Earlier in July saw the release of F1 22, the latest installment of the official Formula 1 racing game franchise. Unlike in years past, a lot has changed in the year since F1 2021: radical new technical rules mean the cars are very different from the ones we’ve seen for several decades, several tracks have been revised, new tracks have been added, and the race format now includes the occasional shorter sprint race alongside the main feature race. All of this is faithfully reflected in F1 22, and for some die-hard F1 fans, that will be sufficient to pick up a copy.
For everyone else, I’m not so sure. Some of that is down to the game itself. For the first time since EA Sports bought the Codemasters studio at the end of 2020, we can see the influence of the behemoth games publisher at work, and it’s not particularly positive. For example, the sheer frequency of exhortations to spend XP or purchase microtransactions will probably be enough for most Ars readers to dislike F1 22.
But my frustration is not just with the game itself—at its core are still wonderful physics that translate to engaging handling, whether that’s with a steering wheel or a controller. No, it’s F1’s new cars, which are larger and heavier than they’ve ever been, and, frankly, somewhat of a pig to drive.
Now riding on 18-inch wheels, the tires have shorter, stiffer sidewalls, and the suspension designs are much less complex than has been allowed previously. Grip is limited; consequently, the front tires don’t like being asked to do two things at once, like braking and turning—best slow down in a straight line before tackling that corner. The rear tires will happily break traction in the lower gears, too, pitching you into a spin unless you’re extremely progressive on the throttle (or have traction control whacked up to max).
All this was predicted before the 2022 F1 season, so Codemasters has done a faithful job of digitally re-creating the new machinery for our entertainment. I don’t think the in-game cars are suffering from the same porpoising that affected the real ones this year. But the aerodynamic phenomenon is very difficult to simulate, as we can see by the fact that none of the teams that have experienced the problem caught it during their own extensive computational fluid dynamics simulations while designing their cars.
I have fewer positive things to say about adding supercars. Based on the supercar hot laps offered to VIPs at an F1 race, they add nothing to the experience. In particular, the handling and feedback you get from the in-game supercars is a far cry from something like Gran Turismo 7. They’re sluggish to respond, and it’s annoying to have to complete them between driving F1 cars.
You can still manage your own F1 team, or play as one of the 10 real teams, but this year doesn’t see a return of the story mode or Devon Butler, the fictional F1 driver we all love to hate. As before, if you want to develop your car throughout the season there’s a strong benefit to participating in all the practice sessions to test things with your engineers. But it’s been slightly stripped down from years past. In particular, the track acclimatization test program is missing in action, which makes it harder for players to learn new tracks, or new players to learn any of the tracks, without relying on the driving line assist. Putting in the hours then makes it doubly frustrating when all your R&D fails and upgrades have to be redeveloped.
All of this is a shame. The game looks great on the PS5 in cutscenes, transitions, and gameplay, and as already mentioned, there’s a darn good game engine under the hood, something that’s easily noticeable in the slower F2 cars. But as you disable assists and increase the realism, the main event begins to feel more and more like a chore, and for someone with a limited amount of time for gaming that’s a real turnoff. (Unlike bus drivers, F1 drivers get paid plenty, so don’t feel sorry for them having difficult jobs.)
- Still brilliant physics
- Looks good, especially on the PS5
- F2 cars are fun to drive
- 2022-spec F1 cars are pigs to drive
- The exhortations to buy XP microtransactions
- The addition of supercars, which are even worse to drive than the 2022-spec F1 cars, add nothing to the game
- It’s starting to feel more like an EA game than a Codemasters game
Verdict: Skip, unless you’re a hardcore F1 fan.
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