Formula One's flagship video game series from developer Codemasters hasn't had any problems putting out quality on a yearly basis, a trend F1 2019 continues with relative ease.
Which isn't to say the series doesn't evolve each time. The highly successful F1 2018 (84 on Metacritic) tweaked some of the in-depth systems based on player data, among other notable improvements, to once again land as one of the year's best racers.
Call it a tall task for F1 2019 to surpass two excellent recent entries. Further improving the game and walking the accessibility tightrope in order to attract new players isn't simple. Yet the latest installment is more than up to the task with a love letter to the sport via a surprising campaign, excellent on-track gameplay and a host of options, from competitive online to weekly offerings.
Aligning well with its reputation, F1 2019 is one of the best-feeling racers on the market today.
While seasoned fans of the sport will appreciate the nuances of how the feel continues to reflect real-life rule changes, even casual players quickly become immersed. The controls are tight, extensive feedback vibration offers guidance and the marriage of that, sound and graphical design makes for a thrilling offering.
The sense of speed and horsepower is here and even better despite F1 2018's suspension upgrades. True to the real thing, steering one of the modern rides is light until the downforce kicks in, demanding players adapt on the fly while battling the track and other racers.
Should players choose to indulge it, intra-race strategy is great because of a stellar, realistic damage system. It's one of many things to monitor over the course of a race besides the actual action itself.
That action is complemented nicely by A.I. that almost feels friendly at points. Opposing drivers will give enough wiggle room for a pass or clearance on a corner, though a more aggressive approach isn't uncommon for players who don't show the same courtesy.
As always, the learning curve here can be steep for newcomers. But a laundry list of assists can ease the process, which can quickly turn into a notable uptick in skill as players start flicking off assists and holding their own.
Notably, cars from the past added to the series in recent years perform markedly different than their modern counterparts. It's fun to jump into one of these older offerings and feel the weighty difference.
Graphics and Presentation
F1 2019 feels like it hits a nice middle ground in the visuals department. The game looks good, especially with some additional lighting upgrades, but the real focus needed to be—and is—the sense of immersion via the entire presentation package.
And it gets it right in this area. Menus are crisp and simple and load times aren't notable. The crew announcing races will eventually get repetitive but do a good job of relaying the action.
On the track, the superb lighting illustrates just how beat up the surfaces are from years of events. It reflects the surrounding environment as a player's car zips around tracks, too. Not only do superbly done backgrounds like forests present a sense of scale, slowing down to notice the details shows depth to something as seemingly mundane as the grass or gravel to the sides of the track.
Even the scope of the races feels bigger than usual, with notable crowds hanging out behind fences and taking the action in.
The calls from the pit crew over the radio are also notable. These roll through a player's headset or even the PlayStation 4 controller and add a serious layer of immersion, even if it just is a teammate saying folks are going to want to talk to you after the race for not permitting a fellow racer to make a pass.
Off the track, player models in career mode aren't the best. They're a bit wonky and out-of-place looking given the details during races, but it's hard to complain too much—it's nice they are included at all.
The best demonstration of the latest leap in the series comes in the form of night races. It's now a highlight as opposed to a downside, with the stadium lighting even noticeably reflecting some of the dust in air kicked up from the drama on the track.
While the series as a whole hasn't always been praised for its graphical prowess, the true-to-form tracks and the complementary immersion-bumping features create an environment where it is hard to find fault in much of anything.
Esports and Features
A year ago, F1 2018 esports was a global hit, culminating in a championship in London.
Looking ahead, F1 2019 shouldn't have any problems in this regard again thanks to a suite of must-have options. The Formula One Esports Series has a well-established footing that doesn't figure to lose any of its stature at this point.
In large part, thank the ecosystem carved out by Codemasters. Even from the game's menu system, players can check in on the official rules, calendar, standings and even view races outright.
This functionality extends to the greater player base in the form of its extensive online mode. It offers weekly events fully outfitted with practice and qualifying, league functionality and ranked and unranked play. This includes the innovative Super Licence system, which has done a good job of filtering out race participants and letting players get on the track with those of similar skill sets. Within leagues, the ability to vote on event postponement and to view reliability grades on other players are nice features many sporting games with online communities could use.
Career mode is the meat and bones of the offering and is hardly an afterthought like some sports titles might dole out. There is a depth here almost unexpected of a racing game, from the interpersonal drama of the story between racers and teams, to how some choices can impact on-track results.
Granted, not all of this will feel 100 percent new to yearly players. But it's nice that contracts, team choice and other decisions can have noteworthy performance boosts on say, pit-stop length. And after an event, a player can choose one of a handful of answers with media members, which also has long-term ramifications.
Those ramifications can span quite the lengthy career, too. Players have the option to skip right to the F1 level, which is a nice touch. But decisions made in set pieces throughout the career are details announcers and other characters remember. Career-long rivals while bouncing between teams is a fun variability the mode needed. The ability to dive into the F2 level early on is also nice, though it feels a tad brief.
Accessibility is found throughout in this otherwise detail-driven arena, though. Understandably, players might not want to get into every single practice session over the course of a 10-year career ,and they aren't penalized for skipping out. Descriptors offer a helping hand for those out of their depth and simply want to partake in races themselves.
This extends to the track with the extensive list of options like braking assist, traction control, the dynamic racing line and more. Don't forget the rewind function found within the pause menu under instant replay.
Other modes exist, of course. Besides career, solo play has plenty to offer in the form of a customizable Gran Prix weekend, spanning current F1 series or classics and the finally-added F2 series. Time trials are in again as well, as are 20 different championships, invitations including pursuits, time attacks and overtakes, as well as invitationals featuring legends.
Impressively, the depth of F1 2019 doesn't stop there. There's a replay option, which can save droves of highlights.
The game specializes in quality of life, too. Little things like the ability to save in the middle of the session or restart it outright are features not always found in racing games, yet they are here and exemplify the game's attention to detail.
F1 2019 is a quality mixture of expected and unexpected depth.
The expected comes in the form of pre-and-in-race management, the details throwing it in contention for the title of most realistic simulation on the market. The unexpected comes from the sheer scope of the game in the wealth of game modes, classifications of vehicles and online functionality. Also involved there is the career offering, which goes deeper than most sports games are willing to go in the form of story and player choice.
An almost intimidating range of customization options in the difficulty department means this can be the most in-depth simulation racer on the market, or a fun RPG-lite racing game experienced solo or with friends.
Like the races themselves, the final destination for F1 2019 wasn't hard to figure out. How Codemasters chose to get there was a bit more complicated. This year's release arrives at the checkered line in interesting fashion and is a must-have update for enthusiasts, as well as a superb starting point for newcomers.