While the real 2023 Formula 1 championship already feels like a foregone conclusion, the special thing about video games is that they allow us to live in a fantasy world where parity extends beyond fighting for the lower steps on the podium. F1 23 features some big behind the scenes changes for more realistic handling and racing, and brings back a story mode for those wanting a lighter Drive to Survive-style tale.
Update 21/06 – This is now our full, scored review of F1 23.
One of the headline acts for F1 23 is the returning Braking Point story mode, picking up after the story arc in F1 21 and making some significant changes. Aiden Jackson returns, now a driver for newcomer team Konnersport Butler Global Racing Team, partnered with arch-nemesis Devon Butler in a cruel twist of fate. There’s the same style of racing snippets, dropping you into a scenario and challenging you to, for example, recover after colliding with your teammate, charge through the field on softer tyres, or simply complete a full race. Charging through the field is pure Hollywood F1 action, but it’s fun nonetheless.
I once again enjoy the narrative framing throughout this, and it does a great job of distilling the real world drama of Formula 1. Andreo Konner is the team owner and starts as team principle, clearly taking inspiration from the longstanding Sauber F1 team, but the team is financially backed by Davidoff Butler, and so there’s question marks when his children have one of the two drives the team offers. Speaking of which, there’s Devon’s sister, F2 prodigy Callie Mayer, the first woman driver in F2 who takes the steep up to F1 after some surprising, humanising events affect Devon.
It’s a step forward over the original Braking Point, now with more depth to dialogue options, more secondary objectives to chase, and levelling up based on performances… though these fundamentally don’t change the story. It’s a shame that player choice and action can’t affect how the narrative unfolds, and if Codemasters stick with this story mode, I’d hope they do so in future.
But Braking Point will be just a momentary diversion for many players, a fun few hours before tucking into the meat and potatoes of another trip through the career mode and getting stuck in with online racing. Career mode fans will likely feel that efforts could have been better spent in revitalising this single player staple, which has remained largely unchanged since the introduction of MyTeam. The most obvious difference is that Natalie Pinkham is now conducting the introductory team boss interview.
The much bigger focus is on F1 World, which contains pretty much everything else you can do in the game – even a quick one-off race now has you diving through this menu area, which is weird. It’s a clear sign of the direction that F1 games will take in future, following in the footsteps of EA’s other sports games with weekly races and events across both single and multiplayer. Since we’ve had access to the game, there’s been a tricky challenge marking McLaren’s recent celebrations, a time attack leaderboard challenge round Canada, and a full race weekend running in parallel to the real Canadian Grand Prix. There are also quick online races and ranked races with a new license system running alongside so that you’re always matched with other racers that have similar skill and temperament to you. While it does avoid lap 1 crash-taculars, it does play it very safe with disabling collisions for lower ranks, though you can log your clean laps from solo modes.
While it doesn’t affect the performance parity of ranked races, there is also a new car and team-building element in F1 World as well. As you play you earn upgrades in a handful of areas that can boost the DRS effect, engine power output, lower drag, as well as team members that have similar boosts. This all goes to improving the car’s overall stat number, providing a little added drive to make that figure larger.
While it appears we’re heading down the FIFA Ultimate Team path in the long run, for the time being it’s a fairly inoffensive addition, and there’s no real monetisation affecting it. You can earn everything you need just from playing, and being a fast and skilful driver will always be the more significant advantage in a game like this. Speaking of which, the handling has been overhauled.
F1 22 was a step into the unknown for Codemasters, with nobody really knowing what this new era of car would be like before the game was coming to the end of its development cycle, and teams also naturally secretive and reserved about what they did know. For F1 23, Codemasters has built in feedback from real teams, trying to get closer to the real cars.
The fundamentals will be feel fairly similar for the lay-racer, the kind of player that leans heavily on the assists that the F1 series provides, but where stripping away assists for ABS and traction control before were a significant hurdle, in F1 23 they feel manageable to overcome. One of the first things I felt is that it’s far easier to get a good race start – the optimal RPM is much lower than before, the throttle needed to avoid wheel spin more forgiving because of this, and so on. Especially with a wheel, you’ll be able to race with minimal assists – driving without traction control is easier, though I still prefer having TC on medium. You will still need to be wary at low speeds, where kerbs can really unsettle the car and overeager throttle will spin you out, but this is a more accessible take on F1.
When people usually talk about red flags, it’s about glaring character flaws that wards you away from a really awful date or relationship, but in F1 23’s case, red flags are a good thing. It’s just one of a number of new touches that aims to make F1 23 that little bit closer to the real sport, which has shifted its race management style over the last few years to rely on completely stopping a race around significant accidents. That brings its own kind of troublesome controversy, though the standing restarts offer new strategic and action-packed opportunities (and jeopardy).
There’s also the reintroduction of 35% race lengths – the minimum distance needed for red flags to be possible – which really helps to straddle the divide between 20% and 50% race distances. 20% races have often felt be too short for meaningful strategy to evolve, while the latter a bit long for doing a full race weekend in the evening around other adult life duties. 35% is a good blend between the two.
Across the game’s many circuits, Codemasters has done a good job of updating and revising tracks that have changed in real life, even if it’s something that’s largely visual, like the modifications made to the Red Bull Ring for safety in MotoGP. The track list also includes the Losail and Las Vegas circuits for the first time, with the latter adding yet another street circuit to the calendar. It’s a funny one that’s both distinctive in some ways and feels rather familiar.
The challenge is much less about tight and fiddly slow corners and right angles, like in Monaco or Singapore, and more in the vein of the Jeddah and the faster stretches of Baku, and while the three long straights each feature a very heavy braking zone at the end, they’re joined up by quite fast and sweeping curves. As a race track, I’m not sure it will be an all-timer in the real world, and when you’re laser focussed on the track it feels much like the other nighttime street circuits, but shift your gaze to the top half of the screen, and the Las Vegas skyline clearly sets it in its place.