A new F1 game each year is about as easy to predict as a Max Verstappen win, and sure enough the latest effort from Codemasters has arrived with the most satisfying overhaul of driving physicals and playability for quite a long time. All of a sudden these ground effect cars with incredible amounts of grip feel far more grippy than before, the millions spent on research to allow them to ride a curb without taking off or spinning is clear to see, and the ability to race incredibly closely without losing most of your downforce is here in full effect. It’s a huge step forwards in terms of how the cars feel to drive, so it’s a bit of a shame that alongside some really great content is a multiplayer area that seems to have taken the most popular option away.
We’ll come back to the multiplayer options later, but the big news here is the return of the Braking Point story mode (cunningly titled “Braking Point 2”) where you’ll continue to guide Aiden Jackson through a couple of seasons of F1 action with the Konnorsports team. Devon Butler makes a welcome return to through some rivalry into the mix, and a new character rocks up in the shape of Callie Mayer, a new F1 hopeful to add a few more sparks to the already strained relationships both on and off track. You’ll race (thankfully), carry out interviews, check social media updates and generally try to do your best in increasingly difficult circumstances. There’s a good few hours of gameplay for you while you work your way through the story, and while you won’t come back to it once it’s done the whole idea is certainly a worthy mode to include in the game. It would be nice to see more “real” drivers getting involved perhaps, but then you’d have the issue of badly read scripted dialogue proving how challenging voice acting can be, and then we’d be moaning about that, so it’s a hard thing to get right.
Elsewhere you’ve got the usual career mode, as well as the returning option of creating your own team, both of which are brilliant long-term game modes that’ll let you sink hours upon hours into pushing yourself towards the front of the grid, and once you’ve got the difficulty just right for your abilities (taking pole by 3 seconds in a Haas isn’t as good a feeling as you might think) the drive to improve and build your reputation is very strong indeed.
But then there’s F1 World, which I’ve spent a fair bit of time in and I’m still not entirely sure what I think of it. I salute the idea of bringing something new to the table for sure, with F1 World being an XP-based collection of single player and multiplayer events that earn you upgrades to your F1 World car. The better your parts, or the more you upgrade them, the better chance you’ll have of hitting the front of the pack. Each component, team member and sponsor brings about an ability, strength or weakness, whether that’s improved grip for a lap after a perfect stop, better DRS performance if you make a clean overtake, or even increasing the chances of a breakdown on track. As you improve these components you’ll get more competitive, which is handy in the offline challenges but vital when you hit the unranked multiplayer races. These 5 lap races are the most closely matched events to the quick races from F1 22, but with the addition of bot racers and any abilities or perks you bring with you as a result of your F1 World car. This can put you at a serious advantage or disadvantage depending on your competitors cars, and how they match up against your own. Across all of these events though you work towards increasing (or decreasing) your license level. Akin to Gran Turismo’s sportsmanship rating, the higher you get through the licenses (which you can do by simply driving cleanly) the more challenge you’ll find in races. Lower licenses have ghosting turned on for the entire race or lap 1, and the damage gets progressively more hefty as you move towards the A License. It means you should be in races with cleaner, more careful drivers, but that brings me to the big gripe of online racing – where the hell is everyone?
Whether you go for the unranked race or the 25% distance ranked race (which lets you move up and down leagues to get you in better matched lobbies) there’s a distinct lack of people playing at the moment. Even with full cross-platform play switched on, I rarely start a race with more than 6 human players in it. Considering last year you could frequently get a full lobby, it’s a bit of a concern. I love playing F1 online, but when you have 4 drivers doing 15 laps, things get stretched out pretty quickly, resulting in a fairly lengthy time trial with no overtaking to be had. It’s a real shame; hopefully it’ll pick up as the real F1 season presses onwards.
As mentioned in the intro, driving the cars this year is an excellent feeling. My advice as a controller user is to turn the traction control down; doing this means you not only get better acceleration out of the corners but also a need to be slightly more considered with your accelerator input. You can’t simply floor it and let the car do the work, you really have to feel the car, understand its limits and actually drive it. The PS5 controller helps to an amazing degree with this, translating every bump, gear change and curb ride incredibly well. It still seems to produce what I’m starting to call the “Codies Rattle”, whereby the controller makes a bizarre amount of noise by really working the adaptive triggers (as it does on every PS5 game Codemasters have made), but it’s in exchange for some excellent levels of feedback through your hands. Along with this comes the fact that different tyre compounds genuinely feel different – try a strategy of soft to hard tyres in a race and you’ll really feel the difference in grip and traction out of corners, but again they’re differences you can actually feel and learn to work with. It’s a great improvement over last year.
But, as we often do at the end of an EA Sports review, we have to ask whether it’s worth buying if you’ve got last year’s version. Except this year it’s a bit easier, because the new handling in play here, the new Las Vegas track and the new Braking Point storyline are all really good changes, and if you’re interested in the F1 World idea of creating a car that suits your strengths or gives the best advantages that’ll obviously give you a huge amount of gaming as well. My only reservation is if you’re buying it purely for online racing, because at the moment that’s a bit think on the ground. But it’s another brilliant F1 title from Codemasters and will keep fans happy for months to come.
Reviewed on PS5