We awarded F1 2019 an impressive 91% in our review last year. Codemasters elevated its yearly sim with the long-awaited inclusion of F2 racing, and a fun, story-driven career mode. Not much changed in terms of visuals or handling, but the overall package was a big improvement over previous entries—and the next game, cleverly named F1 2020, is taking things even further.
Once again you can play through a ten-year career across multiple seasons, starting in F2 and working your way up to F1. But the big difference this time is being able to make your own team by creating a driver, hiring a teammate, choosing a sponsor, building facilities, and even selecting your engine supplier. This is probably the most dramatic overhaul of the game’s career mode to date, taking the series into deeper role-playing territory.
Circuit Zandvoort, which motorsport fans will know well, has two dramatic banked corners, including one tilted at a nerve-racking 18 degrees, making you feel like you’re in a corkscrew. With its abundance of blind corners, this is a challenging, technical, and relentless course, and it’s great to see it make an appearance here. As for Hanoi Circuit, this street track features some of the longest straights in F1, letting you reach terrifying top speeds.
But if you aren’t the most accomplished driver, and the thought of screaming around a tricky track like Zandvoort gives you the fear, F1 2020 has you covered. A new accessible handling mode, which enables a series of generous assists, means you can enjoy all the speed and drama of F1 without worrying about spinning out constantly. This is a neat way of bringing new players into this typically unforgiving subgenre without scaring them off.
Elsewhere in the game it’s business as usual. Codemasters’ F1 driving model is pretty much note-perfect, and has been for years, so it’s perhaps no surprise to see no major changes in how it drives—accessible mode aside. It still feels great in your hands, whether you’re using a force feedback wheel or a gamepad. It’s twitchy and intense, as an F1 race should be, and carving a perfect line through an apex without losing control is as thrilling as it’s always been.
The clearly work-in-progress demo I played was pretty limited, so I don’t have a good sense of details like driver AI, career structure, or car tuning yet. But the basics of the driving are firmly in place, and the 2020 season’s cars—as well as some vintage classics, including Damon Hill’s favourite, the Williams FW18—look and feel great. But it’s the career mode I’m looking forward to the most, and I’m hoping I’ll get my hands on it before the game is released in July.
As someone who prefers the rough, scrappy rallying of Codemasters’ magnificent Dirt Rally series, I’ve always found the white-knuckle precision of the studio’s F1 games hard work. So I’m personally looking forward to enabling some of those new assists and enjoying a motorsport that has always felt slightly inaccessible to me. Of course, veteran drivers can disable them all and enjoy a pure racing experience, free of any hand-holding.
Several races in this year’s F1 calendar have been postponed or outright cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak. But Codemasters promises that F1 2020 will still allow players to experience all 22 tracks—including Monaco and Albert Park—as if things went ahead as normal. A nice idea, which fans missing their favourite sport this summer will appreciate.
F1 2020 is set for release in July. It has the authentic presentation you’d expect from Codemasters, and the handling is as great as ever. But the real test will be that career mode. Building a team sounds fun, but how deep will it be? Codies’ GRID series previously featured a team-building mode, so it could be similar to that. The last F1 game was superb, but it’s encouraging to see the developer trying something new again, rather than just resting on its laurels.