F1 2019 game (PS4, Xbox One) review: the first hour

Published: 28 June 2019

► Two months earlier than usual
► Regulation car included
► More info soon 

You could argue that the Codemasters has the hardest task of any racing game-making studio. Not only does it need to release a new title every year, but it has to make it appeal to casual racing games and sim-racers alike – and provide both with reasons to come back and play.

Worse still, it has just under a year to pack in around £50 of reasons to splash out for this title instead of keeping the old one. This year, Codemasters thinks it’s nailed all of the above. 

F1 2019 is out earlier in the season than usual – now on the weekend of the Austrian GP – it comes with a fresh batch of F2 content and promises an even deeper career mode, too. So, does it deliver exactly what’s needed, Hamilton-style? Or is it another disappointing, hyped pancake – like every Ferrari title challenge in the last five years. 

F1 2019 review

As the Williams F1 team will tell you, some things just don’t go to plan. And in the same way that the Grove-based team was unable to complete its car before the first session of pre-season testing, we got our copy of F1 2019 a little bit later than expected. With that in mind, what you’ll get here is a breakdown of our first hour of the game. No verdict, no conclusions, just initial impressions – we’ll put some more time in over the weekend. 

Start the clock

We actually got the game via download code rather than disc, so if we’re honest, the first hour and a half of our time with F1 2019 actually involved downloading the thing. Boot it up, eventually, and the first thing you’ll notice is how pristine everything is. It’s like the visuals of F1’s new, jazzy titles made into game menus: F1 2019’s American-levels of polish are rather exciting. 

It’s hard to dive straight in, and Codemasters forces you to set up your Career avatar first. This was the case for the last game, and is a reminder that this isn’t just a title for sim-racers, but also for those casual F1 fans who fancy pottering around the world’s best race tracks. 

As you’d expect, we’re not one of those gamers, so after a flurry of pressing X – no idea what our avatar looks like, really – we’re onto time trials, and behind the £80k wheel of the championship-leading Mercedes W10 at Silverstone.

10 minutes

This game looks better than the last one, although it’s hard to pin down why exactly. Visuals are a little more saturated than the likes of GT Sport, but lighting is significantly better than before, off-track details are less cardboard-like, and there’s even camera shake. Importantly, the latter two really do amp up the sense of speed you get in the car – and make this a more visceral experience than we were expecting. Take a kerb and you feel and see the car rattled. 

15 minutes

The way how F1 2019 treats light makes a huge difference – particularly on HDR TVs. Sunlight blazes off the front of our Silver Arrow, illuminates swathes of tarmac on the British track – and later, when in Monaco, it positively blinds us as we emerge from the tunnel. 

Sound is nailed down too, and when swapping into Mika Hakkinen’s 1998 car, it’s clear just how good Mercedes-Ilmor V10s sound – but also how impressive the in-car audio is in F1 2019. 

Other nice touches include flecks of track-debris on the camera, and the wet-look shine of fresh slick tyres, which look positively gelatinous this year. There’s also sense of G or lean when you take corners at decent speeds, which will take some getting used to.

25 minutes

It’s important to remember this game is aimed at everyone – from sim-racers to casual fans – so our first steer of F1 2019 takes place on a PS4 controller.

Jump into a time trial and you’ll get the full nanny-state treatment, from a dynamic racing line that tells you where to place your car and when to shave-off speed, to an auto-box, traction control and even assisted braking. It’s enough to get a good sense of just how fast this game feels, but it barely scratches the surface of Codemasters’ physics engine. 

Bundle into the assists screen and you can pull off the training-wheels, but be careful when you do – this game is seriously tricky with a pad. Take traction control off, keep auto gears on, try and push on; and you’ll find yourself spinning the rears without fail. And once you’re in a slide, it’s hard to gather things up with a pad. 

Initially at least, your chances of correcting oversteer with a pad are around 0%, though this improves to 1% when you start using a controller with manual gears. I suspect this’ll improve once I’ve spent more time on the game, but it’s still daunting, which is actually a nice surprise. 

45 minutes

Time to switch to a Fanatec wheel and pedal set-up. The first and most obvious thing here is the effect of aerodynamic grip, and just how pronounced it is. Bomb around Copse and Maggots at Silverstone, and driving the Mercedes feels like a workout. Codemasters really have imparted a sense of downforce here, especially as – at higher speeds – the car responds telepathically to every movement of the wheel. 

The effect is solidified by just how light and unresponsive the car feels in slow-speed corners. In chicanes and hairpins steering is super light, there’s no sense of grip at all, and after tip-toeing around the corner you need to tentatively bring in the throttle.

It’s a bit like a tightrope at points: carry too much speed, stray off the racing-line, and you’ll find yourself with no grip or downforce –  and about 30 minutes away from being able to put down any power. 

Switch back to Hakkinen’s McLaren and it’s very much the same, though grooved tyres and a naturally-aspirated V10 feel more intuitive and forgiving on corner exits – and less grippy in the middle of them. Still, with a wheel it’s easier to play with the limit of grip, and correct those mid-late-corner slides into some rather epic replays. After just under an hour, it’s all starting to come together… 

And talking of replays, they’re even better this year. Aside from a few odd effects – including heat-haze so overdone it looked like our car was floating on a mirror – this is by far the best looking F1 game we’ve seen. A match for GT Sport? That remains to be seen. 

Time’s up

These are our first impressions of 2019, but we’ll update this article with more on the career mode, the other cars and our experience of the other new game modes. 

By Curtis Moldrich

CAR's online editor and racing-sim enthusiast