they’ve created a gem of a simulator. Turning all of the assists off makes for real tough time, but allows for lap times impossible for those with them enabled. That’s not to say that assisted players can’t keep up, that’s far from the truth.
Codemasters have made a more forgiving handling model when “casual mode” is enabled. Experienced players will immediately switch to “pro mode”, but F1 2019 and its predecessors were – at times – unforgivable in their handling models, and F1 2020 has given non-F1 fans a chance to get to know the world of Formula 1 deeper.
Bringing in more gamers (and a new audience) to Formula 1 is what F1 2020 feels like it’s trying to accomplish without alienating the hardcore Formula 1 fan (including myself). An excellent step for the game that will liven up the online section of the game more if new gamers pick up the game.
Fundamentally, the online component hasn’t changed. There are still the online race events that players compete in and custom online leagues in which players can join to compete in scheduled events until the end of the custom season. Let’s not forget the sanctioned race events, where a minute percentage of the top players around the world get to compete for glory and prize money.
You could do all the above, but if you want to pop online and drive, the option of hosting races is still ever-present with many options to set up a single race or multiple races with changing track conditions. With Hanoi and Zandvoort officially off the Formula 1 calendar, it’s nice to see the two tracks here in the game and selectable in multiplayer. Considering Zandvoort and Hanoi are never-been-raced-at tracks, it’s remarkable how Codemasters have rendered them, thanks to the laser scanning and data given by the track owners and local Governments.
It’s not just the tracks that are new but also the classic cars available – only in time-trial and multiplayer modes though. With the 70th Schumacher Edition, all of his cars that he won his championships in - plus his debut Jordan - are available to pick. A lot of care is in every car and it shows, especially starting with Senna’s McLaren MP4/4 to the 2010 cars, the change in cockpit views, mechanical traction, power ratios, and the thundering noise of that 24,000 RPM screaming mid-2004 era engines is incredible.
Taking all of these cars in Time Trial mode – in year order - around both Zandvoort and Hanoi was sheer bliss. The feeling and difference between every car were mesmerising. The Ferrari F2004 down the back straight at Hanoi was a frightening experience, especially with the little grip those treaded tyres gave; it was the only reason why the BrawnGP 001 was able to keep up with it – and that’s only during the corners!
If you want to have a laugh with friends and compete at home without the internet, then you still can. Codemasters have added the bonuses of split-screen and local LAN support. Having split screen back is a brilliant option that even I have missed when having friends around – now it needs to be upped to at least 4-players. LAN support is usually a forgotten option but makes a return for those with multiple TVs, and perhaps, numerous wheels at the same address. Whichever the case, zero lag dedicated servers is an experience many have not had the opportunity to try, and it’s fantastic to see.
Year-on-year Codemasters have been improving the Formula 1 games and frequently added new features. This season they’ve taken the franchise to a whole new level never before seen in an F1 game, let alone a racing simulator.