F1 Manager 2022 from Frontier Developments might classify as one of the year's most ambitious video game releases.
It has already been a banner year for the F1 video game scene thanks to the release of F1 22. But F1 Manager 2022 is the first licensed manager game since 2000 (F1 Manager from EA Sports) and has the potential to firmly stand alone as an annual release in the same way that Football Manager stands apart from football games such as FIFA.
Spanning Formula One, Formula 2 or Formula 3, this bold title tasks players with controlling a team's entire roster, ranging from drivers to engineers behind the scenes while juggling the depths of one of the globe's most complicated sports.
As such, F1 Manager's podium finish hinges not only on the game tackling those details in a manageable way, but also on making it appealing and guiding along non-hardcore players, too.
Players sit in the Team Principal chair in F1 Manager and must tackle an eye-boggling number of details right from the start.
That means managing a roster of drivers, a Technical Chief, a Head of Aerodynamics, two Race Engineers and an Engineering Team, all of whom play critical roles in how a team performs on an event-by-event basis and in the season-long outlook (and all have their own overall ratings and attributes to consider).
It hardly ends there—players can poach staff or sign drivers from all three categories of the sport. Other teams can poach a player's staff, too, so one of the other pillars of team management is entering a negotiation with any staff and coming to an agreement that locks them down longer.
Much of this gameplay indeed happens via menu navigation that can take some getting used to, as finding what is where and why isn't always easy. But it's not a bad thing overall—this is the sort of engrossing experience a player will look up from and be stunned at how much time has passed. Controls are strong, though this is one of those cases where pointing and clicking on PC is going to feel quite a bit more fluid.
On the track, much of the in-depth preparation a player makes can go up in smoke quickly. Dynamic events like weather and evolving track conditions play a role, as do the actions of other opponents on the tracks, to the point of safety cars or red flags entering the fray.
Those events add even more depth to the experience in a welcome way. So too does the opponent A.I., which doesn't feel wildly different from other top-tier racers lately. There's a random element that reflects real life well and stops all events from feeling the exact same. Even if nothing stunning happens, tire mismanagement or even improperly pitting a team's multiple drivers can lead to disaster if players aren't careful.
Just ducking into a pre-race screen strategy editor flexes how in-depth the game is. There, players can view details like the grip of the track, average pit-stop times and even comparisons that explain how well a vehicle's build compares to the event's layout.
Those who don't want to sift through the entirety of a weekend can simulate practice and qualifying sessions at various speeds.
Funnily enough, what's an incredibly fast sport can grind to a halt in the preparation stages as players go over the fine details. This improves as navigation becomes second nature, and whether it's in the menus or on the track, it's a wildly impressive showing for a debut game that will only fine-tune the experience, provided there are future releases.
Graphics and Presentation
As we've seen with other recent F1 releases, the presentation side has to emulate each track's ever-evolving changes and unique landscapes or risk dashing a player's immersion.
There are no problems on that front here, which is laudable for a debut effort. The expected staples of locales and tracks are well-represented and, as true to life, each feels distinct.
The action itself is a looker, too, whether it's smoke coming off the tires of a tough turn or the blur of the surroundings from the perspective in the cockpit.
More impressive, though, might be the broadcast-style camera angles and cuts made before, during and after events. This happens in-car, too, with camera angles fans typically see on television providing unexpected looks into the event. From afar, one could fool an onlooker into thinking there's merely a real broadcast on the screen, not a video game.
The whole experience triples down on that broadcast vibe with similar graphics that share unique stats and details worth knowing. Commentators Karun Chandhok and David Croft add some strong analysis that isn't a chore to wade through, unlike some sports games.
And then there's team radio. F1 Manager hasn't been shy about bragging that this portion of the presentation package is audio ripped straight from broadcasts of the past. That's true here, and the effect—whether overseeing things from a bird's eye view or from within a vehicle—is stunning.
Given this is a managerial game and not a driver-based one, it was always going to be interesting to see how the presentation shifted. This approach is both refreshing and one of the better packages in a racing game to date with room to grow and evolve.
Features and More
At its most basic, a career in F1 Manager tasks players with accomplishing in-season goals and longer-term goals to satisfy the board, which happens while jumping through a number of larger hubs.
The initial set of goals from the board varies based on past details. A struggling team might merely want to see the team climb the ranks in the next Constructors’ Championship. A consistent or recent contender's board will want to see the team remain on or near podiums.
The HQ is the hub where the bulk of the in-depth gameplay takes place.
The Factory is the design hub for a vehicle. Players can tweak a number of factors for each vehicle, with the changes reflected in percentages and numbers on screen. Like in real life, there's a strategy to how one builds a vehicle, be it striving for simple balance or excelling in a targeted area for a certain track.
The Warehouse is something players will need to monitor, too. That helps players track the number of parts they have in reserve and available should something get damaged during an event. Keeping this well stocked by manufacturing more is a small mini-game in itself.
Developing parts and managing finances are among the most interestingly intertwined mechanics. Players have to meet the cost cap (salary cap) when looking at their roster, but that's also the case when it comes to pushing the boundaries of performance.
Everything has a cost, and there are no easy decisions. If players expand the engineering team, it could mean developing more than one part at a time at a big cost, thus leading to sacrifices elsewhere.
For new players, all of this might sound incredibly daunting—and it is. But F1 Manager 2022 goes out of its way to help the inexperienced. Emails walk players through events, early-game tutorials explain things well and a help section accomplishes its task.
Given the depth of the gameplay loop, it's easy to overlook, if not forgive, some notable omissions. But in the future, it would be superb to see modern capabilities like multiplayer and potentially throwing user-made teams, drivers and team members into the fray.
From a tech standpoint, F1 Manager 2022 offers solid performance with some notable but not intrusive loading screens and seems to handle diving between a live look-in at the race to an overhead map perspective well, even while fast-forwarding.
As a debut, F1 Manager is a surprisingly good time.
This is a foundational framework for what could be an annual series from here on out. And as that, it's resoundingly solid. But it's hard not to fixate on some of the MIA components, such as multiplayer, creating custom teams and more.
Despite the obvious understandable omissions for a debut, F1 Manager sports a blast of a gameplay loop that sheds hours of days quickly. Thanks to some pretty solid hand-holding, it's a good onboarding process for would-be fans of the sport, too, in addition to the obvious appeal for simulation lovers.