As we get closer to the middle of the 2022 Formula 1 calendar, it feels like we’re starting to get a familiar story of early skirmishes for wins and a Ferrari championship charge descending into complete and utter dominance by their rival. Same old Formula 1, eh? Just like the real sport, the latest Codemasters game brings new cars, new tracks and new ideas, but ends up feeling like it too is reading off a previously used script.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty that’s new within F1 22, and that starts with the cars. Codemasters has worked to faithfully reproduce the new generation of cars as each team has grappled with the dramatic overhaul of the sport’s aerodynamic regulations and a new ground effect venturi tunnel-based aerodynamic model. From Ferrari’s sidepod scoops to McLaren and Williams’ tightly packaged rear ends and the radical ‘zero-pods’ design of the Mercedes, they all look great. The only shortcoming, and it’s a forgivable one, is that the Aston Martin included is the old A-spec and not the “Green Bull” B-spec car that they revealed a couple races ago.
These brand new cars might look fantastic, but for many players of the series, these new cars will feel pretty similar to drive in F1 22, especially if you’re leaning on assists. We’ve been playing with the Thrustmaster TX Leather Edition wheel and T-LCM load cell pedals for this review, and the handling feels tight and responsive, rewarding assertive braking and turn-in timing in the vein of F1 2021, but there’s some added challenge that you will need to be aware of. You’ll need a deft touch on the throttle coming out of corners, especially out of slower turns or when you’ve been bouncing over kerbs with the 2022 car’s much stiffer suspension – then again, you can make up a lot of time if you Charles Leclerc it through Imola’s Variante Alta chicane. Taking too many liberties on kerbs will also lead to underfloor damage that I don’t remember being punished by in F1 2021. There’s new ways to hurt your race, it seems…
So much of F1 22’s handling and physics is smothered by assists in the game’s default settings, though. This makes the game about as accessible as you could hope, with auto-braking and stability control in particular, and a new adaptive AI that’s meant to keep you in the action by bringing the racers ahead back toward slower players on Casual difficulty – not something I meaningfully tested for this review. Do yourself a favour and turn as many of them off as you’re comfortable with – a bit of traction control does remain handy, though.
I also feel the racing itself has a lot of common ground with previous years. The simple fact is that, while real F1 drivers are now able to race nose to tail, humans and AI drive in fundamentally different ways, brake differently, attack corners differently, so it’s difficult to get the same effect in game. At least the AI is pretty consistent, though – you’ll want to keep online racers one 18-wheeler away from you.
Updating the race calendar, there’s a brand new grand prix circuit with the Miami GP street circuit taking centre stage alongside the revised layouts for the Spanish, Abu Dhabian and Australian circuits to catch up with changes made in the last 18 months. There’s also the still fresh Imola and Jeddah circuits, which were added to F1 2021 in post-launch updates.
Just as important is how Codemasters has deepened their recreation of reality, in particular with the sprint race weekend captured in the game for the first time, the introducing formation laps, semi-manual pit stops – hit the speed limiter before you get a penalty, time the turn-in to the box, and then ready the clutch and launch after the stop is done – and refining the safety car periods. These are all optional with the game taking over if you want, skipping some parts with a ‘Broadcast’ option, or letting you go through the whole thing.
I think my main issue is that while doing a formation lap or safety car restart absolutely ties into the fantasy, the reality is far less enthralling. There’s none of the prescribed burnouts that Martin Brundle invariably comments on during real races, catching up to and following a safety car feels stodgy and the game does little to teach you about matching a car’s pace outside of a little video in the menus. I also never had any problems keeping tyres within a happy temperature window, despite the difficulties drivers often have with this in reality.
At the end of the day, it’s all built around the very familiar foundations of F1 2021. The career in F1 22 looks and feels almost indistinguishable to its predecessor, even if various areas have been tweaked and expanded – there’s now the ability to start My Team as a mid-field or front-running team, there’s new multi-part decision points, the R&D is now filled with upgrades that look like those for the 2022 cars, and so on.
F1 22 has actually taken a bit of a step back with the range of additional content on offer, I feel. Codemasters has tried a few ways to mix up the game content over the years, periodically introducing and then removing a range of classic F1 cars (last seen in 2020), and featuring a well produced and enjoyable story mode in F1 2021. For F1 22, it’s F1 Life and supercars
F1 Life boils down to letting you customise your avatar with some everyday clothes, fiddle with the interior design of a ludicrously lavish home, and then unlock and place some supercars within its walls. Other player avatars will then come to visit, and you can also check out their spaces and cars they’ve unlocked. It’s all… fine? It’s a way to show a little individuality as these things are fed into the multiplayer lobbies, but it also feels like fluff to fill out the free and premium Podium Pass with unlockables and justify a store where you can spend Pitcoins MTX currency on real world brands.
You can drive those supercars in standard time trials or in the very prescribed Pirelli Hot Laps. There’s two per track, drawing from different driving challenges like average speeds, slaloming ‘Autocross’, time trials, rival races and more. They’re accessible from the main menu or dropped into the career calendar, but they’re just so plain and lacking any kind of pizazz. I’d love to have seen something closer to the pre-race fluff pieces that F1’s broadcasters churn out.
The cars themselves are fairly fun to drive, a nice change of pace as they generally feel like heavy, slow, lumbering beasts (albeit with their own individual handling feel) when compared to the ultra-fast ultra-grippy ultra-downforce-y F1 cars you’re normally racing. They’re also good for driving these Astons, Ferraris, McLarens and Mercedes around tracks that aren’t commonly found in Gran Turismo, Assetto Corsa or GRID, but again, they feel like a sideshow and you’d probably be heading to those game series over this one for your supercar racing. Just beware some of them come with a near incessant tyre squeal.