Like almost every other sport on the planet, Formula 1 hasn’t been immune to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. As things finally got underway in Austria at the start of the month, the season’s long-awaited beginning almost perfectly coincided with Codemasters’ release of the sport’s annual companion game, F1 2020.
Those who follow the sport will know that it has had to undergo drastic changes to allow the season to go ahead. The calendar is constantly being changed with races regularly being announced and cancelled in response to the pandemic. This, tied in with changes to the Williams, McLaren, and Mercedes liveries, has left us with a season far different than what we expected on the eve of what was supposed to be the Australian Grand Prix back in March.
“You can bring back those sweet Orange Arrows from the early 2000s.”
Early on in the pandemic, Codemasters decided to present the F1 and F2 seasons in F1 2020 as they were initially intended, mainly born from the fact it is far too challenging to introduce massive changes this late in the timeline. We will, unfortunately, have to wait until at least next year to see all twenty-two circuits (including the new Hanoi and Zandvoort tracks) in the flesh. Still, the game at least allows us to wonder what could have been, in what has become potentially the sport’s strangest ever season.
Codemasters have often been guilty of taking the previous year’s game and slapping a new title on it, but early in development, they began advertising some pretty enticing new changes for the 2020 edition. The most anticipated feature was the My Team game mode. Players are given the opportunity to found their own teams and race them throughout ten seasons, aiming to take them from the back of the grid to eventually be crowned world champions.
You can modify your team’s facilities, pick your teammate from the list of F1 and F2 drivers available, and of course design your team’s livery. You can’t, however, modify the actual hardware of your car in any way. So while you can bring back those sweet Orange Arrows from the early 2000s, you won’t be able to resurrect the questionably-nosed Caterham CT05 from 2014 just yet.
“My Career is easily the highlight of F1 2020”
The game mode is a great new addition to the game. Although like many new features, it will benefit from improvement over the next year or two. The fact that you are tied in as one of the drivers can be quite restricting. The option to manage the team and not drive for it an lá Motorsport Manager would allow you to focus on the behind-the-scenes aspects and leave the driving to the My Career mode.
Speaking of My Career, Codemasters made some huge changes to the mode in last year’s game. F1 2020 added in the long-awaited feature of driver transfers and a nice little F2 storyline featuring Lucas Weber and everyone’s most hated arch-nemesis, Devon Butler. While those two don’t make a return in F1 2020, the changes Codemasters have made to My Career. This makes it the best part of the game by far. As per my previous suggestion regarding My Team, the features added to My Career for this year’s game have vastly improved what was already a great game mode.
By implementing simple features such as drivers retiring from the sport (no more racing against a 49-year-old Kimi Räikkönen), F2 driver promotion, and some of the features from My Team (like team facilities), My Career is easily the highlight of the game. It hasn’t reached FIFA or Madden levels of realness just yet, but the strides they are making each year are impressive for an independent developer.
“A feature like this can never please everyone.”
Another feature added into this year’s game is the much-maligned and very controversial driver ratings. A necessity for playing My Team, Codemasters finally took the plunge most other sports games have already done and gave each driver a rating based on four key skill areas. Needless to say, opinion was divided. Some of the drivers even having their say on the matter. A feature like this can never please everyone, especially in a sport like Formula 1, where success is not purely based on a driver’s skill, but the car they are driving too (and we’ve all had that discussion before). Nonetheless, the feature is a nice touch and adds to the element of realism Codemasters have steadily been making their way towards in the last few years.
To list off every feature, Codemasters have added to F1 2020 would take so long that the next instalment would be out. It’s suffice to say features such as optional season length (racing either a 10, 16, or 22 race season), assists for beginner drivers, and improved handling and physics (no more slow race starts) have greatly improved the gameplay experience and made it accessible to players of all skill levels and experience. Finally, let’s not forget the Deluxe Michael Schumacher Edition that allows you to relive some of the best moments from one of the greatest to ever get behind the wheel. F1 2020 lets you drive four of his most iconic cars, including the ever-popular and oh-so-gorgeous Jordan 191.
“Until it is given a serious overhaul, online gameplay will always remain the F1 series’ downfall.”
With the COVID pandemic taking hold of the world, motorsport turned to online gaming to satiate the lust for competition. And while NASCAR, Indycar, and many other series used simulators such as iRacing to host their series, Formula 1 used F1 2019 to host their official online series. It was shown to be lacking compared to some of the more serious simulator-style games the other series utilised.
Until it is given a serious overhaul, online gameplay will always remain the F1 series’ downfall. It is more arcade-like than simulator. While Formula 1 has expressed an interest in developing a more simulator-style experience until they do it will always appeal to the casual gamer rather than the more serious ones. In a time where sim-racing has never been popular with both fans and the drivers themselves, Codemasters will have to be prepared to take a bit of criticism from everyone, including Max Verstappen, until they decide to take it more seriously.
“F1 2020 reintroduced split-screen multi-player.”
On a slightly different tangent, Codemasters reintroduced a throwback from a bygone era – split-screen multi-player. A stable feature of the F1 series twenty years ago, split-screen gaming is a departure from where most games are taking their multi-player gaming experiences. In F1 2020 it is a more-than-welcome addition that allows you to beat your siblings or best friend with the benefit of them being in the same room so you can trash talk them as well. It adds to the idea that F1 2020 is a game anyone can enjoy and not just for the hardcore sim-racers among us.
Formula 1, like every other sport on the planet, is in a state of flux right now. No one knows what is around the corner and for how long these strange times will last. While Codemasters can’t bring us Imola and the Nürburgring and most other changes that will inevitably be announced this year. What they have given us is something to remind us of how exciting Formula 1 can be. Not just what we have missed out on, but what we will get back when this is all over.