F1 2019 has almost been out of the garage for a month now. And, in that time, it has managed to captivate its audience with an impressive lighting overhaul and self-conscious AI. But if you’ve been hibernating over the past month and have missed the buzz, here’s a roundup of what hustle and hijinks of Formula One made the final cut. Along with a little trip down memory lane on my part.
Codemasters have held the F1 licence for ten years now. And the game has come a long way in that time; remember the Wii release of 2009, coupled with a plastic wheel? I do. In fact, I’ve still got the pair sitting on my shelf, and I gave it a spin a few weeks ago for old times sake. That edition was a brave move by the studio, one which brought the sport back to our living rooms. But to say it was a roaring success would be pushing it. It would be fairer to say that it was a glimpse at what could come, from a studio determined to push the boundaries of video game potential.
In the decade between then and now, we’ve seen the advent of eSports, multiple changes in regulations and the fall of McLaren. All of which have been dealt with commendably by Codemasters. But can we say the same about this year’s release? Surely their luck, and skill, is bound to run out? And can they really maintain the fun factor when Mercedes are schooling the rest of the grid in how a race is run?
Well, racer, luckily for you they’re still more than capable of delivering a pole sitting product. And even pulling a few surprises out of their sleeves; Formula 2, I’m looking at you!
At its core, the game appears to be largely the same. This is, after all, a yearly franchise of a real world sport, where faces come and go but the central gubbins tend to remain largely unchanged. However, F1 2019 has had more than its fair share of cosmetic procedures and there is a visible improvement to the content – as can be confirmed by watching official footage, browsing through screenshots or picking up a copy yourself. A lot is new, and more importantly, a lot is noticeable. None less so than the tracks themselves.
Now, I imagine, you’re sat at home asking, ‘How can the tracks be that different, Hannah? They’re still the same freakin’ shape!’, to which I’d reply, ‘True, smart Alec, but it’s all in the details, you see.’ As I will now elaborate.
After all of their hard work, Codemasters were keen to demonstrate the difference between this year’s release and its predecessor in the looks department. These comparisons can, at times, be a “clutching at straws” moment, usually best practiced when there is a generation of console between releases. But it must be said that the improvements had been impressing audiences throughout preview events and are clearly visible to players without needing to press your nose against the screen, squint your eyes or tilt your head.
All of the cars are shining examples of their real world counterparts. Their bodywork believably reacts to the varying light conditions whilst the wings look every bit as complex as real life. And the resultant shadows are also relayed more realistically on to their surroundings.
2019 saw the cars running on new rubber, and again the team have done a great job at recreating them in-game. That overly shiny look that new tyres have nowadays is clearly visible and degrades realistically as you scrub them in. And, yes, running them for more than one flying lap in Qualifying 2 will affect the first stint of your race.
The biggest change, however, comes in the fact that this year’s game is a tale of two formulas. That’s because, for the first time ever, Formula 2 is joining the roster, bringing with it a fresh take on how drivers tackle their fledgling career. You see, a modified F2 season is the first rung of the ladder within Career Mode this time round, during which you’ll pick a team, and then attend a Drivers Academy segment where you pick a F1 team to which to graduate to. It’s not a full Formula 2 season, however, so you won’t have to slog too much before you’re racing in the big league.
But that’s not the only progression you’ll enjoy.
Along the way, you interact with the drivers around you, and naturally develop rivalries. These relationships are tested through on-screen, scripted segments, which also have an effect on your future career as two drivers follow you on to F1’s grid and continue to give you grief.
F2 is also playable as a separate, full championship, should you prefer. And there’s a lot of fun to be had. After all, they’re still power houses, boasting a turbocharged V6 and DRS system.
But be warned. This ers-less world can be very unforgiving.
For starters, the cars are heavier and lack any power steering, which is more evident when you play with a wheel capable of providing force feedback. They’re also nigh on identical to one another, differing only in livery and captain. That means, all else being equal (tyres and tinkering), the driver’s skill is fully on display for all to see. So if you’ve been using the downforce or speed of Mercedes and Ferrari as a crutch for the last few seasons, it will most certainly show.
Finally, it’s the stark contrast of racing style that is demanded between the two championships that presents the greatest challenge. Too hot on the throttle in F2 and you’ll be kissing your back-end before you know it. Tease the throttle in F1 and half the pack will fly by. It’s all about compromise and adapting to the challenge at hand, which is easier said than done – switching between the two will certainly get you thinking. The lack of an energy recovery system does at least give you one less thing to think about, but with everything else going on, there is little respite.
This stark contrast is down to the time Codemasters has invested into Formula 2’s physics system. The cars are completely new builds from the ground up, as is the handling system, which guarantees a unique driving experience. It’s the same attention to detail that was afforded to the highly acclaimed historic cars feature that has been a staple of the game since 2017. And, luckily for us, they’re also featuring in this year’s release.
That’s right, Brawn is back.
It’s worth pointing out at this point that, at launch, Formula 2 only contains the ten teams and their corresponding drivers from the 2018 season. The 2019 season will be added, for free, at a later date, but this will be a purely cosmetic update that will not change the cars involved.
There is no denying that eSports is the future along with the present. And Formula One is just one of the sports that was quick to identify its potential. That’s why the F1 tournament is one of the most popular around, boasting some of the greatest prizes (McLaren sim test driver, anyone?). And is only going to grow – that’s if this year’s $500,000 prize pool is anything to go on.
It’s no surprise, then, to find out that the sport has its own designated section within the game. From here, drivers can keep track of all of the news and events taking place, along with information on driver standings and results. But the biggest leap forward comes in the form of customisable leagues that can be set-up through the game, without need of external software. This means individual and independent tournament organisers can put together an event quite easily, and even state restrictions on those who participate.
This latter feature comes from the widening reach of the Super Licence, which not only tracks your behaviour and performance in multiplayer races but now also your attendance record. Other drivers will be able to see if you fail to show up to events, and possibly exclude you from their leagues. In addition, the licence will be added to from other parts of the game, rewarding you with achievements from meeting in-game targets.
Individual leagues can even craft their own badges for participants to achieve.
Again, the eSports integration boasts a number of attainable extras – including items, skins and badges – whilst also offering a shortcut to live footage of ongoing rounds. It is also through here that qualifying rounds can be joined.
Another first for the series is the so-called 2019 spec car, which has been produced in conjunction with Ross Brawn and Pat Symonds. It is this car that is used within multiplayer races, along with the eSports championship, and is designed to allow a greater sense of customisation – custom liveries, in particular.
The spec car is designed to ensure that there is no advantage, or disadvantage, to be had by picking a specific team, and instead drivers are rewarded for taking the time to understand the underlying features of their car; take time to set up your car and you’ll be rewarded with a reduction in lap-time. If you know what you’re doing, that is…
Further customisation is also being offered to drivers, beyond the spec car’s livery. This involves their helmets, race suits and gloves. Again, these changes are designed to further immerse the player within the game, and help them feel as if there are actually racing.
Back out on track, the visual presentation of information has been brought into line with that found on the live television coverage. So now, whenever you receive updates on fastest lap or awarded penalties, it will look very much like the on-screen coverage we’ve grown accustomed to, helping to improve the sense of connection between the two formats. The replay provision has also been overhauled, with a one minute montage of action being formed at the end of each race – again, just like the telly.
Finally, commentary is another area that has been thought about, with both championships enjoying their own commentating partnership. David Croft and Anthony Davidson hold the mic for Formula 1, whilst Alex Jacques and Davide Valsecchi oversee Formula 2.
All in all, F1 2019 is a great variant of the series. In fact, I would go as far as saying it’s the best. On paper it may not differ much from last year – that’s if you are simply looking at the assets. But this polish goes further than mere driver faces and team names. The atmosphere out on track has never been so realistic and tense. The night races in Bahrain and Singapore are particularly spectacular. And the AI don’t go full on snowplough at every opportunity – they actually race you wheel to wheel without incident! What more could an F1 fan want?
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Living life one Batmobile chase at a time. When she’s not writing about video games, she’s writing terrible jokes that even a Christmas cracker would be embarrassed to share.