F1 2021 Review: Braking Point Impressions, Gameplay Videos and Esports Appeal

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJuly 12, 2021

EA Sports

The team at Codemasters, in tandem with EA Sports, one-upped itself last year with the superb F1 2020—and now has to do so again this year with F1 2021.  

A year ago, the task was sending off the old console generation in style, signaling the storied racing series had reached its apex at the right time. Thanks to tried-and-true racing, deep systems and a My Team mode, it earned a strong response (88 on Metacritic). 

Now F1 2021 gets the torch and the task is building upon that elite foundation while breaking in the series on the next-generation consoles for the first time. 

In an effort to exceed lofty expectations, F1 2021 boasts a new narrative option with Braking Point, an underrated career mode change and a bigger emphasis on customization.  



Even to casual observers, Codemasters has been synonymous with superb simulation racing for a long time. 

F1 2021 isn't the exception. 

The series has no equal in sense of speed. It borders on breathtaking to see the screen shake, world blur and feel the rattle of the vibration as a vehicle's speed increases dramatically. 

That's expected from the series by this point, but not everything is the same or as expected. 

That F1 2021 feels notably different isn't unintentional given its desire to mimic real life as much as possible. A lessening of downforce levels in real life has led to slower times on the track. That translates to the virtual tracks and vehicles, where setups from past games won't work out well anymore and players will have to rethink everything. 

Not that it isn't an unwelcome challenge. Gameplay as a whole is still as snappy and responsive as ever—the tracks can be a harsh mistress in the confines of the new rules. Tweaking the right things, in tandem with generally improving one's skill before whipping around bends and getting podium finishes remains one of the most rewarding things in sports games. 

It seems Codemasters wasn't content to take a bow and do little else for the gameplay, either. A Casual mode added last year helped cast a net over a wider audience of players and made things more enjoyable for that crowd. 

This year, F1 2021 goes the opposite direction with Expert race style. There are more options and settings to tweak than in the past. This might not seem like much more than additional menu navigation, but it's everything to players who want every semblance of control over vehicles and game modes alike. 

It all equates to a brilliant gameplay experience. Newcomers can feel right at home gently learning the ropes. But those on the other end of the spectrum can dive even deeper. The A.I. is good, racing is fun and the speed remains top notch, earning F1 2021 a tip of the hat.


Graphics and Presentation

One could rightfully argue gameplay is quite a bit more important than the visuals and level of immersion in a game like this. 

That doesn't mean F1 2021 is a slouch, though. 

Each of the 21 tracks (eventually 24 after free patches) have a distinct feel like their real-world counterparts. Even better, there is droves of detail baked into each one. Granted, that doesn't mean much when the world starts to blur when speeding along a straight, but slowing it down to take it all in isn't something one could blame players for doing. 

In short, presentation and immersion is as good as it gets. The locales look just like they should for a next-gen release, and some of the highlights from last year remain. Directional sound, for example, plays a big role in cueing the player in to what other drivers are doing. 

At the same time, so does helpful commentary from teammates. Pre-and-post-race presentation is strong. It has a broadcast feel one should rightfully expect from a sporting game in 2021. Whether it's creative camera angles to show off the intricate locales or good quips from well-acted voicelines, F1 2021 is a bit of an underrated powerhouse. 

One thing seasoned players will notice is some of the UI (user interface) overhauls in various spots of the game. In online multiplayer, for example, browsing servers got a facelift, so it is a much smoother experience with plenty of information readily available. 

Over in career mode, R&D got a visual makeover that goes away from the more traditional, video-game skill trees and instead uses simplistic, informative menus to accomplish its task.

F1 2021 also runs like a dream on the next-generation consoles and PC, hitting 60 frames per second (FPS) while keeping much of the newfound graphical fidelity. 


Braking Point, Esports and Features

Braking Point is the big-ticket item this year.

The narrative-based mode throws players in the shoes of Aiden Jackson, who starts as a Formula 2 driver and over the course of three "seasons" the task is to move up the ladder, navigating drama, teammates, rivals, sponsorships and more. 

That's keeping it simple, of course. The mode features a whole cast of characters, including opponents and friends alike. That mentioned broadcast feel to the presentation plays a big role in the storytelling element, especially before and after races. 

It's a nice peek into the real-life pressures racers feel. That, and it's just plain fun to romp through the mode, even if it is a bit on the short side. We'll have to see how replayability feels over the long run, but it's something both new players and experts alike should try out. 

Like other sports titles lately, the story mode can almost function as a tutorial of sorts. It's a good way to get accustomed to both categories of vehicles as well as enjoy some narrative-based fun. 

Introduced last year, My Team also makes a return. One of the biggest things about the already-strong mode is a new focus stat added to the original four attributes. It's a fun wrinkle that measures a racer's performance across all stats, meaning it emulates real-world things such as motivation. It's especially interesting to see how answers to questions in pressers, for example, actually have a big impact on a teammate's performance during a race. 

Also somewhat new are the day-to-day happenings in a garage, dubbed department events. It's another strong element to the total package players can enjoy (or gloss over if it's too much micro-managing). There are even streamlined practice sessions in the form of time-saving minigames that still dole out bonuses and points. 

Career mode gets a notable boost, which is a bit of a welcome surprise—plenty of sports games have instituted new "My Team" type modes in the past and let traditional "career" modes fall to the wayside but not here.

Besides the ability to start a career in line with the current 2021 season, players can also fire up Career mode with a friend (or swap that friend out later for a different one). That can happen locally or online and said friend can be a teammate or rival, which is just enough in the way of options to make it really appealing. 

And while Braking Point is the big back-of-box mode for this year's game, it's the career mode that really moves the needle. There aren't many sports games that let a co-op career unfold like this. For example, even if players start the career mode as rivals, organically progressing and inking different contracts, etc., could have them winding up on the same team. It's an experience that doesn't have much of an equal in the sports realm. 

There's something to be said for the difficulty factor too. While normal career mode has been just fine in the past for other players, the very best of the best have walloped the A.I. on even the hardest settings. Throwing an actual human player of comparable skill into the career-mode equation is appealing. 

Here's another big mark in the positive column for F1 2021—online play. Some of the emphasis in expanding the beginner-level options to lure in more players from a year ago have made their way over to multiplayer. 

There, players can enter a Beginner Friendly section of multiplayer, which uses the Casual settings and keeps every player's car ghosted. No worries about toxic players, or even mishaps that ruin races. It's a fun, why hasn't this been done before? feature that will only help players of all skill levels enjoy the multiplayer side. 

This is also where the esports discussion comes up. Like last year, F1 2021 is bound to be a hit. Codemasters goes overboard on things like leagues, playlists and official events (and servers, of course). 

The esports segment of the game has its own section on the menu, just to stress how serious it is about it. There, players can check in on leagues, see what the pro scene is doing and participate in qualifiers. 

Giving players control of important things like rules and ways to organize tournaments only engages the competitive community even more. And especially this year, it should be thrilling to watch (via streaming) how the very best in the world adapt to the real-world changes mentioned above that have been reflected in the game itself. 

There are a wealth of options availabke. Players are free to dive into the menus and do things like boosting A.I in career mode. There's even the option to turn off media meetings at press events, R&D management or even facility management. These are welcome additions and ones that aren't seen in many sports games.  

There is also still the multiplayer via split-screen available to play and the usual suspects like Grands Prix and time trials round out a robust offering. 



F1 2021 is quite the achievement for Codemasters. 

The series has made as smooth a transition to the next generation as possible while upscaling everything in a way players have come to expect from annual releases. 

Braking Point is good fun that will hopefully continue to expand, career mode got an underrated boost and a healthy online scene will keep the community going for a long time without interruption. 

And as always, it's a deep-as-you-want experience. Tried-and-true methods to appeal to casual players last year remain and new ones help those same players in multiplayer. Would-be experts have seen options expanded, too. 

With an overarching theme of more customization and immersion, it shouldn't come as any great shock to see F1 2021 praised as the best game in the series yet.