Two years ago, I called F1 2018 the realization of my racing dreams. At this point, the team at Codemasters Birmingham have been stewards of the official Formula 1 game for more than a decade. They're veterans in developing games about the top level of motorsport, and so it's perhaps no surprise that F1 2020 feels every bit as sharp, as nuanced and as passionate a simulation of that world that its last several predecessors have.
I'll admit that, as with most annual sports titles, I don't pick up the new F1 game every year. It's not because they're not great at what they do — much like MLB The Show for baseball fans, Codemasters' F1 series is almost guaranteed to be great with every iteration. The problem, of course, is that even an excellent annual sports series needs to bring something fresh or new to table every year, and that's not an easy thing to do.
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However, I can say confidently that F1 2020 manages to do exactly that, largely thanks to the game's new My Team mode. If F1 2018 encapsulated my boyhood dreams of being an F1 driver, F1 2020 allows me to live out my fantasy of being a team principal calling out all the shots.
F1 2020: Your team, your way
I won't delve into the way F1 2020 conducts itself on track because, if you've played any entry in the franchise over the last four years or so, there's not much that will surprise you. This iteration handles as smoothly and looks as crisp as ever, and I was surprised to find I could run it at max graphics settings and 60 frames per second even on my PC, which has but a modest GeForce GTX 1070.
Still, Codemasters has made some helpful gameplay tweaks. Your car's energy recovery system is now more convenient and intuitive to use, simply requiring you to tap an overtake button for a brief boost of power instead of cycling through a bunch of modes with the D-pad on your controller or steering wheel. It means there's less to fiddle with on the road, so you can just concentrate on racing — which is, of course, the goal.
Where F1 2020 really brings its new ideas is in that My Team mode. If you've ever played Motorsport Manager on PC or mobile, but wished those games also put you in the drivers' seat as well, you're going to love My Team. (As an aside, if you've never touched Motorsport Manager, go pick it up immediately after you're done reading this — it's only $6 on the App Store for crying out loud.)
My Team has you starting the 11th team on the Formula 1 grid and charting your crew's rise to prominence. This covers everything from investing in various departments of the operation, from power unit development, to the marketing side of the business. The R&D skill tree from previous games returns, but now you also have a monthly schedule to fill out with driver development events, PR press tours and team-building exercises. If you always imagined your ideal racing simulation having a franchise mode, it's an absolute joy.
You even get to design your team's livery and sign sponsors that appear on the car, with objectives they'll demand you fulfill if you want to get paid. These sponsors are all fake, which isn't a huge deal, though I seem to remember Grid — another classic Codemasters racer — incorporating a similar mechanic except with real brands. That would've been cool to see here, though I have to imagine there's something in the FIA's stipulations that might stand in the way of such an experience in an official F1 title.
F1 2020: An immersive racing world
One of the things I absolutely love about My Team is that the game treats the addition of an 11th constructor like the big deal that it is.
If you're not familiar with Formula 1, it's really quite an exclusive sport. You don't have the 30 or so clubs with 40-man rosters and hundreds of players in farm systems that you get in other sports. So when a new team enters the fray, their presence is felt.
What makes your team especially important is that you're both the driver and the owner. And this is a fact the game makes sure you're well aware of, immediately from the get go.
As you begin your team's journey, you'll sit down for an interview with F1's Will Buxton himself, who will rattle off a list of drivers who also owned the teams they raced for, and note that it's been something like four decades since anyone's done the same. As a motorsport nerd and a massive fan of Will's from the time I was a teenager watching F1 races on Speed Channel, this little bit of world building made me giddy.
Those are the sort of things that makes F1 2020 a success — elements that prove the game isn't merely a competent simulation of the sport, but also respects and understands it, too.
When you're selecting a second driver to accompany you on your team, you're encouraged to pick from a small group of rising Formula 2 stars ready to take that next step into the premier class. Among them is Juan Manuel Correa — an Ecuadorian-American F2 driver who was nearly killed in a brutal crash last season. Juan isn't racing right now — he's still recovering — but the fact he's included as a driver to hire in the game struck me as a touching gesture.
Anthoine Hubert, another driver involved in the very same accident as Juan but who tragically lost his life, remains in the game if you participate in the F2 campaign. To put it mildly, the inclusion of these two drivers in F1 2020 stopped me in my tracks.
We also have to acknowledge that the 2020 F1 season, as with so many sports around the world, is going to be a bit of a weird one. To that end, it's fitting that F1 2020 gives you the ability to customize the length of the season, opting for as few as 10 races rather than the original 22 on the docket for the year. You can individually select which venues you to keep and which to exclude; a fantastic bit of freedom if, like me, you find it hard to muscle the willpower to go on once you get to the Singapore Grand Prix. (It's an awful circuit that I will never memorize; I'd much rather watch it than drive it.)
The lone issue with the ability to shorten the season is that it can result in some weird consequences for the calendar. The timing of the events over the course of the year isn't changed — merely, you're altering which ones happen and which don't. Because the F1 season tends to feature Grands Prix two or three weeks apart, with a couple of month-long breaks built in, this can result in exceptionally long periods of time where you can flood the schedule with team-improving exercises indiscriminately. It sort of takes the strategy and challenge out of determining what areas of your squad to invest in when, and it's something I hope is addressed in next year's version.
F1 2020: Verdict
If you're an F1 fan and desperately pining for as much racing as you can these days (who among us isn't), picking up F1 2020 is a no brainer. But if you're someone who maybe dabbles in these games every few years, or if you think you'd get a kick out of a racing sim that places nearly as much emphasis on team management as it does on all the on-track action, you should also check out F1 2020.
These days, simulating cars on a track isn't particularly rare or hard to do. For me, personally, the future of the racing genre (and perhaps sports games in general) will be exciting for the same reasons F1 2020 succeeds: nailing all those nerdy off-track parts of the experience that lend a context to the real show, and make all your actions behind the wheel carry that much more weight. Codemasters isn't merely simulating racing here; it's immersing you in the spectacle that is Formula 1. What more could a fan ask for?
F1 2020 is available now on PS4, Xbox One and Steam.