Coming up with something new to say about the annual update to a franchised sports game is probably almost as hard as being one of the developers who has to come up with something new to put in the game. Which is my inelegant way of saying that Codemasters’ newest Formula 1 racing game, F1 2019, is here.
I don’t envy the job of Lee Mather and his team at Codemasters. F1 2017 was a great racing game. F1 2018 was an extremely great racing game—and a wonderful interactive textbook focused on the evolution of Formula 1 cars from the early 1970s through today (as good a sequel to LJK Setright’s excellent The Grand Prix Car, 1954-1966 as we’re ever likely to see, but in video game form). Happily, F1 2019 is no turkey, adding enough that’s new to make the game a worthwhile upgrade for the F1 fan.
The most immediately noticeable change is the inclusion of Formula 2. This, as the name suggests, is the feeder series into F1—the sport’s version of baseball’s farm teams or college football and basketball. As you fire up the game for the first time and start your career mode, you’ll be faced with a series of different challenges as a young F2 driver hoping to move up to the big show. How you perform in these—working as a team player, dealing with a noxious rival, coping with adversity during a race—all influences the RPG elements of the game, which were first introduced in last year’s installment.
But you don’t get trapped in F2 for long—the game is F1 2019 after all, not F2 2018. After those three early challenges, it’s time to sign with an F1 team and get to work delivering whatever it is your new employer wants from you. Pick a frontline team like Mercedes-AMG or Ferrari, and that’s pole positions and race wins. Outfits that play in the midfield will ask less of you, but the equipment you get to drive will be slower over a lap.
There have been a few other tweaks to the career mode. Last year’s (or was it 2017’s?) game required you to renegotiate your contract every so often during the season, which meant it was important to keep impressing your team through race performances and also in the media interviews that intersperse events. Now, you might have the option of changing teams mid-season instead of just at the end of the year. Depending on how badly you’re disappointing your team, you might even find you have to switch teams mid-season.
Obviously, the changes to the sport from last year to this are reproduced in the game, which means new tire designations, an additional championship point for setting fastest lap, and of course the 2019 roster of teams and drivers. (In addition to the real F1 drivers, your rival and your teammate from that brief F2 campaign also get promoted to F1.) The invitational events where you get to drive older F1 cars in between Grand Prix weekends return from last year, and Codemasters has added a few more cars from years gone by.
Beyond the tweaks to career mode (which I think improve the game), there is plenty to keep players occupied. You can play an entire F2 championship if you like, or one-off events at any of the tracks in the game. I applaud the addition, but I do wonder how many players will choose to spend their time in the junior cars; you might expect that with less power they’d be easier to drive than the full-fat F1 hybrids, but it’s not actually the case. They have less downforce, which means slower cornering speeds and worse brakes, so you have to slow them down sooner for each turn. But the cars are also a lot twitchier under acceleration and generally not as much fun to play with.
During the prerelease testing period, the multiplayer servers were not populated enough to get a true sense of the game’s new multiplayer options; the true test of those features will come after release. There’s also a new esports portal that reflects F1’s embrace of the Codemasters game as its official esports franchise. That means an annual digital competition that culminates in an event held at the last actual F1 race of the year in Abu Dhabi in November.
The Anniversary Edition of F1 2019 goes on sale on June 28 for $ 59.99. The Legends Edition, which includes a couple of extra classic F1 cars (Ayrton Senna’s McLaren MP4/5B and Alain Prost’s Ferrari F1-90) is on sale already for an extra $ 10.
- Brilliant physics, and the F1 cars are fun to drive
- Does a good job simulating just how much multitasking goes into driving a modern F1 car
- The additions to Career Mode are engaging
- As difficult or as easy as you want it to be
- The AI is actually rather good
- Formula 2 cars aren’t actually fun to drive
- Coming up with something new to write next year
- Your new AI rival, Devon Butler—he’s a real jerk
Verdict: Worth buying, even if you have last year’s game. It’s really good!
Listing image by Codemasters