If there was something that initially annoyed me most in F1 2019, it was the cover image and loading screen that preposterously plasters Sebastian Vettel’s smug mug next to Lewis Hamilton. That’s foolish optimism, if anything! Mercedes has been completely dominant during the current F1 season with Hamilton leading the pack, seemingly going for his sixth championship. Meanwhile, Vettel has scrapped together only a few lower podium finishes. Now that I got that out of the way, let’s concentrate on how Codemasters fares this year with the annual update of their long-running series of officially licensed Formula 1 games.
An F1 racing car is its own kind of beast to drive. Aggressive downforce literally pastes it onto the track but at the same time surgery-precise steering and lightning-fast gear management are needed to tame its immense power. No other racing car can be driven so fast to the bend, only to be darted out of it at full speed. Open wheels of F1 cars mean that collisions with other drivers are absolutely no-no. It takes a certain mindset, perhaps even a death wish, to race in the highest level in such a fragile yet powerful machine. In video gaming terms, there’s not even a slightest chance of driving leisurely like in Forza games or rattle through tracks as with rally cars. With that in mind, F1 2019 does a good job at adjusting the game to cater to all kinds of players from novices to pros. There’s a ton of driving assists and such to fiddle with so it’s never too intimidating to hop into the cockpit.
You won’t be lacking in what to drive, either. F1 2019 has several championships and challenges to participate in and you can also create your own racing weekends. There are online games with leagues and weekly challenges, too. In most of the modes, you’ll be racing around with your customized driver (male or female) created at the very beginning of the game. Of course, you can play as any of current official F1 drivers, too, if you fancy it that way. In my opinion, though, modern drivers are impersonal dullards (apart from Iceman Kimi Räikkönen, mind you) so the Legends DLC will be something to invest in. It features the classic rivalry between F1 legends Alain Prost and late Ayrton Senna with eight challenges to race through to finally see who’s the boss. You’ll also getting their driving suits, helmets, gloves and, of course, their classic cars.
At the heart of full F1 2019 experience is a throughout career mode that covers ten seasons of competing in F1 class. This year, you can choose to start from the F2 series, a breeding ground for future formula stars. Sadly, though, F2 part of the career consists of measly three race scenarios that have only few laps to drive. No matter how you fare in them, their outcome is completely scripted to pave the way for your rookie driver’s F1 debut. There’s an attempt at narrative with scenes featuring your nice team mate and a dickhead rival but it’s all too brief to be of any further value. Later, these drivers will make an appearance during F1 races but only in random press sheets to read through.
At the start of the F1 career, you’ll be choosing a team to race for. Super-teams, such as Mercedes and Ferrari, require podium finishes right from the start but lesser teams are content with consistent performances and picking up a point or two if you’re having a super weekend. I chose Alfa Romeo to get to be Kimi Räikkönen’s team mate! However, that also meant that pole positions and podium finishes were just distant dreams to reach with the team’s middle-class racing car. Still, mid-season transfers that make a debut in this year’s game can open new doors for you, too, depending on your reputation and performances.
The career can be adjusted to cover anywhere between racing through full laps of each race or just a quarter of them at the minimum. Even in the latter setting, a single racing weekend has hours’ worth of driving. There are three practice sessions that feature different tasks to complete, such as testing tyre sets, mapping optimal driving and braking lines, or practicing qualifying runs. All the laps you drive net research points that can be spend on improving different aspects of your car. You can also simulate practice sessions without actually driving yourself but the game warns against it as you won’t score as many points for research that way. In practice, it’s the other way around, though. The computer can drive a whole lot more laps than your own stamina would endure so the difference in optimal research points is handicapped quite nicely. On the other hand, letting AI handle the practice means less time to familiarize with each track before crucial qualifying sessions.
Driving physics feel great and obsessively shaving off fragments of seconds from your lap time during practice and qualifying sessions is seriously addictive. In the main course, though, the retarded AI rears its ugly head and waters down the overall excitement. Open wheels mean that the last thing you want to do is to collide with someone. However, AI drivers don’t care about it as they seem to fancy themselves competing in a demolition derby. Thud! Thud! Thud! Rear end of your car is shaking when the lunatic AI is ramming at it. Instead of overtaking, the AI drivers more likely push you out of their way. It almost feels like computer cars act as if you didn’t exist and drive through their pre-determined routes, never understanding that you are actually in their way. In these moments, F1 2019 feels like some early 90’s console formula game.
It’s really demoralizing how mad AI opponents constantly manage to ruin your performance. To add to the insult, they get away with it without being penalized. But when you slither your way back to the track after being forced out, you’ll most likely get a penalty for corner cutting! In addition, the cars that poke you around won’t even suffer any damage and thus won’t be needing extra pitstops to change damaged parts. Luckily, there’s a flashback option that will take you back to the track before any mishap happened. Flashback can’t be exploited, though, as each time it’s used, it will move you closer and closer to the hazard until it’s of no use anymore. So, mid-session save during the race is a big help and can revert a lot of unwanted trouble. Still, relying on saves somewhat ruins the experience and makes F1 2019 more like a garden variety video game rather than a racing simulation but what can you do with the AI as it is?
In-between sessions and after each race, there are short interviews with dialogue choices to choose from. Your answers will affect the reputation, not only with your own team but also with others as well as move your personality between sportsmanship and showmanship values. Bear in mind that no matter how pissed off you might be, never show that through answers. You see, being brutally honest transfers into negative reactions from everyone! Below you can see my rookie, forced to retire after yet again being pushed off the track by half-witted AI and I was simply too furious to load a mid-session save or restart the race.
There are other things apart from idiotic AI that feels off. It seems a lot of events in each race is actually scripted to happen. I tested it by loading a mid-session save a few times (because AI kept on ruining my performance) and each time I replayed the race, the same crash happened in the exactly same spot in the track ahead of me that forced the same driver to retire. I also played the career and a traditional championship mode side by side because whenever I simulated the practice in the career, I familiarized myself with tracks by qualifying and racing in the championship. There were many occasions when podium finishes were eerily similar between the modes. Either it’s an amazing co-incidence or much of the racing is scripted instead of things happening dynamically in the real-time.
If you don’t mind about the career, there are full F1 and F2 championships to compete in where you pick up the team and either of their drivers. Personally, I didn’t get too excited about assuming virtual presences of official F1 pilots as racing with an avatar of your own is more motivating, Luckily, you can take your driver into checkpoint or overtake challenges, pursuits and time trials. Also, most of them feature classic F1 cars from bygone decades to drive with that look like cute toys when compared to modern F1 monsters. Even though these extra modes are purer video gaming, they are so much nice to participate in as they have no AI idiots ruining your experience. Driving all alone is such a bliss!
F1 2019 is a great game with solid presentation, smooth technical performance and tons of things to tinker with and drive through. However, it’s severely hurt by its moronic AI. Marrying more traditional video games sentiments to a simulation is always problematic. The thing is, Codemasters has no competition in the genre so there’s no outside pressure to improve on what they have been doing in the past. Emulating clean driving, especially from the AI’s side, isn’t impossible as Gran Turismo Sport did it in a very classy way. Maybe that’s something Codemasters should look into before rolling out F1 2020.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.