There’s something about starting a new Formula 1 video game that is so reassuring. The fresh challenges ahead, the shedload of new additions and the hope of virtual driving nirvana. New, yet also, familiar.
F1 2022 is the 13th successive official game created by Codemasters’ Birmingham outpost. For the most part, you know what to expect – a driving video game with all the real world F1 stars, tracks and cars that is both authentic and accessible.
Except, this time, it’s not called F1 2022, but EA SPORTS F1 22, and there is an electronic dance music soundtrack, Oakley sunglasses and Ferrari road cars. With the development studio purchased by Redwood City-based publishing giant Electronic Arts last year for $1.2 billion, this is the season where the change of ownership has clearly taken hold.
The EA influence predominately takes the form of F1 Life. In essence, a swanky living area where you can alter the look of the wallpaper and furniture, before creating your own avatar with branded clothing – more of which can be purchased with in-game currency, either earned or purchased with real-world money. Oh joy.
This forms the backdrop to the main menu, but also a lobby waiting area before an online race. You can also display a collection of supercars, earned by completing driving landmarks. This is very reminiscent of Hot Wheels Unleashed’s Basement, except without an engaging use case.
It comes across like your parents suddenly purchasing some Yeezys and visiting a Harry Styles concert. Still the caregivers you know and love, but trying too hard to appeal to a TikTok generation.
Yet, the vehicles aren’t just for decorative effect, as you can take them on track across a series of 40 challenges. The aim is to replicate the F1 Pirelli Hot Laps where invited dignitaries are treated to passenger laps during grand prix weekends.
In action, the range of Aston Martins, Mercedes-AMGs, Ferraris and McLarens are stunningly detailed, including the interiors, and mercifully there is enjoyment to be found by taking them for a spin. The handling is benign, if the sound of the tyres scrubbing does come a little wearisome.
Ultimately, the inability to race these against computer-controller rivals or online competitors renders this a largely throwaway addition once the initial novelty has worn off.
This is F1 22 trying to appeal to a younger, digitally native, audience, who enjoy the lifestyle portrayed by F1’s Instagram account. I appreciate that this approach will almost certainly broaden the appeal of the title, but I can’t help but feel that it’s the wrong priority following the removal of historic cars last year.
Away from the attention-grabbing flimflam, the long-term appeal of F1 22 rests solely with the portrayal of the baseline sport, which now includes the latest car specifications, the new Miami International Autodrome and revised handling characteristics.
Things don’t get off to a good start. At it the time of writing, the PC version of the game used for testing – across three different mixes of hardware, I must state – is repeatedly crashing, slowing down, jittering and generally unstable. It stutters after a flashback, sometimes the new feature of being able to position your car on the grid fails and the force feedback settings on multiple wheel peripherals require constant fine-tuning.
I am still awaiting a game patch to remedy these maladies as I published this review and I was not able to try the game on a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X|S, which are hopefully more refined. While I have confidence in the creators to smooths things out, it’s frustrating as last year’s F1 2021 felt in a better condition at this juncture.
While the new additions add an attention-grabbing sheen, don’t forget what’s not been updated too. The tracks have received fresh banners, kerbs and asphalt colouring, while Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Yas Marina Circuit and Albert Park Circuit are resplendent with their new layouts.
But the rest of the venue representations continue to lag behind contemporary simulation platforms, with inaccurate corner angles and bumps.
While the trackside visuals, post-race animations and slick presentation – Natalie Pinkham, Alex Jacques, Jacques Villeneuve and Jean-Éric Vergne are now all part of the voice roster – belie the game’s ageing internals, the track detail is a sign that the underpinning technology is getting on a bit.
So far then, we have some banging beats, fun but non-essential road cars, optional branded clothing and instability. At this point, I was worried for the long-standing reputation of the F1 gaming franchise – 12 years down the swanny.
In the hunt for redeeming qualities, I started a single race using the sprint format at Imola with Daniel Riccardo. The event length was set to 50 per cent and qualifying was reduced down to just one flying lap, which I promptly messed up.
Clinging to my steering wheel with ever-tensing aggression, I was in the zone, working with my race engineer – now naturistically voiced by former McLaren F1 mechanic Marc Priestley – checking off the laps, monitoring my strategy and pulling off last-second overtakes.
The result was 10th from the back of the grid at the start of the sprint. The computer-controlled rivals felt more naturalistic than ever, jostling for position in the early laps, strategically using their Energy Recovery System to attack and defend, plus sometimes clattering into each other.
This was a vivid reminder of just how engrossing the F1 games can be. With the focus pre-launch on shiny new features, including an excellent implementation of virtual reality for PC drivers, don’t overlook what remains underneath – a brilliant driving game.
The handling this year is more tail-happy, managing oversteer upon exiting corners by short-shifting is essential at times. Once you have acclimatised, the new approach makes for a more rewarding driving experience, especially combined with how the cars climb over kerbing with more flexibility.
Pulling off a physics system that manages to be driveable both when using a gamepad, thanks to some genre-leading assists, and still deliver an extra level of feedback with a wheel is no mean feat.
Neither is the My Team managerial career, where you take your fictional character and squad through a development curve towards championship glory.
There are only surface-level tweaks to this for F1 22 when compared to predecessors, but it remains the very best single-player campaign in all of racing games. Similarly, there’s a bevy of ranked or unranked online racing modes and cross-platform play – so those on PC, PlayStation and Xbox can race together for the first time – will appear as a post-launch update.
The attempt to add a level of glitz and glamour to the game will further alienate a vocal crowd of simulation-focussed purists. If supercars and cosmetic customisations bring in a new audience, even they too will likely realise these features are mostly window dressing.
No, let us not forget, that while this gaming series is ripe for a total ground-up re-build, it still delivers one of the most complete and compelling packages in sim racing. F1 22 continues that fine tradition, even if at times it’s treading water.
|Release date||1st July 2022 (28th June early access)|
|Available platforms||PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S|
|Best played with||Steering wheel|
Full disclosure: A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Here is our review policy.