We've been wanting to take a look at Codemasters' F1 2021 for some time now. It's the first series entry to specifically target the new wave of consoles - and it's also been subject to some curious changes on PlayStation 5. Ray tracing and 3D audio were part of the mix... until they weren't. Various patches added and removed the feature, but with the arrival of the recent 1.07 title update, it looks like all of these elements of the game are fully present and correct. But can it deliver all of this while still pushing out 4K resolution at 60 frames per second? Well, the answer is yes... and no.
Talking about raw graphics specs, there's little to differentiate Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 versions of the game. Both target 4K resolution and it certainly looks native, with no obvious signs of the checkerboarding solution that Codemasters has used in the past. Dynamic resolution scaling - as always - cannot be ruled out, but all of our samples returned a full 4K resolution- (a decent upgrade on the 1800p on PS4 Pro last year. As for Xbox Series S? Codemasters targets 1080p here.
Adding some spice is the inclusion of 120Hz racing. Unfortunately, this is not a feature found on Series S, but for Series X and PS5, it's an excellent addition to the game. Resolution is dialled back to 1440p to achieve it, and the doubling of frame-rate adds immensely to the experience. Side-scrollers, first-person shooters and racing games truly benefit from the increase in performance and it's without doubt an excellent feature to have.
Those looking for any apparent visual differences between the higher performance consoles are likely to be disappointed - as far as I can see, the game is essentially identical on PS5 and Series X. I did spot further shadow draw distance on PS5 in one of the track overviews, but other than that, it's entirely like-for-like. The game also looks very similar to the PS4 Pro experience, resolution aside. However, in the 30fps pre-race cinematics, there is evidence of both ray traced shadows and reflections not found on the last-gen machines (and yes, Series S does have these features too). However, once we're into gameplay at 60fps, those features disappear.
In terms of overall performance, there's little to comment on - which is almost always a good thing in a Digital Foundry analysis. In its 60fps mode, F1 2021 always hits the target frame-rate, even in our favoured stress test scenario: Monaco with heavy rain and 19 AI cars directly ahead of us. The 120Hz modes also work out beautifully, again with nigh-on locked performance. Here, we did spot very, very rare screen-tearing on Xbox Series X, but only in our stress test scenario. By and large, F1 2021 performance is looking strong indeed. Series S also nails its 1080p60 lock beautifully.
There is an interesting outlier here though with the game's replay mode. Curiously, this runs with an unlocked frame-rate and with v-sync disabled, turning the game into a benchmark of sorts if you're that way inclined to look at it. Our suspicion is that it's supposed to lock to 30fps like other cinematics in the game, but instead we get performance that drops down to the 30s and 40s. Replay modes often kick in higher quality assets and enhanced effects with a drop to performance - both Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport do this - and this is almost certainly what's happening with F1 2021.
We were asked to take a look at F1 2021 by users who were a touch concerned by the various patches that swapped features in and out, but our experience with the game has been very positive indeed. It looks like next-gen graphics features are used sparingly, but the end result is remarkably solid - and the 120Hz racing mode is also a surprise in its consistency. The DualSense's haptics and triggers are put to good use here too for PS5 users, but ultimately the great news is that F1 2021 plays extremely well on every console we tested.
Will you support the Digital Foundry team?
Digital Foundry specialises in technical analysis of gaming hardware and software, using state-of-the-art capture systems and bespoke software to show you how well games and hardware run, visualising precisely what they're capable of. In order to show you what 4K gaming actually looks like we needed to build our own platform to supply high quality 4K video for offline viewing. So we did.
Our videos are multi-gigabyte files and we've chosen a high quality provider to ensure fast downloads. However, that bandwidth isn't free and so we charge a small monthly subscription fee of €5. We think it's a small price to pay for unlimited access to top-tier quality encodes of our content. Thank you.Support Digital Foundry