‘F1 22’ review: a winning sim racing formula gets a sleek refresh

This year’s Formula 1 game offers small but meaningful changes

Lights out and away we go because Codemasters’ increasingly-reliable Formula 1 simulator is back for another year. Following publisher and sports game titan EA’s acquisition of the studio in 2021, the series has enjoyed higher production values and refined racing mechanics, as the studio gets closer to perfecting that F1 feel.

The brilliance of F1 2021 withstanding, this year’s game is, understandably, a story of small tweaks and additions to a successful recipe. However, unlike FIFA or any of EA’s other sports game behemoths, F1 22 has managed to retain its superb core of excellent sim racing without succumbing to the slime-gurgling microtransaction necrophage.

F1 22’s best mode is not some horrid refraction of Ultimate Team, but its career mode, where you can rise through the ranks as a plucky F2 driver to become the Verstappen-snubbing champion of the world. Previously, Codemasters had offered a campaign like FIFA’s ‘The Journey’ called Braking Point, where uncanny valley egotists butted heads. Gladly, it’s dropped this all-too-safe endeavour, which tried but failed to interpret the intensity of IRL F1 rivalries.

F1 22
‘F1 22’. CREDIT: Codemasters/EA

It was nice to have the structure of a campaign for newbies, but it did feel bloated and unnecessary when sitting next to the far superior career mode. Braking Point will be back with a bang in a few years I’m sure, hopefully without the Kidz Bop Hamilton vs. Rosberg narrative. F1 22’s career mode gets more focus and is an absolute delight as a result. Players design an avatar and pull them through the chaos of racing seasons, complete with introductory chats from the ever-endearing F1 reporter Will Buxton, who has been lovingly recreated, bracelets and all, in 4K. In line with the snappy racing, the AI has been given a few tweaks to make F1 22’s moment-to-moment driving as challenging and rewarding as ever.

The assists menu offers the complexity of an expensive, but very fun board game, and you can get lost in there finding your perfect setup. Masochists will rejoice, as you can now drive the Formation Lap or make Pit Stops more immersive with a turning minigame that regularly caught me out. However, the main thing I noticed was how much more advanced your competition feels on the track. Once I’d gotten my AI difficulty setting in check, I was fighting for my life in every race, and having to think tactically about pit stops and vehicle damage to maintain my championship standings. I might have even run a few drivers off the track to get my way, but don’t tell the FIA…

Gone are the days of inevitably becoming overpowered or maintaining huge, dull winning streaks in the late stages of a campaign. I’m currently in the dying weeks of a brutal championship fight with Red Bull and it is starting to get cerebral. Over the course of the review period, I’ve found myself making dinner and thinking about that photo finish I had where Sergio Perez pipped me to third.

F1 22. Credit: Codemasters.
F1 22. Credit: Codemasters.

If only I’d chosen the Powertrain team meeting over the charity event, I could have had that extra boost I needed to stop him… I even felt a little bit of shame as my avatar sat in the Ferrari workstation across from Carlos Sainz, knowing that he was probably a bit pissed off I didn’t join him on the podium.

It’s these little flashpoint meta-choices that make a difference and force you to sit there umming and arring over what parts to improve in Research and Development. All of these are design decisions on Codemasters’ behalf that prove the studio’s superb abilities in sim racing design, both off and on the track. F1 22 will gradually get its hooks into you until you stop cheesing those practice sessions and become a better driver.

F1 22 also feels physically fantastic with the DualSense controller. The topography of the track is replicated in your palms with great intricacy and will change depending on which side of the car is riding the curb. Going from F2 to F1, the game does a great job of making the cars feel more nimble around corners, and it only gets more intricate as you apply upgrades and feel the adaptive triggers burn rubber. Race engineer conversations occur through the controller speaker too, which is a nice touch of realism when you find yourself barking back at them about a strategy change.

F1 22. Credit: Codemasters.
F1 22. Credit: Codemasters.

If you want to go even further, the PC version of F1 22 has an awesome VR mode which I wrote about in my preview earlier this year. I’d recommend checking that out if you have the means, as it really brought a lot to the game, even if I can’t speak to its implementation in the final release.

While it’s not quite Gran Turismo 7 beautiful, F1 22 is absolutely stunning on the PS5. The crimson lustre of a Ferrari in the Miami sun is something to behold, as are the cockpit weather effects as you pull off the clutch and head into a rainy Turn 1. With headphones on, hearing these monstrous supercars surround you when you can barely see through the rain is a scary experience, especially when you’re in an important race. The flashback system lets you rewind and try again if you spin out or crash, but if you’re dedicated to full immersion, avoiding this feature can make F1 22 even more atmospheric and challenging.

The drivers aren’t quite out of the uncanny valley yet but they look recognizable, if not a little dead behind the eyes. Regardless, the animation team need a huge pat on the back for the way drivers emote and move around after the race. A helmeted Hamilton hopping out of his car to go and hug his team at the barrier could be mistaken for live TV.

I did encounter a couple of glitches where faces and bodies became vacant in cutscenes and commentary was confused during the grid lineup, but nothing serious. The only major issue I had was that the ‘Quality’ and ‘Performance’ modes did the opposite of their label in my build. After being confused at the low frame rate in the default Performance mode, switching to Quality gave me a smooth 60… weird, I know!

I couldn’t access the Podium Pass or Item Shop ahead of launch so it’s hard to give an overview of this year’s microtransaction approach, now that Codemasters is more firmly under the wing of EA. Though, the fact that the in-game currency is still called ‘Pitcoin’ doesn’t exactly fill me with hope. You can use Pitcoin to buy branded fashion for your cross-mode avatar, who appears in the new F1 Life social hub. Here you can dress up a lounge area that friends can visit and display unlockable supercars. It all felt a bit vain and vapid to me, but diehards may get something out of it.

On a more positive note, EA’s influence on the series has led to one big positive – the addition of a licensed soundtrack. And in true FIFA fashion, it’s eclectic and well-suited to the lightning pace of F1 22. We’ve got Baauer, Moore Kismet, Kavinsky, and my favourite, a chopped-up Flume remix of Danny L Harle’s ‘On a Mountain’, from the superb Harlecore.

F1 22 launches on July 1 for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S. This review was played on PC. 

The Verdict

F1 22 isn’t an exceptional entry in the series, but Codemasters has once again refined its winning sim racing formula and implemented immersive features that every type of player can enjoy. Career Mode is extra exciting thanks to some clever AI tweaks, making F1 22 the closest fans can get to being in the cockpit without any of the mortal danger. Development of systems in between races also helps you feel some of the chaos and elation of real Formula 1 racing, with the stellar graphics and sound design delivering a palpable atmosphere that is augmented by the haptics of the DualSense in your palms.

Pros

  • Superb sim racing
  • Career mode is cerebral and immersive
  • Stunning visuals and a killer licensed soundtrack

Cons

  • A few minor glitches
  • F1 Life is a nothingburger
  • *Shudders* Pitcoin
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