Codemasters has had an exclusive lock on the Formula 1 racing series for almost a decade now, with their first attempt being F1 2010. Not surprisingly, the simplistic yet informative title of this year’s version is F1 2019 - why change it if it’s working? Being the latest iteration of an unbroken string of ten releases, it’s mighty tempting to simply provide a laundry list of what has changed from last year’s version, but this being my first year of owning and playing an F1 20xx game on a console (PS4) versus the PC… we’re just going to pretend that it’s all brand new.
But if you insist…. F1 2019 is F1 2018 with new graphics and the addition of legendary stars Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, both known as very talented and ultra-competitive drivers that shared one of the most memorable and enduring rivalries in motor sports history. The “new graphics” are basically last year’s graphics with a layer of haze overlaid on them to create a slightly more realistic feeling and a nice glow around the powerful lights used in the night races. It looks nice, but to be fair it all looked pretty nice in 2018, too. Apparently just a little bit too nice.
Given that a game review is typically nothing more than a subjective opinion piece, it may be helpful to know where you reviewer is coming from. In this case, he is a diehard PC racing sim aficionado with a track record stretching well past the venerable Grand Prix Legends circa 1998 and includes well-known titles such as iRacing, Assetto Corsa and Assetto Corsa Competizione, rFactor and rFactor 2, Project Cars and Project Cars 2, and another dozen or more that are gone and forgotten by now. As such, he is also very much addicted to racing with a high quality force feedback steering wheel and deathly afraid of trying to race with a console controller. We will talk about that a little later.
You also may note the common factor in those titles, but if not, here it is: they are all generic racing sims. They offer great breadth in both track and car collections, and they do a credible job of providing entertaining and believable simulations of the physical aspects of racing, but they don’t capture the spirit and uniqueness of the various underlying racing styles. Sure, iRacing, Project Cars, and rFactor provide Formula 1 cars (even if they have to call them something else due to rock hard copyright constraints) and a subset of the appropriate tracks, but the F1 circus is about far more than just the on-track racing. It is the premier racing league in the world, sporting annual budgets that would make NASA blush with envy, and an international fan base that rivals, and actually out earns, soccer. With half a billion people tuning in to watch every race, there is obviously a ready market for a game/sim that provides a reasonable simulacrum of the lifestyle of an F1 racer in addition to the on-track action. That game is F1 2019.
One of the more esoteric facts about F1 is the age range of the drivers; when considering the enormous expenses in time and money that it takes to even get a back-of-the-field car to the track, you would think that only the most aged and experienced drivers would be put in the seat of the multi-million dollar, highly fragile car. That does happen, of course, but these days you’re just as likely to see a 17 year old on the podium as a 30+ year old veteran. There is probably not an active driver in F1 today that didn’t start racing karts when they were only 4 or 5 years old. As a domestic parallel in a different sport, think “Tiger Woods.”
So where does all of the money get spent? Travel is a huge expense, of course, because the teams travel all over the world for races. Research and Development also take a huge percentage; teams design and build their own cars, and in a couple of cases like Ferrari and Renault, also build their own engines. Smaller teams contract to buy their engines from either of those two or Honda. For the leading teams, the driver’s salary is also a pretty big nut. When you consider that the front-running teams would willingly spend $10 million dollars just to shave a tenth of a second off of a lap, you begin to understand just how much money is at stake. With that kind of money involved, it is also no surprise that there are a lot of politics going on in the background, and a very strong temptation to cheat. This in turns leads to a book of rules that would put shame to even the most niggling regulatory regime.
So, how does all of those translate into a video game? As it turns out, quite well. There is a caveat, though, in that F1 2019 might not be all that friendly for beginners. There are a number of ways of playing, but the mostly likely choice is going to be Career mode. As mentioned above, there are teenagers driving in F1, but not as their first job. No one goes directly into F1 - there are dozens of lesser leagues that help to prepare the best of the best for a drive in F1. The closest to F1 is (you could probably guess this) Formula 2. F2 cars are visually similar to F1 cars, but are a little simpler to operate. The racing is every bit as tough, of course, because success in F2 is nearly a requirement for graduation into F1, and F1 is everyone's goal. F1 2019 includes an F2 series as well as F1, and it is in the F2 series that your F1 2019 career begins. Rather than having to go through an entire year’s season, you take over mid-race in three or four races to finish various challenges (gain three positions, beat your rival, etc.) - your results in these F2 mini-races supposedly have some influence on whether or not you are offered an F1 ride.
These weren’t too difficult once I got a handle on using the hand controller, but I had the advantage of already being familiar with the race tracks. That was necessary, but not sufficient. I first had to come to grips with the controller. I had anticipated a great deal of frustration with that, based on experience with other console racers where I found the control sticks to be far too touchy and temperamental to even drive down a straightaway. I’m not sure why, but I had very little trouble with the PS4 controllers in F1 2019. I initially thought it was due to the default assists (brake assist, in particular) but even after turning everything off I was still able to drive well enough - not up to PC standards, but good enough. Even with all of the assists disabled, I still felt like there was a modicum of steering help going on behind the scenes, but maybe I’m just better at it than I thought I was. But probably not.
For someone brand new to F1, though…. jumping into the middle of a race on a track you have never seen before, driving one of the most powerful and fast cars on the planet, surrounded by other drivers that want nothing more than to get you out of the way - that is not the recipe for a satisfying first experience. Luckily, there are tutorials provided, but it’s still going to be a steep learning curve for the uninitiated. It is also possible to set up single races with lengthy practice sessions and work through the list of tracks one at a time with many possible permutations on the AI skill, driver assists, etc. A few dozen hours of that should be enough to prepare for a career.
Proficiency in the car and on the track only takes you so far in Formula 1. There are many, many aspects to being an F1 driver that have nothing to do with speed on the track. The driver is, for example, the only way the race mechanics have to communicate what’s happening with the car at a “feel” level. The cars themselves are constantly reporting thousands of performance metrics via a data link to both the race engineers at the track and the far larger group of specialists back at the team factory, but only the driver knows how all of those pieces of data translate into a handling style preferred by the guy behind the wheel. This also feeds into the ongoing R&D process - development of the car is never done, and even early in the racing season, the factory is busy designing and building next year’s car alongside the development of improvements to the current car. A driver absolutely has to be able to communicate at a high level with the rest of the team to remain competitive.
There is also teamwork to consider. Every F1 team fields two cars and two drivers. The team is fighting for Constructors points in the season-long competition for the best car, while the drivers are competing for the annual Driver’s championship. These disparate goals can cause tension between the drivers and the owners/engineers. To the team, it doesn’t matter which driver is in front of the other at the finish, just so long as they both finish in the highest positions possible. There are instances, however, when the team wants one of the drivers to allow the other to pass him, usually due to different pit strategies, but sometimes to favor the driver considered to be the team leader. It is a hard thing for a driver at that level of racing to let his teammate by - even more so because any F1 driver’s most important opponent is his team mate. They’re driving ostensibly identical cars, so in theory it all comes down to driving ability.
F1 2019 has some RPG-like ways of bringing some of that stress into the game. As an example, you will be interviewed by a TV reporter after each race, whether you made it to the finish or crashed out. These interviews carry the weight of half a billion viewers analyzing every utterance for agreement with their own closely-held opinions, and throw verbose tantrums when they disagree. Google “vettel canada time penalty” if you’re curious as to what that looks like. The point is, though, that drivers have to toe a number of lines to avoid angering their team, fans, or other drivers. Answering one way might improve your relations with the team, or it might get you tagged as an arrogant, self-important weasel. I thought this was a great idea, although it had the same problem other RPG games have: the answer I would have given wasn’t included in the choices I was offered. That quickly devolved into the LA Noire conundrum: I would have to choose an answer based on what I thought the game wanted. It went every bit as well in F1 2019 as it did in Noire: I got nearly every one wrong. That, combined with terrible performances in the races (I was fine for four laps or so, but couldn’t quite put together a perfect race) led to a loss of faith in me on the part of the team. I didn’t like that either, but I did like that I actually started to feel fear and shame. I was afraid I would lose my seat to a more respected driver, and I was embarrassed that I couldn’t get through a race without spinning, wrecking, or causing a big pile up.
I had a lot less stressful fun with the Senna/Prost historical rivalry. These are also short-ish mini-races with goals like “pass 10 opponents in 5:35” and similar. These races are done in cars appropriate to the era. There is a pretty good collection of other classic F1 cars as well. They can be both fun and challenging to drive, but unfortunately there are no classic tracks to go with them. The older tracks are far more dangerous to drive, but in many cases have more character than the newer, safer tracks that lack the character of their older versions.
F1 2019, as with prior versions, offers a breadth and depth that is only viable for a tightly focused mode of racing. The breadth of experiences, car choice, and track choice provides a far deeper experience for the player than would be available in a generic sim, and the depth truly demonstrates the complexity of not only the racing hardware, but the ever-changing conditions during a race. You are in constant radio contact with the race engineers and strategists working in the background while they keep you apprised of changes that may or may not lead to changes in tactics and strategy. While you may have started the race with a plan for only a single pit stop, but the actions and reactions of the competition may make it more advantageous to pit twice, for example.
They will also monitor all kinds of parameters from your car and offer advice, such as telling you that you’re doing well on fuel economy and can enrich the fuel mixture for a little more speed, or ask you to use a little less braking because the brakes are close to overheating. Formula 1 is the most sophisticated, expensive, unique, and popular auto racing league on the planet. It would take close to a decade to build a game/simulator to do it justice in all of its beauty and complexity, and F1 2019 might have just accomplished exactly that.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I've been fascinated with video games and computers for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to get dragged to the mall with my parents because I'd get to play for a few minutes on the Atari 2600. I partially blame Asteroids, the crack cocaine of arcade games, for my low GPA in college which eventually led me to temporarily ditch academics and join the USAF to "see the world." The rest of the blame goes to my passion for all things aviation, and the opportunity to work on work on the truly awesome SR-71 Blackbird sealed the deal.
My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1 that I bought in 1977 when they first came out. At that time you had to order them through a Radio Shack store - Tandy didn't think they'd sell enough to justify stocking them in the retail stores. My favorite game then was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, which was the great Grandaddy of the Microsoft flight sims.
While I was in the military, I bought a Commodore 64. From there I moved on up through the PC line, always buying just enough machine to support the latest version of the flight sims. I never really paid much attention to consoles until the Dreamcast came out. I now have an Xbox for my console games, and a 1ghz Celeron with a GeForce4 for graphics. Being married and having a very expensive toy (my airplane) means I don't get to spend a lot of money on the lastest/greatest PC and console hardware.
My interests these days are primarily auto racing and flying sims on the PC. I'm too old and slow to do well at the FPS twitchers or fighting games, but I do enjoy online Rainbow 6 or the like now and then, although I had to give up Americas Army due to my complete inability to discern friend from foe. I have the Xbox mostly to play games with my daughter and for the sports games.