F1 22 is a game of firsts.
The first game of a new era of F1 regulations, including new aero rules, new tyres and all-round beefier cars with new racing regulations. And it is the first full entry in the series since EA’s $1.2 billion buyout of Codemasters back in February 2021.
In real-life, these changes have created new problems like porpoising and the championship is still just a one-horse race (but with Red Bull rather than Mercedes at the helm).
But in the world of video games, these changes have led to some of the most thrilling races I’ve taken part in — both on and offline. Let me take this time to explain why, as a racing sim fan, F1 22 is a must-buy.
Let’s go racing
I envision a lot of the F1 22 reviews going out at the moment will talk about the nitty gritty of the simulation modeling: the reworked handling and tyre physics, the improved sense of inertia and downforce, and the impactful AI tweaks that make competitors more responsive to your position on track.
But to find out how good a racing sim is, I always ask one simple question: is a fight for first as exciting as a race to not be last? Not everyone can be vying for the lead, so whether you’re in the midfield or even at the back, it’s important to the core of any racer that you’re still having competitive fun.
F1 2021 didn’t nail this. The loss of downforce that came with being in the dirty air of a car you’re trying to overtake meant there really wasn’t a chance of wheel-to-wheel racing until you hit the DRS zones, which severely limited the chances of real racing.
But F1 22 is an entirely different beast. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s the best Formula 1 has felt in a video game for a long time.
This is the case in whatever way you wish to play — both on a wheel (I tested this using the Thrustmaster T248 and Logitech G923) and on a controller (the detail and definition of the haptic feedback and trigger resistance on the DualSense are impressive).
Everything feels a whole lot more competitive in a better balanced grid of cars, the switch to a ‘ground effect’ style of downforce (aerodynamic magic that sucks the car to the ground by creating a vacuum between the road and the drastically redesigned floors) makes for a lot of closer racing and no matter where you are on the grid, the AI will push you to attack and defend in a fantastic challenge.
Much like the jump from GT Sport to Gran Turismo 7, the simulation here requires much more nuanced interaction with acceleration and braking, to squeeze every last drop of potential out of the car. Just make sure you come prepared to be patient, as you can’t just throw these cars into corners and hammer the throttle as quickly as you did in last year’s game.
Quick bit of advice: Start with some hot lapping to get to grips with the techniques you need to squeeze the most out of these cars, such as trail braking and the gradual application of the throttle coming out of corners.
Once you’re up to speed, whether you’re battling Nicholas Latifi for 19th, duking it out with Magnussen for a midfield position or lungeing LeClerc on the final corner of the final lap for the lead, you’re going to have so much fun.
F1 is for everyone, not just the nerds
Yes, I did just make F1 22 sound brutally punishing in that last section and if you want that, welcome to the club. But the truth is this is one of the more accessible entries into the series. You’ll find a wealth of settings to tweak and assists to apply, so even the newest of fans who have never played an F1 game can still have a good time.
This even goes down to the structure of each race, as alongside the usual changes you can make to race length and whether to make the DRS automatic or manually activated, there are two styles of presentation: Immersive and Broadcast.
In the latter, you get a TV-like multi-angle experience of the formation lap, pitting and the safety car — great for those who just want to focus on the racing. The former, however, is where things get really interesting.
Toggling this mode means you drive the entirety of the formation lap and line up your car on the grid, which means you can fine-tune your car’s positioning. You can stay on your side of the track and defend your spot, or angle inwards and get stuck in, to gain some places.
Pit stop drive-ins are also completely manual, and the challenge here is to perfect the timing of your turn into the pit box. If you’re too early or too late, the stop time is affected. And finally, you are in control of your car throughout the deployment of the safety car. This means that just like the formation lap, you’re in control of weaving to keep temperature in your tyres and deciding any strategy changes.
To say the simulation here is “in-depth” would be an understatement. Luckily, it’s not an all-or-nothing situation, as you can toggle individual immersive and broadcast elements separate from the others.
I found a good balance of keeping pit stops in broadcast mode, so I could have a drink and watch it all happen, while keeping everything else immersive, so as to feel more directly in control of the racing.
Plenty of stuff to do
All the modes you expect are back and bigger than ever. The classic career mode returns, as you can select a team to join, develop your car and rise through the ranks (and yes, co-op also returns).
If you’d rather establish your own constructor, My Team has you covered with its many management-style decisions, and it now includes three starting points: Newcomer, Challenger and Front Runner. The scale of the challenge you set is really up to you and it makes for a greater level of accessibility for all play styles.
Because sure — racing the whole thing from F2 and graduating to the big leagues is an immensely satisfying process: learning and developing your car from the back to being a real championship challenger. But some people just don’t have the time to invest in doing that, and having these new options means you can jump right into the F1 racing you see on TV and try to topple Max Verstappen.
As for racing seasons, beyond My Team, Career makes a return (and can still be played in two-player) with some interesting additions adding to the authenticity. Alongside that, the decision-based gameplay has been expanded beyond team interviews with plenty of department events and choices to make with their own long-term benefits and drawbacks to your team’s performance.
For those who chase the best levels of immersion, VR support is available. I don’t have the hardware to test this personally, but I can confirm PC support is available across Valve Index, Meta Quest 2 with a link cable, Oculus Rift S, HTC Vive and Vive Cosmos. No announced support yet for the PSVR 2, but I’ll buy my editor a pint if it’s not announced as part of the launch lineup of PlayStation’s new headset eventually.
It’s worth mentioning what is missing from this game, which is Braking Point. Now, I’ve been a fan of Formula 1 since watching Damon Hill clinch the driver’s championship with my Dad in 1996, but I can appreciate how Netflix’s Drive To Survive really brings the human drama of the race to life.
Being able to live that drama through an engrossing single-player story mode, which explores the ever-changing dynamic between teammates and presents a fun series of challenges to teach you the basics of F1’s driving physics, was one of the best features of F1 2021. To not have it this time round isn’t going to be to the liking of a fair few players for sure.
It also means that your only real way to practice (as I tipped earlier on in this review) is the hot lap time trials. Now, I find these fun — improving your lap times by experimenting with different corner entries and iterating to form the perfect lap and beat fellow players on the online leaderboards.
But for people brand new to the series, the lack of a core storyline and just giving players a car and a track to play without any motivation can make it a little hard to get into at first.
Living the (F1) Life
Everything is centered around F1 Life: a customizable space to showcase your unlocked trophies and achievements.
This is essentially a home for your avatar, which you can customize with different pieces of clothing. Here, you can showcase the trophies you’ve won, the supercars you’ve unlocked (which you can drive in Pirelli Hot Lap Events), and decorate with new pieces of furniture: like Animal Crossing but for those who appreciate the sound of a V8.
Faster than you can say “Tom Nook is a cute metaphor for capitalism,” you’re blistering around corners and down straights and getting to learn the ropes of your brand spanking new supercar. The different handling models provide a diverse challenge set that goes beyond the open cockpit cars that comparatively stick to the road like glue.
Looking closer, the core menu is centrally structured around this virtual showroom/living room, meaning that if all this character customization stuff never really interests you (because let’s be honest, I bet some of you are not bothered about getting an Anti Social Social Club tee for your character), it’s hard to get away from.
But fortunately, while all of this stuff is a door to microtransactions and the EA Sports selling techniques are in full force, they are all purely for cosmetic items and (most importantly) it’s all optional.
I’ve not changed a single damn thing about my in-game avatar and while he chills on the sofa with his basic fashion on the main menu, you can just jump right back into your career mode without interacting with this stuff at all.
If you do have an interest in this side of things, the leveling up structure of F1 22 means you are guaranteed a steady stream of unlockables and the occasional amount of Pitcoins (the in-game currency), and the value of said coins has remained the same as F1 2021 (11,000 for £7.99 for example).
While the recent build showed that Pitcoins are set to stay at the same price (11,000 for £7.99 matches the price of F1 2021), and the XP gained from winning races suggests that you’ll at least get one unlockable from each victory, time will tell how F1 22 will navigate
Microtransactions. They have always been the bane of racing sims, with games like Gran Turismo 7 being ruined by navigating this fine balance between value and reward completely wrong. But in an almost baffling twist of events, turns out that EA Sports of all publishers has managed to get it right.
Throughout my hands-on time, I started to get the early impression that while not much has changed on the surface, there’s something special about F1 22. Now, with the final product, I can say it with confidence: this is the best-feeling Formula 1 game in years.
The driving feels grounded on both steering wheel and controller, the variety of content means you have a wealth of challenges ahead of you (though I am a little gutted about the lack of Braking Point), and the racing regulation changes guarantee more exciting wheel-to-wheel racing. Plus, the vastly customizable assists ensure that even the freshest of newcomers will have a lot of fun.
And sure, the signs that F1 22 is turning into an EA Sports franchise are clear, with focuses on the sport and plenty of prompts to buy more stuff throughout the UI. But none of what is on-sale gives you a competitive edge, there are plenty of unlockables as you progress through the game and the F1 Life side of the game is purely optional.
A fantastic sim for players of all experience levels. If you like racing, you’ll love F1 22.