Despite having lived just around the corner from where Lewis Hamilton grew up, and seeing his achievements near-constantly plastered all over the local press, I never really felt the hooks of Formula One racing, aside from the occasional weekend where it would already be on TV and I’d sit and watch part of a race. However, I have always enjoyed racing videogames, especially ones where the settings are as varied as Formula One’s globe-trotting season, and so I jumped at the chance to check out Codemasters’ F1 2019.
Codemasters have been working on the F1 series since 2010, and in terms of presentation, the 2019 edition feels like a developer who is comfortable in their surroundings and knows the product that they want to deliver, with no need to rely on style over substance. That’s not to say that F1 2019 is badly presented, as that is far from the truth, but it’s more that Codemasters have been more focused on delivering a solid Formula One experience than introducing flashy new features or modes that end up disturbing the fine balance that the have created between game and simulation.
The extension of this dedication to the experience is that F1 2019 isn’t the kind of game that you can pick up, jump into a race and be instantly successful at. A lot of the racing games that I play are more on the arcadey-Forza Horizon side of the genre, and though F1 2019 does include some familiar features (such as the racing line guide) to make the experience more welcoming for the casual racer, there are definite elements from the world of Formula One that have to be adhered to in order to be successful in F1 2019. For example, much of my racing philosophy consists of finding my way to the front of the pack as quickly as possible and staying there as long as I can, hopefully to the end of the race. F1 2019 expects you to be able to strategize, to be able to know when to push forward and when to hold back, and even when to cede your spot to your teammate for the benefit of your racing team.
Personally, there was a definite period of adjustment when starting F1 2019, and I suffered some painful losses at the start of my career as I struggled to grasp the various terminologies and mechanics necessary for victory. However, I could feel myself learning more and more with each loss, and I was soon working my way up the pack, doing better in qualification and building up points to improve my place in the standings. During these tough spots, I found that the story element of the career mode helped to carry me through, as my rivalry with fellow racers, as well as support from my teammates did a good job of allowing me to feel that sooner or later I would have a better handle on what to do and when.
Similarly to other sports game story modes, such as FIFA’s The Journey, or MyCareer in the NBA 2K series, you’ll follow up each race with a brief story snippet or the chance to be interviewed by the media, and the choices that you make during these scenes will affect how you’re viewed by the racing world as a whole, your racing team and staff, and even your teammates. Of course, a lot of your talking can be done out on the track, but adding in this extra element adds a decent amount of depth that makes F1 2019 feel less like jumping from one racetrack to the next, and more like you’re actually living the career of a Formula One driver.
On some weeks during the season you’ll be given the chance to take part in racing challenges, such as hitting checkpoints under a certain time, and by doing well in these, along with performing well in qualifying and full races, you’ll gain respect from various racing teams, and also earn research points to improve your vehicle. This aspect of the game works a little like an RTS, where you have a tech-tree to work through, with the ability to choose a certain area of focus. Each area of research requires a certain number of research points, and takes a period of time to complete, meaning that it might be worth prioritizing multiple smaller upgrades instead of one larger, costlier, more time intensive improvement. Though the act of racing is the main focus of the experience, there’s plenty going on at the periphery of the experience to add texture to the world.
Despite my initial struggles with F1 2019 I ended up having a good time with the game, even if I can’t see it supplanting the likes of Forza Horizon in my playing time. That’s more to do with my own tastes than any failure on F1 2019’s part, though, and anyone looking for a solid Formula One experience will find a lot to enjoy in F1 2019. There’s enough content here to keep fans going for some time, and the inclusion of media interviews and activities beyond the track means that the experience feels like a complete package as opposed to a straight-up series of races, one after the other. It might be a little too in-depth and granular for some, but if you give it time, both for the game to win you over and for your skills to adapt to the different requirements, I think that you’ll find a challenging and rewarding experience awaits you.