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F1 2021 PC Review

Tim Wheatley - Jul 12, 2021       0 Comments
Tim Wheatley - Jul 12, 2021
    0 Comments

You can view the video version of this review on YouTube. It contains the same text, spoken, with applicable footage.

Introduction

I was somewhat surprised to be sent a Steam key to review F1 2021. Although RSC gets a decent amount of Web views and Twitter impressions, I think my only previous contact of any note was when I jokingly reported that they killed Jesus last year when they removed a man walking on water by putting a boat underneath him in the pre-race animations at Melbourne. And this is only the second review I’ve written in the past 15 years…. That said, I’m glad they did because I lost my job in May (I start a new one shortly) and there was absolutely no way I could afford to buy it this month. Though even if I had bought it I may have considered a refund, at least for now, because on both my test systems it runs like crap.

Graphics

This is an F1 game from Codemasters; So like all the previous titles it is capable of some stunning visuals (see Codemasters screenshots below) and provides a decent array of options to allow you to fine tune those visuals in the eternal quest for a good framerate. Like F1 2020 before it F1 2021 has NVIDIA’s DLSS anti-aliasing which allows you to use artificial intelligence to smooth the edges and remove the pixelization, but as with all fast moving video games it just doesn’t work well at these motion rates. I prefer the visuals with DLSS off and because I own and run an RTX 3080 I very much expect to be able to turn it off and maintain most of the other options… But I can’t. I had to turn down quite a few options without DLSS and it makes me wonder whether some studios like Codemasters have given up optimizing their titles at all. That said, it’s still very pretty with the eye-candy turned down – it’s just not what I want or am happy with (for more see performance section below).

The biggest problem I have with the graphics from a game design perspective is the wet weather visuals. What happened? They’ve always looked absolutely fantastic in the Codemasters F1 series and all of a sudden there’s hardly any spray and, frankly, hardly any atmosphere to a wet race. This is a major step back for those wanting more realism.

I don’t use VR right now but the lack of it will be a reason enough for many hardcore sim racers to bypass this product, especially while the halo obscures the view on standard displays (you can turn the vertical bar off, but that looks worse to me). The 3D in VR allows you to effectively see around the halo and makes it much less annoying. It really is a shame not to see this implemented.

Performance

This is why I would probably refund F1 2021 right now. F1 2020 suffered from extremely bad micro stutters and short freezes until it’s third or fourth patch on my systems and in F1 2021 they’re back, but on my main machine they’re worse this time. I contacted other people who I knew had early access and one other suffers from the same issues. I’m getting a decent framerate (once I reduce my settings), my frame times are good, but the game has these annoying little freezes that at best ruin your concentration and at worst put you off the track. The problem doesn’t seem to affect all tracks, but it does seem to be on the exact same tracks F1 2020 had this issue, and in the exact same turns.

Not only am I getting these difficult stutters, but general performance isn’t much better; You’ll be lucky to maintain 60 fps in most situations and 30 fps in the rain.

We were asked if we had any questions for the development team prior to publishing our reviews and I specifically asked whether they expected performance to improve or whether there was going to be an NVIDIA Game Ready driver released that might fix all my issues. I did not receive a response so I have to assume the worst, and hope for the best. You may not have any issues at all, but both my machines do.

Physics

F1 2021 feels like a reasonable advancement over F1 2020 for what are largely the same specification and in some cases the exact same cars. Don’t expect groundbreaking advancement, but I do feel like after putting in the time to allow my brain and muscle memory to adjust it is a decent driving experience. The thing is that in the best racing sims I have to learn the cars, but in Codemasters F1 sims I have to learn the physics, then the cars. That’s how it has always been with Codemasters F1 titles. If you can give them a chance and drive in a realistic way, it can give you that decent experience. If you choose to drive in a way that exposes physics flaws then yes, you’ll find them.

Controls

F1 2021 has a full array of support for all relevant controllers when driving and it supports assigning of controls, but they neglected to support a mouse in their menus yet again. This means that PC users have this constant need to know what the assigned number is of each button on the controller just to navigate menus. At this point it’s inexcusable and there should be no reason why a studio this large with this many resources can’t get this done.

I did find a few examples where wheel firmware had to be updated because they chose not to support it without, and I did have loss of force feedback in the cockpit a few times that required me to unplug and replug the wheel. Again, I checked with others I know have early access and two others who responded also experienced loss of force feedback. One required a firmware update to his wheel, the other reset their wheel by unplugging it like I did.

Opponents and A.I.

The AI has been greatly improved. You can really race wheel to wheel with them. It’s very obvious they put a considerable amount of work into this and I think right now it’s as good as anything out there.

F1 2019 and F1 2020 had AI you could race with, but I constantly found myself getting tangled up with backmarkers who were unpredictable, especially in F1 2020. With F1 2021 it’s way more obvious what they’re going to do and they do it much earlier. A truly brilliant improvement.

Content

There quite simply is no more complete way to simulate a 2021 F1 season with all the content (albeit with COVID-19 altered schedule), Grand Prix car driving and relevant setup adjustments at this time. Codemasters appear to have tried this time to adapt to COVID scheduling as well, announcing that three additional tracks will come for free in a future update.

All the cars listed below are driveable, but some (the 2020 F1 cars) only within the ‘braking point’ storyline.

– Dallara F2/18
– Alfa Romeo C39 (storyline only)
– AlphaTauri AT01 (storyline only)
– Haas VF-20 (storyline only)
– Racing Point RP20 (storyline only)
– Williams FW43 (storyline only)
– Alfa Romeo C41
– AlphaTauri AT02
– Alpine A521
– Aston Martin AMR21
– Ferrari SF21
– Haas VF-21
– McLaren MCL35M
– Mercedes-AMG W12
– Red Bull RB16B
– Williams FW43B

– Algarve Circuit (coming later)
– Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari (coming later)
– Jeddah Street Circuit (coming later)
– Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez
– Autódromo José Carlos Pace
– Autodromo Nazionale di Monza
– Baku Street Circuit
– Bahrain International Circuit
– Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya
– Circuit de Monaco
– Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
– Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
– Circuit of the Americas
– Circuit Zandvoort
– Hungaroring
– Marina Bay Street Circuit
– Melbourne GP Circuit
– Paul Ricard
– Red Bull Ring
– Shanghai International Circuit
– Silverstone Circuit
– Sochi Autodrom
– Suzuka International Circuit
– Yas Marina Circuit

‘Braking Point’ Storyline (no spoilers)

The storyline begins with F2 in 2019 and continues through 2020 and 2021 in pre-set scenarios with cutscenes before, within, and after the races.

The only thing this storyline struggles with is the fact that the characters are fictional. If they were able to place real drivers into any of these roles I think it would be taken a lot more seriously, and people wouldn’t want to use the word “cringe” so much when talking about it. The story is filled with drama, the same kind of drama you can see on Netflix’s Drive to Survive each season.

Without spoiling the storyline too much, you can watch my non-commentary playthrough of the first two chapters which runs about 50 minutes if you don’t have to restart any of the scenarios. There are 16 chapters in total and in the later ones you should expect to have to retry a few of them to make an objective. The main piece of advice I have on this is to not choose too easy of a difficulty because there is no benefit in the story from destroying the competition; Challenge yourself and enjoy it.

Customization

The fantastic MyTeam mode returns for F1 2021 with a few tweaks, but I am disappointed in the limited customization available for your team. I would much rather design my whole own livery like you see in many other sims, painting a template, than select from pre-determined skins and fake sponsor logos that seldom fit the livery. Same goes for the driver suit, helmet and everything else.

Career

MyTeam is back and is still brilliant. It was the headline feature of F1 2020 and I’m glad to see it return. I didn’t get chance to go too deeply into it before publishing this review, but it doesn’t look like too much has changed.

Solo mode still includes championships and single race modes, of course, and the best addition to that is the fact that you can save the race mid-session, allowing you to come back and finish it at a later date. This is huge, and for me one of the best new features of F1 2021 along with the ability to save full race replays.

Mid-race saving is facilitated by the full race replays, using the flashback feature that already existed to resume from the replay in the same way you can in rFactor 2 when viewing a replay. To have this option easily accessible in the relevant UI to load your race rather than tucked away in the replay menu is brilliant, and I really hope a few of the other hardcore simulations that offer offline championships will consider implementing it for those of us who want 100% distance but lack the time over a single gameplay session.

Opinion

It’s important to start off by saying that the Braking Point storyline is not reason enough to buy F1 2021 by itself, but it is a welcome addition that I did enjoy.

It’s difficult for me to get past the fact I have game-breaking issues with performance and those awful game freezes, but I know that much like previous titles not everyone will have these issues (that’s annoying in itself). I’m also annoyed by the lack of mouse control in the menus, something that year on year forces me to adapt how I use my racing rig to pretty much just this one title.

You know what is a reason to buy? In-session saves. That’s right, you can now save your race mid-way through in the same way as you could in the Geoff Crammond simulations and more recently rFactor 2. This allows those of us with limited time (hey, that’s me) to experience 100% race distances with proper F1 strategy decisions, tire degradation and more. For those who would race to fit into a particular off-work or off-kids schedule it means F1 2021 basically offers more hours of gameplay because you can stretch a single 100% race distance over multiple gameplay sessions.

Other than that, this is a standard seasonal update to F1 2020 with some tweaks; If you’ve ever enjoyed any of the Codemasters F1 titles then I’m sure you will enjoy this as well. The value you put on this experience is really up to you, and whether you immediately put in your pre-order after reading this or wait on a Halloween sale on Steam or something later this year, it’s definitely going to give you a reasonable experience of simulating an 2021 Formula One World Championship as long as you can get it running properly.

View on YouTube

Review Machine

AMD Ryzen 9 5900X
NVIDIA RTX 3080 FE
32GB DDR4 RAM @ 3000 MHz
Thrustmaster TS-PC

Multiplayer untested. Steam Key provided for fair review by Codemasters. Purchase here (price varies by location).

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