2022 was a big year for Formula 1. The biggest change in rules and regulations for years resulted in slightly unwieldy cars that were challenging to drive and seemed allergic to big curbs, but allowed cars to follow each other closely through quick corners, bringing closer racing and more exciting action. Indeed, the idea has already seen on-track battles that you might not have seen previously, so the idea of a new F1 game that brings those changes into your living room for super-close racing sounded like a massive win.
And, as luck would have it, it’s worked. F1 22 is, despite a few odd decisions, another fantastic entry in Codemasters’ series of top end racers.
What’s slightly strange is how this racing is buried beneath F1 Life, a chance for you to experience the life of a high-earning F1 driver by purchasing and displaying supercars and… well… sofas and stuff. In an unexpected twist, last year’s very decent story mode has gone and seemingly been replaced by a Sims-’em-up mode where you can unlock or (more disturbingly) actually buy different things for your apartment, additional clothes or various decor options to tart things up a bit. While playing online you can spend some of the lobby downtime by visiting your opponents’ F1 Life areas and see how they’ve set themselves up, and… that’s about it. It’s a purely cosmetic option (other than the option to take your cars for a drive) and while you can unlock certain items through the battle pass style VIP option there’s a lot you can drop your real world cash on just to make things look a bit different. It’ll be interesting to see if the F1 22 community embrace this or hold the same level of scepticism that I’ve got over the whole idea. It’s possible there are grand plans for this over the coming years and this is just the starter point, but it has an element of cash-cow about it at the moment.
But to focus too much on F1 Life would be a disservice to the rest of the game. In terms of how you can play the game things are much the same as previously. The excellent game mode where you set up your own team and join the grid as the 11th team is still very much alive and well and where I spend the majority of my offline time in the game. Starting a career as a new, bottom-end team with a promoted F2 driver as my teammate then spending years building your team and car up to until you’re fighting for wins is such a rewarding and enjoyable route through the game. That doesn’t need to be the case though, you can pick to start off as a midfield or championship challenging team and make sure you don’t slip down the grid, so there’s some nice replayability in place. There’s the other usual options of setting up your own races or championships, or playing alongside the real life racing. With individual races you’ve got full control over the weather as well, so if you want to see how well you’d manage bombing round the bonkers new Saudi Arabia track in a torrential downpour you can. Good luck with that one though.
There are a few extra tweaks for those who want a bit more immersion as well. Crank up the race weekend to a slightly longer format and you’ll get safety cars which let you enjoy the more cinematic TV-style cameras while you’re trundling round in a safety train. Additionally if you enjoy a formation lap before the race you can position your car within your position on the starting grid with more freedom – want to angle more towards the middle of the track to cut across in front of the driver starting in 2nd? You can do that. There’s a similar idea for pit stops too, with a well-timed jab of a button necessary to perfectly arrive in your pit box and get that lightning fast stop that could make the difference between a win and a frustrating 2nd place, or even the chance to score your team’s first points. Small changes, big impact. I like it.
Playing online is the usual mix of incredible exhileration and intense frustration. Land in a good lobby with clean drivers and you’ll get some fantastic races with lap after lap of close, exciting racing. But it only needs one player in a bad mood or carrying the intent of chaos and your race can be over through no fault of your own. It’s a bit of a lottery, but the winnings are right up there with the best if things work out in your favour. The VIP pass is still in place giving you a range of unlockable livery designs, racing suits, celebratory radio calls and those already-outlined F1 Life items, and while it’s not essential that you unlock any of it (it’s all cosmetic) I’m sure everyone likes a few freebies along the way. You also have the various co-op career options as well which are really cool, letting you team up with a friend to get your team through to win the championship. This is a great option and opens up some genuine strategic possibilities – remeber Perez holding up Hamilton at the end of last season so Verstappen could catch up? Yeah, that. The concept of teamwork really elevates this beyond just being you against several other drivers and turns it more into a team sport.
So while it’s true that the F1 Life feature feels a bit out of place, and it feels like the game still isn’t fully utilising the power of the new consoles from a visual perspective, F1 22 is a fantastic racer which brings the new regulations and cars to life in the best possible way. When you get into the track behind the wheel you’ll feel that excitement, the aggressive AI that won’t let you just breeze past them, the challenge these drivers face every time they get in the car and go to work. And if you’re anything like me you’ll be smiling through almost all of it.
Reviewed on PS5