What’s it really like to be a Formula 1 driver? Well, you just have to look at how chonky each driver’s neck is to recognise that there’s a lot of very specific fitness training that goes into being able to keep up with the high-G forces that driving each new generation of cars requires, but there’s also plenty of glitz and glamour, promotional and marketing commitments, and jumping into all manner of non-F1 cars while answering questions from Sky Sports presenters. F1 22 is trying to capture just a little slice of that lifestyle between races with F1 Life and the addition of supercars to the game.
But let’s start with the new F1 cars and the career. The 2022 regulations have already led to a defining new era of race car, shaking up the pecking order with Mercedes drop back and struggle with their unique car concept, as Ferrari and Red Bull blaze off into the distance… and then someone’s car breaks down.
Codemasters has overhauled their physics model to capture everything that’s new and different with these cars. The suspension travel has been changed, the venturi tunnels that provide downforce from the air that rushes under the car has led to different traits through corners, and the cars are heavier than ever, meaning you have more car momentum to neutralise when braking into corners. In F1 22, the cars still have very pointy and direct handling, any skill you’ve built up driving in F1 2021 and before making it easy to pick up and play with equivalent assists, but there’s some tangible differences in the general car profile.
That’s the new core foundation to the gameplay, with Codemasters throwing in a number of new touches that mimic the real world racing. You’ve now got sprint race weekends properly represented, there’s some new practice session mini-games to complete (which you can still skip on by), you can do full formation laps before a grid start, and in the race there’s a new pit stop timing mini-game in order to perfect your stops and get back out as quickly as possible. A lot of this is optional, including skippable safety car periods, but I personally love that they’re including these things.
Besides that, the career feels almost identical to that of F1 2021. Within MyTeam, you can now start as a mid-field or front-running team, instead of building up from the back again, but the calendar progresses in the same way, you have an identical process for R&D and upgrades (the upgrades themselves are basically just themed around the peculiarities of this year’s new cars), and you’re competing against your teammate and eventually a chosen rival. There’s some new touches like multi-part questions that are threaded between races, as well as expanded department events to build up your team with.
The new twist comes in the form of the Pirelli Hot Lap events, taking the real branded track experience events and spinning them into a fresh twist for the game. It’s here that the set of eight supercars get to put some rubber down on track. Each event challenges you to complete a particular task, whether it’s trying to maintain an average speed, beating your rival in a duel, slaloming through cones in ‘autocross’, or straight up hot laps.
They’re a fine little distraction, but really not that much more. Part of that is down to the cars. McLaren, Ferrari, Aston Martin and Mercedes-AMG are all represented with two cars apiece, and there’s a solid effort to make them feel nice and weighty to drive, with achingly long braking zones compared to the F1 cars and a liveliness to the rear ends when putting the power down out of corners. Beware, they do have one of the worst cases of Gran Turismo tyre squeal in the last decade – something that could be reduced in time for launch.
The bigger issue, I feel, is how bland and uninspiring the Hot Lap events actually are. They’re too quick and short, both in career and when selecting from the menus, utterly lacking in pizazz, and always giving you three attempts at a particular challenge, even if you only need one. Clearly, the supercars are there to try and mix things up for more casual players – adding a bit of variation that’s now missing after the classic cars were dropped last year – but when assists are turned on, they’re even more bland to drive.
I can’t help but feel that this could be something more than what it is. Spice things up so they’re more like the pre-race fluff pieces that Sky and other broadcasters produce, so you’re having to race your teammate and team boss, or answer some interview questions while trying to set a hot lap. It’s too light and shallow when you have the better, more nuanced driving experiences from other games like Assetto Corsa or Gran Turismo.
And so they quickly slide into the background. Literally, as you unlock cars and then get to display them in your digital home through F1 Life. Completing certain in-game milestones will let you unlock a new car and then feature it for any drivers that want to view your digital space online. The Podium Pass of unlockable cosmetics has also been expanded with an array of different sofas, lights, wall art, wall and floor textures and more, fleshing it out beyond race suit patterns and emotes.
F1 Life is shaping up to be a decent way to show off how much you’ve played when going online, and Supercars a decent way to break up the string of weekend races in career, but they’re clearly window dressing to the main event and lack the nostalgia factor of classic F1 cars. The real focal point of F1 22 will be the new generation of F1 cars and the improvements and new features to the actual racing.