F1 2021 review: New EA game adds a new dimension to a format that has relied entirely on fast cars

The masterminds behind the FIFA and NBA game series have bought Codemasters, the British studio behind the F1 brand – and this week, Electronic Arts release their first precision-racing experience.

EA already owned the high-octane racer Need For Speed but now, following the $1.2bn (£864m) takeover, they have expanded their automotive offering to Formula 1.

F1 2021 is released on 16 July and is a first for two reasons: it is the opening iteration to be released under the auspices of their new owners, and the first F1 simulation racing game sporting a storyline.

F1 2021. Pic: Electronic Arts
Electronic Arts bought Codemasters, the British studio behind the F1 brand, earlier this year

At its core, F1 2021 is still a championship-based game, allowing the player to select a real-life team and driver, and race in ultra-realistic conditions against the computer, or other players around the world.

During pre-release-testing, for a brief moment in time, Sky News was the 10th fastest team globally – as only 10 people had so far downloaded the game from the Playstation Store.

However, beyond the standard features, EA have added the “Braking Point” mode, a story-driven option, similar to those already available in FIFA and NBA.

This adds a new dimension to a game format that until now has relied entirely on fast cars driving around a circuit repeatedly, trying to shave milliseconds off lap times.

Leaning into the success of Netflix’s BAFTA-winning TV programme Formula 1: Drive to Survive, Codemasters employed scriptwriters from Derren Brown’s show to formulate a linear plot lasting five to six hours.

You play as Formula 2 driver Aiden Jackson, and with the help of a few key characters on your team, work your way to the top of the F1 leaderboard.

F1 2021. Pic: Electronic Arts
In Braking Point mode, gamers can play as Formula 2 driver Aiden Jackson

The experience is immersive, as driving feels fluid and accurate. The car models look hyper-realistic, especially on next-gen consoles, and the sound design is intuitive, making use of the controller’s built-in speaker.

However, the race-track backgrounds can look grey and washed out, while the character models look like haunting imitations of their real-life selves. Cut-scenes at the end of races repeat themselves and the podium-finishers do not vary their celebrations.

But this game was not designed for jaw-dropping James-Cameronesque visuals, it was designed to offer Formula 1 enthusiasts an opportunity to put their skills to the test. To win, the player must find the right racing line, know where and for how long to decelerate, and when to make strategic pitstops.

EA is reaching out to the player unsatisfied with nitrous-injected sledgehammer carnage in Need For Speed, who prefers the scalpel-like precision of racing simulation.

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