Talk about perfect timing. Just days after the the postponed 2020 Formula 1 season finally kicked off with an insane Austrian Grand Prix, Codemasters’ long-awaited F1 2020 game lands on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Stadia, hoping to replicate the excitement of this debut weekend–or, at the very least, build on the great experience provided by F1 2019.
Thankfully, it succeeds on both counts. And then some. F1 2020 is, without a doubt, the best entry in the series so far.
From its slick, professional presentation and excellent racing experience to its returning split-screen multiplayer and new, headline-grabbing My Team mode, this latest outing offers more bells and whistles than ever, without ever sacrificing the thrills that gamers have come to expect from F1 titles.
Crucially, it’s also the most accessible F1 game going; whatever your skill level, you’ll enjoy every minute on the track and keep coming back for more. Much like the first race of the season at the Red Bull Ring, F1 2020 ensures that even those underdogs among us can get a points finish.
A finely balanced F1 experience for all
While I’m a huge racing game fan, I’ve never had much luck with the F1 series. I’m also very new to the racing wheel experience. Yet whatever your strengths and hardware are–and by tailoring your preferences with the endless suite of options available–you’ll never feel out of your depth. Newcomers to the series, in particular, will find this much easier to pick up and play than its predecessors.
F1 2020’s canny knack for making you feel like a professional driver starts from minute one. Its user interface immediately looks and feels both smart and serious, though never loses that unmistakable charm that Codemasters has curated for years. Official idents make the game take on a televised vibe; you feel like you’re at the heart of the action, even when you’re not on the track.
But when you’re actually racing? You’ll swear you’ll feel the wind in your face. Whether you’re screaming around the all-new Circuit Zandvoort or Hanoi Street Circuit in the 2020 Mercedes-AMG F1 W11 EQ Performance, or enjoying a vintage ride around the classic Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Ayrton Senna’s immortal McLaren MP4/6, the driving experience is unparalleled.
The sensation of speed is breathtaking, but you always feel in control thanks to predictable handling. The surroundings are beautiful–combined with F1 2020’s up-to-date in-race UI and displays, convincing audio, and force feedback, the game delivers joy like no other serious racing title I’ve ever played.
While the game’s default camera is that of the TV pod, you’ll enjoy the experience from any view, whether you choose to inflict the partial obscurity of the Halo from inside the cockpit, follow the car, or have your nose to the track. Everything acts like it should, on your terms–as does its newest, show-stopping mode.
You’re in charge
As soon as you boot up F1 2020, it’s clear that Codemasters is pushing you to explore My Team. While the standard season is still an option for those happy to drop straight into the 2020 Formula One World Championship, My Team goes on to offer wonderful depth from its driver-manager dynamic, letting you follow in the footsteps of Bruce McLaren and Jack Brabham.
Before you can play F1 2020, you create your driver. It’s a basic affair; alongside your name and nationality, there are 48 heads to choose from, with just seven female options. MotoGP 20 has the same lack of balance, and it’s just lazy. Say what you like about no women being in F1; there’s nothing stopping Codemasters from offering the same number of female heads. It currently feels like they’ve picked the bare minimum based on race diversity and then given up.
These grumbles aside, once you choose a driver that looks absolutely nothing like you (unless you’re Roman Kemp, who I ended up looking like) the game then immediately encourages you to create that brand-new 11th team. Once you commit to it, you’ll disappear down this rabbit hole fast, and for all the right reasons.
Initially, it’s not as exciting as it sounds. You don’t get a Forza Horizon-style creation suite here; your team badge and liveries are frustratingly limited to a restricted range of designs, plus varying combinations of colours and presets. But it’s enough; you’ll still manage to create a convincing team, pick a driving partner and sponsor.
From here, you choose your season length (20, 15 or ten races, and you can choose your circuits); you start planning your weeks out to make money, improve your car, coach your teammate, and more. Upgrades, which may be initially hard to get your head round, follow the schemes set by the likes of TT Isle of Man 2 and WRC 8. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed, the game can do it for you.
You also choose exactly how difficult you want the experience, ranging from casual–effectively boarding the Fun Train and all but guaranteeing a mildly successful season–all the way up to pro, which fundamentally alters the weekend structure, race settings and disables all vehicle assists. On this difficulty, only the best drivers will avoid seeing their team go the way of Forti Ford, Manor Racing and Spyker.
Before you start tinkering with your set-up, you’re coached in the art of diplomacy and dropped into the first of many interviews. Codemasters has clearly employed a decent copywriter or two here; it’s well-written, believable and doesn’t feel unnecessary, especially given how your answers influence rivalries, team developments and much more.
Your team starts towards the bottom of the field, but before you know it–and by leveraging all the time you can during practices, qualifying and the races themselves–you become a contender. You may not be a winner, but My Team makes you feel like a champion in waiting, or at least competitive.
Best of the rest
The true success of F1 2020 is that there’s no single, serious complaint. Certain things can be annoying, sure: some modes offer too many tutorials, while others don’t offer any; the on-track strategy changes and steering wheel tweaks are great for the most serious drivers, but feel like a complicated distraction if you’re casually racing; the character models look a little puppet-like and soulless.
But between its 26 tracks (22 calendar tracks plus four variants of Japan, Bahrain, U.K. and U.S.), an incredible career mode, its pick-up-and-playability, and excellent wheel support both on and off the track, you get a huge bang for your buck. The direction Codemasters promises for its online multiplayer and challenge modes will only keep content fresh, too.
While the real-life 2020 Formula 1 season may be short and sweet, this will keep even passive fans of the sport entertained through to 2021–and beyond.
F1 2020 is available on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Stadia from July 7 for Deluxe Schumacher Edition pre-orders; the standard version follows on July 10.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of F1 2020 in exchange for a fair and honest review.