It’ll come as no surprise to regular readers that we’re big Formula One fans at Codec Moments, with Ali and myself even running a specific podcast to cover our love of the sport. If it has come as a surprise, then that intro sentence should make it clear that we were definitely going to be talking about the release of F1 22, and taking our time understanding what’s different with the latest digital iteration of the sport. In the second year of EA’s stewardship, Codemasters have a lot to live up to with 2021’s Braking Point story proving a particular highlight in that game, but also need to deliver something akin to the real life on track action that happened all the way up to Abu Dhabi’s hosting of probably the most dramatic finale we’ll ever see to a season; and the incredible start to the latest campaign. This year’s version sees the inclusion of the overhauled aerodynamics to enable closer racing, the introduction of stricter cost controls, and the continuation of sprint race weekends (which feature here for the first time). Can F1 22 manage to pull off a stunning victory and improve on last year?
Starting out with a bang, F1 22 is keen to make more of the lifestyles of the drivers and add some personality to the game, as well as your avatar, with the introduction of F1 Life. It’s an interesting idea that lets you customise a digital recreation of your driver, and their living space, in the game and fill it with supercars and fancy wall art, then lets you visit your friend’s virtual homes too. With it being the opening of the game and the first thing you’re exposed to it makes an impression, but there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s actually just a fancy backdrop for the menus, and unfortunately telegraphs what seems like a relatively lacklustre update feature-wise on the previous game. Taking a year off from the story mode side, this is a pure racing sim designed to deliver the race weekends from the 2022 season with all the updated liveries and driver stats. Yes, there are additional elements that expand beyond the core racing, yet it’s hard not to shake off the feeling that they’re there to distract from the what feels like a smaller game. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of changes under the hood… good and bad.
With the introduction of new aero regulations and the ground effect cars for this year, there’s quite a change to the handling with a very noticeable drop in the downforce. On the track the cars are twitchier and more prone to losing traction, though they’re far from slow and you find that following and overtaking isn’t quite as perilous as before. Depending on which mode you go for, along with the simulation settings you pick, you will determine how easy or difficult you’ll make it for yourself, and it’s something to bear in mind when choosing your starting position in the career mode. Beginning in the training grounds of F2 isn’t a bad start as the 2021 roster and car design is there to jump into, along with all the tracks they race at, so proving yourself to the big boys whilst learning the ropes certainly makes sense. However, most are likely to head to the meat of the game and decide whether to dominate the front of the grid, battle through the mid-field, or bring up the rear. Your choice of team and their development trajectory matters a lot because you will be fighting hard with your opponents, and the handling itself.
From what I’ve tried the different development progressions of each team has a massive impact on how the cars handle and perform, and appropriately that translates into the controls and driveability too. Taking the McLaren’s out for a spin in Career mode in the first season with no development gives a ride more akin to an unbroken horse than an obedient stallion, where you’re likely to get bucked off the track with every ill considered input. Too much turn in, too little rear end grip and a very sensitive throttle all combine to make pointing in the right direction a severe challenge with the assists turned off. Tuning the vehicles can help dial out a lot of the unpredictable nature, but it doesn’t hide that the controller inputs are just too fine to be wholly enjoyable. It wouldn’t be too bad if the traction control options were a bit more flexible, though with only 3 settings – OFF, MEDIUM, FULL – they are quite limiting. There’s not too much of a difference between OFF and MEDIUM so that rules them out and using FULL will be the only solution for some players. The downside of this is that you can hear the engine clipping as it manages the traction and you know that you’re not getting anywhere near the corner exit speed you would with more direct control. I have some suggestions for helping make the pad a bit more manageable, though they’re still not ideal.
Head out of the full season careers though and try a race weekend (which doubles as Quick Race this time around) with a top team and there’s a world of difference in the handling and control. Corners flow, apex speeds increase, and it feels sublime when you string all the sections together. Dropping the assists down or off doesn’t cause a panic attack when heading into each bend, and it’s more like the handling of old. Pick back up on your journey to the top of the table and it can feel like playing a different game entirely. I’m assuming that the change is down to having to develop the right areas of the car and build your own skill base to really deserve the crown of world champion, and that in real life is exactly what we’re seeing with the performance differentials on track, yet it’s an unsatisfying experience that doesn’t seem to improve fast enough to make it worth pushing through. Not helping much is the fact that resource points are earned in the practice sessions at each race and the targets for these are extremely tight, to the point where you wonder if they’re a joke. I’ve been playing on the same difficulty level on familiar circuits with the same practice programmes as last year and finding them a completely different beast. To add insult to injury the engineers are abrupt and rude about your performance too for failing to meet any targets… so you just end up running the simulated sessions instead and save yourself the grief.
There is a plus side to this though – the challenge it brings and the feeling of success when you manage to battle from the middle of the pack to the points. The driver ratings system works to put the same real life personalities around you in roughly the right positions too, and fosters that sense of being in the thick of it. It drives a perverse incentive to simply stop having a terrible car, and makes you put more thought in to the R&D side. What will help improve the traction? How can I get more speed on the straights? Are those wing mirrors going to add downforce? Having the input to the development has always made it feel like you’re customising the car and making it faster, yet F1 22 does make it feel like you’re finding the best operating window with it, rather than simply adding a bit more performance. The same management side of things returns to give you something to do between races, and there are also other driving challenges to complete to gain acclaim too. Stepping out of the F1 machines, you’ll be put in a supercar and tasked with drifting, time trials, checkpoint runs and more to prove how quick you are. They’re a decent diversion with the selection of supercars linked to the main manufacturers, as well as the safety cars on hand to drive around the tracks in time trial mode. Don’t expect the same levels of simulation for these though, they are there to be fun rather than realistic. You earn access to more supercars by completing milestones in the game, though I think I’d earnt more tokens than I could spend by the time I hit the 3rd career race.
Back in the new F1 22 vehicles, there are a few tweaks and changes to the UI and improvements to the non-racing parts of the action. Formation laps are more interactive and you now have to manage parking in your grid slot; and pitting has a marker for turning in to the box so it becomes a bit of a mini-game that can dictate a perfect stop. For those wanting to run the full race weekend and have an authentic experience, it really does cover just about everything now, and PC users have the added bonus of VR support as well. Commentary is standard with David Croft and Anthony Davidson on duty again, as well as the option to choose the F2 commentators instead, and the engineers are a bit more verbose than they have been before. That doesn’t mean they aren’t repetitive though, and sometimes you just think they’re stuck on a loop. Three times each lap at one race I was told there was a new strategy option on the MFD despite rejecting it and wanting to carry on with the default. After 35 repetitions I was ready to put the car into the wall and rip the tyres off just to give him something to actually moan about. Bring back Jeff. Of course, had I done that there would have been the flashback option on hand to recover the race, and given the propensity for getting out of shape it’s great that it’s there with unlimited use.
It’s the official F1 22 game and of course it looks pretty, the race presentation is buttery smooth, driver’s likenesses are good, there’s a depth to the gameplay that comes from years of understanding what makes a great recreation of the sport, and Will Buxton is back. Yet if you own F1 2021 and aren’t that bothered about the change in car design and the new Miami track, is it worth getting? I’m not sure I could convince you. It is a must for F1 fans, there’s no doubt there, and even the weakest entry in the series is still a great racing game, but after nearly 10 years of steady improvements I can’t overlook the fact that this game isn’t that good when playing on a controller – definitely leagues behind last year’s game where I was happy to swap between wheel and pedals and the DualSense pad. The tacked on non-F1 racing extras are just that, and don’t add much in the way of value, so it does feel like a step back in terms of content. I remember thinking last year on whether Codemasters had peaked with this series and I think I’ve had that question answered clearly this time.
A PS5 review copy of F1 22 was provided by EA’s PR team and the game is out now on PlayStation, Xbox and PC from £50 depending on version and platform.
Oh… and why the constant need to communicate with the online server and put up a full screen message with every main menu option selected?! It’s a navigation screen FFS!