My knowledge of Formula One racing stems from a childhood spent hoping I’d get to watch the Gummi Bears at open time on Sunday afternoons, so I hope you’ll manage your expectations for this review.
Codemasters’ F1 2019 is the latest in a long line of official games based on the Formula One FIA World Championship, offering an in-depth Formula One emulation experience for the fans. You can either play solo or in online multiplayer, choosing your character’s face, nationality, and audio call sign (thus, Sassy “Captain” McDrivesfast was born). You can customise the look of your gear, and your multiplayer livery, with in-game credits earned by completing multiplayer challenges, but there’s always that Premium Tier currency you can buy with real money, if you want the fancy stuff. There’s also an esports portal, reflecting F1’s popularity in competitive gaming.
I decided to take a crack at the career mode, because I was intrigued by what sort of plot a serious F1 game could possibly have. I also assumed it would be the easiest way to learn how to play. I mean, you have to start your career somewhere and, to me, that meant there would surely be a tutorial level; something to help familiarise new players with the controls, or the rules, or something.
I was mistaken.
Career mode straps you in towards the end of your F2 season, at the Spanish Grand Prix, and fires you off down the track without so much as a tool-tip about acceleration. You get some cutscene plot revolving around your “rivals” Devon Butler and Lukas Weber and you also get to explain your dismal performance to a reporter/therapist, via timed dialogue options that affect your reputation. As your career progresses, you get to move into F1, despite how rubbish you are. However, that’s also where the story seems to fall away; no more catty cutscenes, although Butler and Weber do appear in future race line-ups.
Each team expects a particular type of performance and behaviour and, honestly, it reminded me of browsing job ads I had no business applying for – the impostor syndrome was real. As I progressed, my ability to stay on the track improved, but I became truly exceptional at disappointing pit crew engineer Jeff and everyone else I encountered. I was fully expecting the game to eject me from the career mode in disgust. What’s sort of neat is that the AI drivers, based on real-life ones, are able to change teams as your career progresses and can be challenged by younger drivers, meaning they’re not locked into a particular performance level.
F1 2019 does try to help you, offering brake assist for the corners (I had it on high and still drifted off into the gravel on the regular, so don’t expect miracles), guiding you with the optimum race line, providing strategy suggestions, automatically shifting gears, and blessing you with Jeff’s patience. I tried, Jeff, I really did.
It’s also up to you to manage the R&D tree for your vehicle, spending points, earned by racing, on improvement upgrades. There are a lot of details here for the fans and the cars give just the right amount of rumble to suggest your’e manhandling a death-beast around the track at ridiculous speed, which is probably all anybody really needs.