F1 2020 review: A familiar ride for the fans in a roller-coaster year

F1 2020
F1 2020 (Image credit: Windows Central)

2020 has been a crazy year. For the motorsport industry, things are only just now beginning to get back to 'normal,' with the 2020 F1 season normally well underway before the yearly official game drops.

By virtue of a coincidence influenced by the unpredictable world we find ourselves in, F1 2020 is actually launching to the world in the same week that the real-life drivers turn their first racing laps.

Yearly updates to sports titles rarely get too radical or bring too many changes at once, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Devoted players don't have to completely relearn the new game and the more casual ones can dip in and out from year to year and always feel comfortable.

Familiarity is the name of the game for F1 2020. There are some great new features to enhance the overall experience compared to its predecessor, and once again Codemasters has delivered a top-drawer racer.

As close as you can get at home

F1 2020

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

One of the most immediately noticeable details of F1 2020 is just how good it looks. I've been playing on an RTX 2080 with everything maxed out, and it's a stunner, but even when you start dialing back some of the settings or you take a look at a console version, you're not disappointed with the eye candy.

F1 2020 is the place to experience the new Zandvoort and Vietnam locations.

Codemasters continues to do a spectacular job of building a digital representation of the F1 package, from the meticulously recreated cars and driver likenesses to the circuits, crowds, atmosphere, and all the official graphics that you'd find on the TV broadcasts. At times it really is hard to tell whether you're looking at the game or the real thing.

Added to this year's package are the two new official F1 circuits in The Netherlands and Vietnam and all the newest liveries. As of the review period, the latest Mercedes design is the only one missing, but a day one patch is promised so hopefully, it'll be here soon. The new-look Williams Racing machine has already made it, though.

F1 2020

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

For the most part the circuits returning from last year's game look and feel the same to race. There are refreshed details around the circuits, and some such as the sponsor boards will still be updated post-launch.

The new circuits are pretty awesome, too, with Zandvoort a narrow, quick circuit with some tight, technical turns thrown in for good measure. Vietnam is, well, tough. This new street circuit feels like a cross between Singapore, Baku, and Russia, and it's bound to be responsible for some rage quits.

Of course, as it stands neither of these circuits will debut in the real world this season, so the only way to experience them is inside F1 2020.

Be the 11th team

F1 2020

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The biggest new addition to F1 2020 is the My Team career mode, which takes you out of just being a driver in one of the 10 official teams and sees you create your own. You get the opportunity to drive for and manage the 11th team on the grid, adding not only a new dynamic to the single-player experience, but at its simplest, adds more cars to the grid.

No longer is it just about the driving, you have to be the boss and pay the bills.

Mechanically it's almost identical to the regular career mode in both this game and the previous release. To make your car better you have to complete objectives, improve the various departments that help build the car and work your way up the grid. My team adds in a smattering of management sim to the mix, with sponsors to sign and keep happy, a teammate to recruit, bills to pay and books to balance.

Of the two single-player offline story modes on offer, this is certainly the one to play in F1 2020. It's an innovative ingredient to the mix and is much fresher than the regular career mode which, for as well put together as it is, really is more of the same.

F1 2020

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The early days of the My Team mode are pretty challenging, too, when you're using a basic car with little development or setup, especially if you're using a wheel to play. You've got three different options for season length, too, which is nice, with the added bonus on short seasons of being able to choose which tracks you race at.

There are plenty of other activities to keep offline players entertained, too, away from the career modes. Making a return is the supporting F2 class which at launch will be 2019 drivers and cars with the 2020 season data being added through a free update later this year. You also have back for another turn the Championship and Time Trial modes, simple one-off quick races, and the ever fun classic cars.

Fun for wheel or controller

F1 2020

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

One of the strengths of the F1 series is Codemasters' approach to making a game that's fun to play for folks using a controller as well as those who want to get a little more serious and get behind a wheel.

Wheel support is, naturally, superb, and F1 2020 has the exact same list of supported hardware as F1 2019. That is to say, pretty much anything you can buy right now. There is one exception on the PC version, the Simucube direct drive wheel will work to some degree, but isn't officially supported.

Setting up a wheel properly is a time consuming affair.

My only criticism of the wheel support in F1 2020 is that the process of getting set up, and getting a good setup going could be more user friendly. On my wheel, a Thrustmaster TS-XW, the default settings are horrible. And to make it better you have to tweak a number of settings individually and in combination with others until you get a feeling you're happy with.

I spent an hour on this. And I'm still not totally happy with it. So be prepared for plenty of time in front of your wheel not actually racing. F1 2020 could certainly use some kind of calibration wizard to make the whole process much less time-consuming.

F1 2020

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The majority of players are likely still using a controller, though, and Codemasters has introduced a nifty new feature with F1 2020 called casual mode. It's only available in offline mode, but it's designed to help new and less experienced players find their feet with a series of assists and changes to the way off-track surfaces behave to make the whole thing less daunting. I haven't tried it, because it's not designed for me, but I do appreciate it's there for the fresher players.

The new casual mode is designed to help ease brand new players into F1 2020.

At this point it's worth mentioning too that the handling model is set to undergo some minor tweaks in the launch patch. Mostly, whether on controller or wheel, F1 2020 feels almost the same as last year's game, though on the controller I do feel it's a little more pointy, for lack of a better term. It doesn't feel as easy to get into a smooth flow with car behavior being more aggressive when you turn.

Using a wheel it actually feels really good, when you get it dialed in that is, with solid force feedback and a noticeable change when you go over kerbs and bumps. I think there's still room for improvement when it comes to feeling the rear of the car start to slide, but it's generally a good job all-round.

Multiplayer can still be frustrating

F1 2020

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

So, multiplayer, then. F1 2020 has it, and plenty of it, and for a lot of the player base it's the reason they'll keep coming back to play over the next year.

There is, as ever, a ton of multiplayer action to get involved in. Short races, long races, custom lobbies, esports challenges, classic racing, there's no reason to ever get bored playing F1 2020. But it's fair to say the multiplayer experience in the past has left me with mixed feelings. And sadly, that's still the case in 2020.

The single player experience is easily the best it has ever been and is a truly joyous thing to play. But the multiplayer doesn't seem to have improved much, if at all, and that's disappointing.

Multiplayer is still my least favorite part of the latest F1 game.

And I'm not just talking about the plague of online racing games, those who simply don't know how to race and just divebomb every corner or forget to use the brakes. The inconsistent, often infuriating penalty system is as bad as on previous games, rewarding you at times with a penalty when someone else crashed into you.

The off-track system is also still exceptionally strict, issuing warnings and penalties for off-track moments that have already ruined your lap and certainly weren't examples of cutting corners.

It's also as you were with connection quality. Barely a race will go by without you seeing someone in front of you lagging and jumping about all over the screen. I'm disappointed more hasn't been put into the multiplayer experience, because the rest of this game is so good, but the online play just seems to be treading water.

The bottom line

F1 2020

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

I came into F1 2020 with a strong expectation and for the most part I wasn't wrong. It is very good, with an incredibly polished package that's accessible to newcomers, welcoming to the casual players and challenging for the more experienced. The new features that are added bring value, too, with a particular favorite the virtual rear view mirror. At least now you can see who's about to dive bomb you off the circuit.

F1 2020 is drop-dead gorgeous.

Is it bad that it feels like F1 2020 could really have been a DLC to F1 2019? Not really. Boring, perhaps, but it's the cycle you get into with yearly updates to sports titles. What Codemasters has done is bring the core experience its player base is familiar with, add a little refinement, a bit more polish and we come to the final product. If you've played any of the recent F1 games but haven't played every year, you'll be able to drop back in relatively easy.

And kudos for offering a discount on pre-orders for existing players of F1 2019.

Unfortunately, the multiplayer is as frustrating in F1 2020 as in previous years games with lag issues and ridiculous penalties at times. But if you're more interested in the offline play then you're going to have a stellar time. F1 2020 is drop-dead gorgeous, enormous fun and the new my team career mode is the icing on the cake.

Updated August 3, 2020: The original review had no experience of multiplayer due to being pre-launch, we've now added this section and a final score.

Richard Devine
Managing Editor - Tech, Reviews

Richard Devine is a Managing Editor at Windows Central with over a decade of experience. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently, you'll find him steering the site's coverage of all manner of PC hardware and reviews. Find him on Mastodon at mstdn.social/@richdevine