F1 2019 is an incredible motor racing simulation, with the most exciting driving the F1 series has seen yet and an impressive attention to detail.
Codemasters has turned Formula One video games into something special again. After some time in the wilderness, the franchise has refocused on what its players wanted: a deep, complex simulation of perhaps the most esteemed motor racing series in the world. With F1 2019, Codemasters has gone down a more dynamic route, which takes the game to levels not seen before.
Don’t be alarmed, though. F1 2019 continues the same style of gameplay as its predecessor, F1 2018. Once again maintaining a sense of realism is key, with gameplay that not only rewards skill and speed but also the player’s ability to maintain consistency. Endurance and attention to detail have been king for years, and that hasn’t changed here.
There are some big changes on the cards for F1 2019. The most notable for motorsport fans is the addition of F2 to the series, giving players the chance to play through the second tier championship. This is a great decision from Codemasters, not only because it gives the chance to do something a little bit different - with the fresh faces of those aiming to make the step up to F1 in real life - but also because the F2 cars are all identical from a technical perspective. This parity of performance leads to some tantalizing challenges on higher difficulties, with all drivers given exactly the same tools to reach the finish line.
The other big change this brings is in the game’s cornerstone of single player gameplay, the Career Mode. This time around, the player’s career opens in F2, and takes the driver through a handful of racing scenarios that eases the driver into the mechanics of F1 2019. After all, if a new user’s only previous racing experience has been the likes of Forza, Codemasters' more simulation-style take on driving could come as a shock.
This method of introduction also works for another reason, with a subtler but perhaps more important change to the whole setup of the F1 games as a whole. These races introduce a level of personality to the series, through the fictional drivers of Lukas Weber and Devon Butler – one your supportive teammate, the other an infuriating, hot-blooded rival. These two drivers show off the pre-existing mechanic of Sportsmanship versus Showmanship, which comes into play across the Career Mode when it comes to earning a reputation, but also a newfound attempt to build a narrative out of what was previously a pure sports focus.
Weber and Butler appear in cut scenes at the beginning of the campaign, explaining the virtues of either being a team player or going for glory alone. When they make the step up to F1 with the player, they then appear as interview clippings, reacting to the player’s actions and maintaining this sense of personality. It gives F1 2019 a different dynamic, closer to the likes of FIFA where narratives are entwined into its Journey game mode.
It brings with it a level of flexibility to the Career Mode, too. Whereas driving spots would previously remain static, meaning that players would eventually grow tired of seeing the same roster season-in season-out, F1 2019 mixes things up now and again. This makes things fresher, and perhaps even more immersive than before, although some of the moves can be a little bit head scratching as they fall outside of the realms of what would happen in reality.
F1 2019 does maintain a major focus on realism overall. Driving is once again a joy, and it’s one of the few games that provides a breathtaking sense of speed without turning to more artistic, unreal elements to provide it. Driving break-neck around Spa-Francorchamps is just as gut wrenching as the toughest F-Zero tracks, particularly when up against extreme weather conditions - and in this year’s entry wet weather feels more daunting than ever before. It might not reach Dirt Rally 2.0 levels of challenge, but it’s more than enough to keep players on their toes.
Something that helps with this is the flexibility of its difficulty settings. Newcomers could turn on the assists and keep AI quality down to a low level, while also using the Flashback mechanic that allows users to turn back time and undo mistakes. Meanwhile, veterans can forgo these options, and also add full-length races to the mix to provide as authentic a F1 experience as humanly possible. It’s truly a sight to behold, and those serious about their racing games will definitely want to get involved.
There are some other improvements here and there, too. Online multiplayer has seen an upgrade, with league functionality and the ability to customize your own car. The game also looks better than its previous iteration, with circuits and weather effects that feel much more like the real thing. Not everything has seen a major improvement, with the human character models still remaining a little on the robotic side, but the gameplay itself is visually stunning at times, particularly in the greatly improved nighttime races.
Although the faces themselves may feel a little awkward, there's a much better sense of humanity in the game's AI. In F1 2019, AI drivers are aggressive and manage to pull off some pretty impressive stunts, whether on the offensive against a slower car or defending positions into corners. There's a sense of risk and reward here, as rival drivers are never a pushover.
F1 2019 doesn't always stick to the racing line, though. The Legends edition of the game might be a bit of a letdown for some, as its content revolving around F1 heroes Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna doesn't really do justice to what is one of the most iconic sports rivalries of all time. Given the emphasis on personality across the rest of the game, it perhaps feels like a missed opportunity here. Players might as well stick to the core game instead.
Overall, though, F1 2019 is extremely impressive, and may be the racing sim on the market with the best balance between sheer enjoyment and a dedication to realism. The added features to this year's entry make it worth picking up even for those who purchased its predecessor, and it's effectively a must-have for fans of the sport in general. Be prepared to sink hour after hour into this one.
F1 2019 is out now for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Screen Rant was provided with a PS4 download code for the purposes of this review.