F1 22 from developer Codemasters and EA Sports arrives at perhaps the most interesting, if not critical, time possible.
This year's Formula One season underwent dramatic changes to the majority of its regulations. What teams can spend and how, as well as how the vehicles actually get developed and designed has led to huge changes for the on-track performances and, in turn, for spectators.
The task for F1 22, besides following up on a brilliant next-generation console debut with last year's F1 2021, is juggling the implementation of those changes while also assuring the experience is as welcoming to new players as possible as the sport's popularity keeps increasing.
No simple task, but the series has been on a rather dramatic upswing in recent years while expanding in a way that urges players from all avenues to give it a chance.
F1 22 seems to understand that if there's a perfect time to broaden the appeal more than ever, it's right now.
Codemasters remain the champions in elite simulation racing, and that doesn't change here. But savvy optional additions, in tandem with the big adjustments to the sport itself, leave this offering feeling like the best to date on the track.
In pursuit of mirroring the real-life changes to the sport, F1 22 revamped handling and tires, as well as overall physics. Funnily enough, veteran sim players and completely new players will find themselves on the same footing as the old strategies and builds just won't work within the new ecosystem.
The result is profound. Like the actual on-track sport, the game feels like it keeps competitors bunched up on the track longer. It's simply more enjoyable to play as opposed to in the past, when just breaking away was common and mistakes were relatively easy to overcome. Now? Every little thing feels like it matters a lot.
The game also boasts an addition dubbed Adaptive AI that, based on what a player chooses, will have computer opponents reacting more realistically to where a player's at on the track.
Notably, gameplay remains a deep-as-you-want-it affair. Players can turn on the droves of expected assists and make the game feel more like a Forza Horizon—which, when paired with that Adaptive AI, will have it feeling like an arcade racer where rubber-banding and other video-game trappings persist.
But there are also little things for simulation players, too, such as the ability to pick a vehicle's angle after a formation lap in order to pursue specific lines or strict timing-based minigames on pitstops. Adding to the realism on the simulation front is that it's not uncommon to see opposing A.I. make little mistakes here and there, removing the robotic feel.
The F1 series has never had a problem with snappiness or responsiveness that properly reflects even the smallest of pre-race tweaks to a vehicle. That's all still tried and true. The real gains are in the expansion of options and how the competition navigates those same hurdles.
Graphics and Presentation
There's a fun juggling act pulled off by F1 22 in the presentation department, too.
The game has to reflect very real alterations to tracks like Spain, Australia and Abu Dhabi and has done so, while also managing to pull off an exclamation point with the addition of Miami International Autodrome to the mix.
As always, each track feels distinct in its visual presentation and performance. The same goes for the level of immersion via the respect paid to the unique details surrounding each track.
This same notion applies to the vehicles, which are of course the star of the show again in both look and booming sound design. The attention to detail, especially when it comes to vehicles, is especially fun in tandem with the inclusion of Supercars from McLaren, Mercedes, Aston Martin and others, drivable between races and in F1 Life.
It also seems understood that matching presentation style to the real-life product is as important as ever in this day and age of sports gaming.
New additions include broadcast-tier cutscenes for pit stops, formation laps and even the safety car period. Players can choose to leave these as simulations very similar to actual broadcasts or interact with them, tasking players with navigating the moments. It's always refreshing to see the standard camera angle cut to something worthy of a broadcast.
F1 22 also touts an EAMusic playlist for the first time, and it's fitting in the sense that the electronic-based tracks fit the theme well but won't stop players from listening to other background music.
F1 Life, Esports and More
A year ago, the narrative-based Braking Point was the star of the show, as it provided a fun look at the life of an up-and-coming driver while almost serving as a tutorial for new players, too.
There's no equivalent to that mode in this year's game, which registers as both disappointing and understandable. Trying to level-up that experience on a yearly basis is something most sports games struggle with—and most sports games don't have to do so while the sport itself dramatically changes across the board.
In its place, F1 Life is the big talking point. It's a social player hub with a standard lobby system for interactions with friends and others while viewing cosmetics, collected via in-game trophy unlocks and/or leveling the Podium Pass.
There's nothing too shocking about it as a whole, although it feels like the series is just checking off another box in modern game design. Players can acquire name brands on attire. There's an in-game store. There's the community feel. There are avatars to personalize. For those who dig that scene, it's a feature that was notably absent.
As expected, the series is again one of the most robust esports offerings in video games. There is an in-game area for online qualification events.
For those who don't want to compete and just want to take it all in, there's an option to view the events themselves through the in-game hub.
MyTeam, once a shiny new addition to the series, continues to settle in as a workhorse mode. It gets more quality-of-life updates found in other sports titles here. Perhaps most notably, players can now choose from one of three starting points to begin careers. Those who don't want to slog from the very bottom, underdog-style, can simply select to start as a Front Runner, for example.
The other workhorse mode is Career, the pleasantly upgraded mode from last year. It still spans a decade and, most notably, still permits a co-op campaign with a friend.
A few research and development tweaks here and there make the off-track stuff engaging. The RPG-styled feel to team and vehicle management while working for unlocks is simple enough to welcome all players but complex enough that simulation lovers will stay engaged.
As always, there are plenty of other ways to play in one-off modes like time trials or quick mini-events like Average Speed Zone. And the inclusion of things like hot laps with celebrities is a nice touch for the more casual crowd coming into the experience as the popularity of the sport booms.
Sprint races are a welcome debut too, as 100km sprints after qualifying and before the race itself to cement the event's starting grid add another layer to each event's feel. Players are also free to dip into the world of Formula 2.
Fitting its annual expansion feel, F1 22 also dips into VR on PC for the first time. There, the game runs well as expected after that impressive next-gen debut a year ago.
On paper, a game swapping out a narrative mode while implementing a social hub for online activities might be met with a shrug from players.
But F1 22 sits in a position of luxury in that it boasts one of the best career modes in sports games, and there's similar depth and enjoyability in the stellar MyTeam effort. Also praiseworthy is arguably the best esports hub and experience of any sports game.
More important than any of that, though—which has always been the Codemasters vibe—is the on-track performance, which mirrors the real-life changes incredibly well.
Continued smooth expansions to game systems across the board mean an even broader appeal to new and deep-sim players alike, marking it as one of the best games in the series and creating plenty of excitement for future installments.