It’s a new era for the world of Formula 1, with some of the biggest changes seen in the sport in four decades shaking up not only the status quo, but also the spines of the drivers as teams wrestle to rein in the engineering quirks of this year’s new cars. Codemasters has followed suit with F1 22, stopping short of infusing this season’s back-busting porpoising phenomenon into its handling model but tinkering just enough with its reliably robust annual racer that it feels sufficiently refreshed in a number of the right areas – even if the overall package is bound to be a pretty familiar one to returning fans.
Rest assured, there is more to F1 22 than simply a stable of the latest cars and the new Miami circuit. Visually it’s treading water this year but small touches, like neat new post-race clips of the battle-worn cars and updated camera angles on the old podium celebrations, slightly rejuvenate parts of the Codemasters F1 series that have been stagnant for many years. The new race engineer voice and the ability to switch out commentator David Croft for Alex Jacques similarly help set F1 22 apart from the previous F1 games, which have been feeling increasingly recycled in this department. A new adaptive AI mode joins the standard and already huge list of driver aids and accessibility options, and seems to keep the pack within striking distance of less-experienced racers. This should make for more exciting racing regardless of skill. I watched my eight-year-old duke it out with the adaptive AI and while I can’t quite observe the full difference between the two available levels of it, it did seem to keep him in the hunt without making the AI rollover entirely.
Bigger bullet points, like the welcome inclusion of the F1 sprint race format and slick VR support for PC players, are obviously harder to miss. The F1 series is quite late to the table when it comes to VR support so I think it’s unlikely veterans of other, existing VR racing games will be wowed in quite the same way we were some years ago – but the novelty value of having it available in the official F1 series is very strong. With its dedication to replicating the minutiae of the real thing – from the paddock to the track – the F1 series has been a wonderfully immersive recreation of the world’s premier motorsport for some time. Experiencing it through a VR lens is doubly so.
However, not every new feature of F1 22 earns a spot on the podium.
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With Codemasters confirming earlier this year that further instalments of the ‘Braking Point’ story mode it introduced in F1 2021 are on a two-year cadence, F1 22 does not include the next chapter of the studio’s airbrushed yet earnest take on a fictional, behind-the-scenes F1 fairy tale. In its place is F1 Life, a lifestyle-oriented mode focused on customizing your F1 driver’s outfit and living areas, but it feels so vapid that it largely amounts to little more than a monetisable backdrop for the main menu screens.
F1 22 puts the focus on this new mode by throwing you straight into tinkering with F1 Life’s default settings on first launch. The good thing about this is that afterward… it can be entirely ignored, and doing so ultimately doesn’t diminish anything about the typically robust racing experience around it. At best F1 Life seems like a catch-all to justify a steady stream of rewards for your time playing, only those rewards are often just bits of furniture and floor tiles. At worst, it’s a mechanism that’s here to shake some loose change out of people willing to hand over a few bucks for a cosmetic trinket. Other players can visit your space, but I don’t really understand why they’d want to. It’s probably a sad sign of the times that while previous F1 games featured iconic cars from the sport’s history, F1 22 features an extensive set of… designer rugs, lounges, and lamps. No one’s been excited about a lamp since Jafar played fullback for Agrabah.
In theory I understand the desire to capture a taste of that lucrative, off-track luxury that real-life F1 superstars get to enjoy – and, yes, I did get momentarily distracted by the V6 coffee table – but I don’t know if adding interior decorating and the ability to dress your driver avatar like an aspiring Puma activewear influencer was the perfect way to do that.
The addition of collectable supercars feels a little closer to the kinds of extravagant toys real-life F1 drivers can afford, and there is at least a gameplay component attached to these. Taking some broad inspiration from the Pirelli Hot Laps program that runs at real grands prix – where F1 drivers are conscripted to hurl expensive exotics around the tracks with various VIPs aboard – F1 22 includes high-end supercars from Ferrari, AMG, Aston Martin, and McLaren for both hot-lapping, and a selection of bespoke driving challenges. They’re an interesting novelty – very different from anything present in previous F1 games – but in practice they do become a bit one-note and I eventually found myself opting to skip them. Through no fault of anyone, the supercars themselves are comparatively soggy when measured up to the purpose-built open-wheelers that represent the pinnacle of current F1 engineering, but they do convey a decent enough sense of speed, grip, and weight when compared to their contemporaries in rival racers. The drifting is surprisingly unspectacular, though; a severe lack of smoke leaves it feeling oddly sterile.
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The real stars of F1 22, of course, are the new F1 cars, which are the sleekest looking in many years, though saddled with a few interesting handling idiosyncrasies that demand some adjustments from F1 2021.
With their bigger wheels and tires, plus their added bulk, 2022’s F1 cars are the heaviest they’ve ever been. They’re also lower and stiffer, with less top-body downforce and a renewed focus on ground effect aerodynamics sucking the cars into the asphalt the faster they go. In F1 22 this has translated to cars that feel like they’ve lost a fraction of their nimbleness and feel especially stiff attacking kerbs and humps. Additionally, I’ve found I’ve needed to be even more delicate on the throttle coming out of the corners than in previous years, though they also sometimes seem a little more prone to understeer coming into them. The upshot is a handling model that I’d hesitate to say is better than that of the old cars of F1 2021 and previous editions, but it is one that feels credibly in-line with the known characteristics of the new ones. It’s just different, and the nuances of the new cars are – at a minimum – an interesting challenge to tackle.
However, while some noticeable changes have been injected into the handling, the real meat of F1 22 – the excellent My Team mode first introduced in F1 2020 – remains mostly the same. Campaign through GPs, complete R&D, juggle finances; if you’ve played F1 2020 or F1 2021 you’ll know what to expect. There are a couple of nice changes, though, like the new choice to start your first year of My Team as a richly-backed operation with pre-upgraded facilities and a fat enough bank balance to lure a 45-year-old Mark Webber out of his comfortable retirement. The F1 series has always been one of the few racers that can make scrapping for a position down the thrilling order, but having the ability to tussle with the top teams straight away makes a lot of sense for returning players who’ve steered their F1 teams from minnows to megastars multiple times already. Sponsorship decals no longer disappearing off your car despite re-signing existing partners is nice too; it’s a small fix, but it was always annoying having to manually put them back on mid-season, even after rolling over their contracts.