Let’s get this over with at the jump: Codemasters’ F1 2020 is the best F1 video game to ever hit home-gaming consoles, period, and you should buy it now if you haven’t already. That’s my visceral gut reaction after spending a good chunk of time with the title that released on July 10.
It’s not a proclamation I make lightly. Racing gamers are a massively discerning lot, and hardcore Formula 1 fans might be even more demanding when it comes to how companies virtually depict their favorite form of motorsport. Throughout the past several decades, F1 games have been all over the map in terms of realism, playability, and pure fun. Take a spin through online forums devoted to racing games/simulators—any racing game—and you’ll find a seemingly never-ending stream of complaints, from car handling to hysterical in-game bugs.
Of course, some of the complaints themselves are hilarious, as they stretch well beyond the pedantic and deep into the realm of, “Are you serious, dude? You do realize it is just a game, right?”
Don’t say that to F1 fans, though. Codemasters launched its first F1 title for home consoles way back in the fall of 2010, and it’s taken its fair share, and then some, of critiques and complaints with each subsequent annual installment. Personally, as an F1 anorak and former full-time motorsports journalist—as well as someone who’s driven on plenty of real racetracks in a wide spectrum of cars—I’ve played them all, for varying amounts of time and with varying levels of satisfaction. And Codemasters’ F1 2020 leaves them all in its wake, not because it is perfect, but because of its depth of features along with a revised handling model that is finally rather proper to drive.
Remembering Michael Schumacher’s Era
Beyond those upgrades, there’s also a satisfying emotional component for me to Codemasters’ F1 2020—and let’s be honest, F1 fandom itself is as much of an emotional investment as anything, considering the on-track action often leaves more than a little something to be desired.
So, I made sure to get my hands not on the standard version of the game, but on the F1 2020 Deluxe Schumacher Edition, an ode to F1 legend Michael Schumacher. My personal motorsports passion was fueled during the seven-time world champion’s prime, right around the time of his first title-winning campaign with Benetton in 1994.
Schumacher’s polarizing nature is well documented, to say the least; it seemed F1 observers and fans were either all-in on the German or borderline (or outright) despised him, especially as he and his Ferrari regime dominated the sport for the first half of the 2000s. Maybe I found comfort in his metronomic precision and consistency in the wake of Ayrton Senna’s death. Maybe there was something intriguing about that high-nosed Benetton B194 he drove. Maybe Damon Hill and the rest of the 1994 F1 grid (other than Jean Alesi and Eddie Irvine) were about as interesting to me as a bag of sawdust. Maybe I’m just a front-runner.
Regardless, for whatever reason, Schumacher quickly became “my guy.” Years later when I was older and paid to view racing through the lens of journalistic impartiality, in my private time I remained a Schumacher fan. But we all knew he wasn’t perfect—especially when his on-track behavior was at times almost shocking in its ruthlessness and perceived arrogance.
Maybe if Schumacher never suffered that horrific skiing-crash brain injury seven and a half years ago, and he had simply eased into retirement as a familiar ambassadorial face that appeared at a few Grands Prix per season, I wouldn’t have felt a strong need to own this edition of Codemasters’ F1 2020. After all, other than some classic Schumacher cars available in the game, I didn’t expect much of a leap in terms of fun compared to the franchise’s previous installments.
As it turns out, I quickly discovered a gem of game with a breadth of offerings that have me looking forward to playing it for months to come. I never could have said that about the past few years’ worth of F1 releases.
So What Makes This the Best F1 Game Ever?
For starters, a revised handling model finally delivers cars that behave as you imagine a modern F1 car should, for the most part; even sim-racing ace and Williams F1 driver George Russell has commented on how well this game drives. Find the right setup in Codemasters’ F1 2020, and the cars actually turn; you’re not moaning constantly about understeer, and you don’t have to drive around the problem by, as Russell has also noted, relying on perfectly timed downshifts as a sort of bizarre torque-vectoring turn-in aid. (Anyone who played last year’s game is well-familiar with this silly, irritating trait.) Just as welcome is a revised ERS power-deployment system that’s much truer to real life than its formerly convoluted in-game execution. Now, you simply push the “overtake” button to unleash the extra power and have at it.
If that’s still too much for inexperienced players or for people who don’t know Grand Prix racing’s ins and outs, there are plenty of assists and game modes available to dumb-down the entire thing to an easily playable degree, without compromising the product for hardcore players who want to manage everything themselves.
Speaking of managing, Codemasters’ F1 2020’s new My Team mode isn’t usually the sort of thing I bother with, but it’s already proved itself a fantastic new way to experience the game: You create your own team from scratch, and sign and manage sponsors, funds, an engine supplier, and a fresh young teammate. Keeping the realism and official FIA license satisfied, you select your teammate from the F2 grid; you can also play the entire F2 season separately as a game within the game.
It’ll come as no surprise I was more than happy to throw an imaginary million bucks at Michael’s son, Mick Schumacher, to join my new outfit. So, there’s a nostalgic component available even when racing in the virtual now. (Giuliano Alesi is also in the game, complete with his father’s famous helmet design, for another generational nod.) Codemasters will surely develop My Team further in subsequent years, but I already anticipate it adding plenty of hours, weeks, and months to my F1 2020-playing enthusiasm.
As for the Schumacher-specific content, frankly it might not seem all that “deluxe” to everyone, especially if you missed or didn’t ever care about the Red Baron’s boat. For fans like me, however, the ability to drive the 7 Up-liveried 1991 Jordan 191, that high-nosed, Ford (Cosworth) Zetec-R V-8-powered 1994 Benetton B194, the Benetton B195, and the 2000 Ferrari F1-2000 is a great nostalgic addition to the standard Codemasters’ F1 2020 lineup of this year’s full grid of contemporary cars. (The standard version of the game already includes Schumacher’s 2004 Ferrari F2004.)
The Best F1 Game Ever, But Not Quite Perfect
It’s a shame there aren’t a few more machines to choose from, though there are other non-Schumacher classic F1 cars available, too. If the development team is looking for suggestions for the future, it should add the 1993 Benetton B193, the gorgeous 1995 Ferrari 412 T2 (the first Ferrari F1 car Schumacher tested at Fiorano upon signing for the Scuderia), the 1996 F310 (a dog of a car, but intriguing in the looks department), the 1997 F310B (no, really, Jacques Villeneuve, I swear I never saw you there), and the 1999 F399 (the car with which Schumacher had a solid shot of winning his first title for Ferrari, before he broke his leg in that season’s British Grand Prix).
While I’m whining, it’s also a shame Codemasters says it won’t be able to add the fantastic, fast, and flowing Mugello circuit to F1 2020, despite it being added to the revised real-life calendar. The new Hanoi, Vietnam, street circuit is included, but after driving about five laps of it, I can tell you there isn’t a driver on the actual F1 grid who should be disappointed the race there was canceled this season. From here on, I’ll pretend it and its inane track layout don’t exist. On the flipside, the addition of the Netherlands’ Zandvoort circuit is a revelation I still haven’t grown tired of.
Still, the classic Schumacher cars offered are a great package of additional content. Along with a few of the driver’s helmet designs and podium celebrations to use while playing as your own character during your Codemasters’ F1 2020 career, the nostalgia factor combines with modern F1, a solid handling model, and attention-holding game modes to produce a great home virtual-racing experience. Hell, speaking of nostalgia, even the split-screen multi-player feature returns, something I think I last enjoyed in an F1 game on PlayStation 1, circa 1996.
The world is certainly unrecognizable from the one we raced in back then, but when it comes strictly to home gaming-console Formula 1 offerings, Codemasters’ F1 2020 definitely will make you happy you live in the now.
Codemasters F1 2020 Fast Facts:
- Release Date: July 10, 2020
- Retail Price: $59.99 (regular edition), $69.99 (Deluxe Schumacher Edition)
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam for PC
- Highlights: Every car, driver, and track from the official F1 2020 season; classic F1 cars; new My Team mode; complete F2 2019 season, with 2020 season to be added; Deluxe Schumacher Edition includes extra Michael Schumacher cars and additional content
- Our Verdict: The best home-console F1 game of all time