Story modes in sports games have had a long-standing problem. Scripted narratives clash with the “anything can happen” nature of sports, which means what happens in the actual games can be in direct opposition to what happens in the narrative.
Maybe you’re a rookie in NBA 2K24 scoring 60 points a game, breaking all expectations for what a first-year player can achieve, but the cutscenes between games are still about you looking to make a name for yourself (or trying to carve out a second career as a DJ, for some reason). Maybe you’re a quarterback in over your head in Madden NFL 24, throwing an unprecedented 20 interceptions a game — there won’t be a peep about that mortifying record from the talking heads or from your coach (beyond a rote “Don’t do that or you might be benched”).
This conflict, between the abundant possibilities in sports games and the limits of their scripted narratives, has been neatly sidestepped by EA Sports’ and Codemasters’ F1 series through the Braking Point game mode. Braking Point, which appeared in F1 21, broke new ground for story modes in sports games, and F1 23’s Braking Point 2 took that even further. F1 23 is now available for Game Pass Ultimate subscribers through EA Play, and if you’re a fan of sports games, racing games, or real-life F1, you owe it to yourself to give Braking Point 2 a spin. Both Braking Point campaigns excel by being character-driven, and by giving you scenarios to complete rather than an open road on which anything is possible.
Most story modes in sports games allow you to create and fully customize your own player. Sure, this allows you to see yourself in the game, which can be quite fun, but it limits the storytelling potential, since the game can’t possibly account for the stats or traits of every single player’s avatar. Braking Point instead adds a small roster of characters to the real-life world of Formula 1 and gives them goals, dreams, and personality quirks.
In the first Braking Point, you start as Aiden Jackson, an ambitious young British driver paired on a team with Casper Akkerman, a stoic veteran Dutch driver nearing the end of his career. The two clash as they vie for supremacy within the team rather than working with each other — and the game smartly switches perspectives halfway through, as you see Akkerman’s side of things after becoming fully embedded in Jackson’s point of view. Meanwhile, the smarmy Devon Butler hangs over the proceedings as the game’s antagonist, starting rumors in the paddock and generally being punchable. (It’s a real rarity for a sports game’s story mode to have an actual villain.)
The second Braking Point continues where the first one left off, with (spoilers) Akkerman retired and Jackson looking to establish himself as a driver for a top team. This time, he’s driving for a new team called Konnersport, where he’s paired up with none other than his fierce rival, Butler. Braking Point 2 once again makes great use of perspective shifts from different main characters (following a recent trend with Alan Wake 2 and Marvel’s Spider Man 2) to tell different sides of the same story, with some bold character choices that take things in unexpected directions.
Crucially, your goal as a player in both Braking Points isn’t just “Win as much as possible” — your characters’ personal lives intersect with competition in ways that are true in the real world and rarely in the world of sports video games. Braking Point’s races themselves push this creative friction further. Most of the time, rather than running a complete race, you join in the middle with a specific goal. It could be “Pass your teammate by lap 8.” It could be “Finish in the top 10.” Often, completing one of these goals (or getting close) will trigger a cutscene that changes everything (or ends the race). These limitations prevent you from being able to just win every race — a result the game likely wouldn’t be prepared for narratively, and that wouldn’t feel realistic or challenging.
It also helps that the game is just very fun. Racing games are a meditative experience, and while F1 23 might not have the fealty to reality of iRacing, it’s great for F1 enthusiasts or the racing curious. Braking Point 2 is a great place to drop in, with evocative characters and a compelling story of underdogs, family drama, and hard racing.
Too many sports games try to have it both ways — you can do whatever you can imagine with your player character, but there’s also a preordained narrative to fit within. But the F1 series’ Braking Point campaigns smartly bring limitations into the mix, building out a much more satisfying sports gaming experience.