‘F1 22’ preview: virtual reality offers a whole new world of racing immersion

Racing fans can get closer to the sport than ever before thanks to Codemasters’ immersive addition

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of watching a Formula 1 Grand Prix, you’ve probably wondered how terrifying it must be to have a driver like Max Verstappen nipping at the heels of your fragile supercar in the final few laps of the race. I’m here to tell you that F1 22 in virtual reality gets about as close to that feeling as humanly possible without putting you in mortal danger.

F1 22 is the latest entry in the annual sim racing series and based on what I’ve played of its preview build, it is shaping up to be exhilarating. This is the first proper release since EA’s £1 million buyout of Codemasters in 2021, and while it isn’t a far cry from the intricacy of F1 2021, it adds new features where it counts, and doubles down on immersion.

Codemasters has already proved to fans that it has got the feeling of racing down, so as you might expect, the driving experience is just as tactile and exciting in this year’s game, with adaptive triggers and haptics letting you feel each corner. You’re not going to notice too much of a difference if you play the F1 game every year, but slight tweaks have been made to the handling and movement physics, as the designers adapt to newly enforced aerodynamics rules introduced in the 2022 season.

The preview build I played gave me access to the Imola, Miami, Silverstone, Austria and Texas circuits, so naturally, I played them out in sequence, fitting with the real-world schedule and creating my own championship standings. New for 2022, the Miami GP (which took place this past weekend) is one hell of a drive, with daunting turns and plenty of overtaking opportunities. The difficulty of a brand new circuit also acted as a great opportunity to test out the game’s new immersive features, as my aggressive driving inevitably summoned Safety Cars.

First off, F1 22 has introduced a few new settings that you can tinker with before the main event. Adaptive AI can be set to Normal or Full and will tune how your rival racers react to your position. It’s hard to see the fruits of this in-game given how close it feels to last year’s entry, but it’s a nice feature nonetheless. It goes hand in hand with the ‘realistic racing’ options you can flick on or off to make each team and driver perform as they do in reality, based on GP results.

Once you’re actually racing, Codemasters has gone the extra mile to implement a few real-world systems that players were previously unable to control. It may seem over the top, but you can now warm up your tires in the Formation Lap if you wish. Lining up on the grid before the race will be a welcome addition for true enthusiasts, especially those who have big rigs and racing wheels ready to go. There’s also a turning minigame added to the Pit Stop sequence, where you have to make an optimal input or face a longer period in the box. I found this a bit too stressful and turned it off, which is to say that it well and truly does its job in a tight GP.

‘F1 22’. CREDIT: Codemasters/EA

I teased it earlier, but the most impressive part of the F1 22 package is easily virtual reality. If you have access to it, you should absolutely try it out, as it brings you so much closer to the action. PR mentioned that the VR features implemented in the preview build “do not represent the final performance expectations,” which may explain why it was a pain to set up, but when I managed to get it working it truly blew me away.

Using a Valve Index and a 2080 Ti, I had to tinker with the settings quite a bit so that it wouldn’t crash, but after I managed to get it to settle I didn’t want to play F1 22 any other way. I used AMD FSR and knocked the graphics down to medium, and from there I could comfortably enjoy the Grand Prixs. Even though they weren’t at the top level, the textures were crisp and movement was fluid. I genuinely got a fright when cars started whizzing past me during the F1 Sprint – it’s extremely scary to see how close these drivers get to each other, even in a simulation. It makes your movements that much more careful, and you don’t feel so fatigued by the lack of danger or potential monotony when you’re just watching on a screen.

‘F1 22’. CREDIT: Codemasters/EA

My favourite feature in the modern F1 games is that you can use your microphone to talk to an artificial engineer while you race. This is so you can ask about fuel information, vehicle damage, and distance to other competitors, like a real driver would. It’s a small feature but it goes a long way in adding immersion, and it’s even better in virtual reality, where you don’t have access to every perspective. When a crash happened behind me or I fell foul of the rules, it drew me further into the moment when my engineer was telling me the why and how, as I couldn’t just press a button to see what was happening around me.

Hearing about a car retirement or a Safety Car being brought on the track really piped in the adrenaline, especially when I thought I had secured the win. In this year’s game, you can actually drive behind the safety car too, which is another meaningful addition to the immersion.

Getting comfortable with virtual reality racing meant a ton of bumps and knocks, and plenty of time spent stuck in the wall, my heart rate through the roof. Luckily, the flashback system provides a lot of grace in this regard, letting you put yourself back on track before you make that fateful overtake.

With the cockpit right in front of me, I also started to notice tiny details like the fur on Carlos Sainz’ gloves as he threw his hands up following a racing incident (that I almost certainly caused). However, I would suggest VR players turn off the halo column, as even though it does provide a lot of protection on the track, it just made me cross-eyed…

F1 22 is a beautiful game, and if you’ve got the parts to power it, it’s going to look incredible. Racing enthusiasts familiar with the series will get a lot out of its small but meaningful immersive revisions, while newcomers can still have a lot of fun with the simulated racing whether they’re inside a headset or sitting on the sofa with a controller. Even if you’re completely new to the sport thanks to the excellent Drive To Survive, the Codemaster series will be a great accent to your fandom, especially if you’re fond of the racing genre.

F1 22 will release July 01, 2022 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC

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