Codemasters’ unrivalled F1 simulation has reached its 2019 edition – we take a look at F1 2019 on the Xbox One, though it’s also available for PC and PS4.
As with pretty much any annual sports franchise, the biggest question is always “what’s really new here?”. The easy solution is to go with a roster update – move the players or drivers around as they did in real life, and all new stadiums, courses and gear. F1 2019 marks the first time that Codemasters is launching their game earlier in the ongoing season, and that made me afraid that they’d go the easier route for this edition to make up for lost time. Luckily, I was wrong.
Despite the earlier release, which ensures the real season hasn’t been decided yet (although it’s going Hamilton’s way again), F1 2019 has a big new addition – and it doesn’t waste any time to introduce it. Pick the career mode, and you’re not embarking on a Formula 1 career right away – instead, you’ll play a shortened version of the 2018 season in Formula 2.
This is a nice change for a number of reasons. The Formula 1 season itself doesn’t change much from year to year (I’d say 90% of the tracks stay the same, the same teams and drivers stay dominant for years, and recent rule changes have made many races predictable), so anything new is welcome. The Formula 2 is also a known staging ground for Formula 1 drivers, so playing the 2018 season means you get to race alongside some of this year’s fresh faces – in a setting all but the most die-hard of fans will have likely missed.
Narratively speaking there’s a lot more potential that could be gained from having a career mode like this, but having a bit of rivalry going on as you try to ensure your place on the 2019 F1 roster is a nice new hook for the series. Get past it, and things start to look and feel more familiar.
The driving model feels largely unchanged, but there’ve been plenty of subtle visual improvements to the series. Many of these are hard to notice while playing, but can be seen in the TV-style replay mode. The most convincing visual effects, at least while behind the wheel, are those in the nighttime races. The lighting system for these races feels more realistic than before, and it makes the races feel a lot closer to the real thing.
Speaking of realism – F1 2019 can be tweaked to be fairly realistic, but it’s been designed to also appeal to more casual fans who aren’t regularly playing sim-focused racers. You can choose to make things more forgiving, even up to the point of using the game’s in-game rewind system in case you mess up. I’d like a mode that throws the rulebook out of the window and goes full arcade as well, but perhaps that’s for another year.
Besides Formula 2, random events in the middle of the season also add spice and diversity to the mix. You can also spend a fair bit of time testing and fine-tuning your car, if that aspect of the sport tickles your fancy. Long-time fans will also appreciate the inclusion of classic McLaren and Ferrari cars from about a decade ago – though you’ll be racing them on today’s circuits (but then again, many haven’t changed (much)). If you’re interested in going back even further then the Legends edition of the game also gives you the chance to replay some of the rivalry that Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost had. Feeling more like engaging with other gamers? Online’s included as well, and has been integrated with weekly challenges and the ability to go up against several eSports racers.
With the inclusion of Formula 2 and subtle tweaks to the (online) gameplay and visuals of the game, F1 2019 is the most comprehensive package in the series so far – even if the narrative element is sort of shallow and you don’t get any access to classic tracks that are no longer part of the calendar. Considering the fact that Codemasters has two months less to develop it, that’s a pleasant surprise – there’s no better time to jump into the current season and try to shake things up a bit.