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. And it is the first full entry in the series since EA’s $1.2 billion buyout of Codemasters back in February 2021 (mid-way through the development cycle of F1 2021).
It is also the first iteration that I’ve been lucky enough to get an early build and go hands-on with ever since confessing my love for racing sims in my Gran Turismo 7 review.
We already have a good idea of what’s new, but with an expanded second hands-on across the full 22-track season and access to F1 Life, now is the time for us to find out how this all comes together.
Let’s go racing
In my new hands-on time, I dabbled in a wealth of modes, including racing a full season through My Team mode, which now includes three starting points: Newcomer, Challenger and Front Runner.
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.
All of this also comes with a wealth of settings to tweak and make the game more (or less) accessible to newcomers. Yes, F1 22 can be brutally punishing if you want it to be, but if you’re a newcomer, you can relieve some of that pressure.
Being a racing nerd, I tested myself with the new simulation elements of a full Grand Prix first, where I stumbled across 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 that all happen, while keeping everything else immersive, so as to feel more directly in control of the racing.
And speaking of control, let’s talk about the core gameplay of handling these new monsters. Much like what you’re seeing on the TV, everything feels a whole lot more competitive in a better balanced grid of cars.
Not to say F1 2021 didn’t feel challenging, because it certainly did. But the handling of these new heavier cars with updated aerodynamics and tyre modeling means you can’t just throw them into corners like you could with last year’s models.
Much like the jump from GT Sport to GT7, 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’ll be taking a while to get the sensitivity and force of the steering wheel just right.
Plenty of stuff to do
In some ways, F1 22 is packed to the gills with new stuff. It’s all 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 super car. The different handling models provide a diverse challenge set that goes beyond the open cockpit cars that stick to the road like glue.
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.
And, as has already been announced, 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.
It’s worth mentioning what is missing from this game and a concern I have. First of all, Braking Point has missed its braking point and will not be in F1 22. 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.
Living the (F1) Life
Finally, let’s look closer at F1 Life. The core menu is centrally structured around this virtual showroom/living room, meaning that if cosmetics never really interest 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.
As for how you pay for some of this stuff. If you’ve played one of Codemasters’ F1 games before, you already know about the in-game currency called Pitcoins.
There’s no doubt that with F1 Life, there are going to be more things to buy with these coins, which I hope you’re able to earn fairly with a decent value reward for winning or finishing in the points.
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 that fine balance between value and reward.
Because let’s not forget, microtransactions have always been the bane of racing sims, with games like Gran Turismo 7 being ruined by getting this ratio completely wrong. I can only wish that Codemasters learns from Polyphony’s mistakes and keeps it fair from the green flag.
You can start to see signs that F1 22 is turning into a EA Sports franchise, with focuses on the sport and plenty of prompts to buy more stuff throughout the UI. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because at the core of it, this is a really fun game.
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 vastly customizable assists ensures that even the freshest of newcomers will have a lot of fun.
Now, it’s just a case of waiting to see how kind the final product is to your bank balance, though from my second impressions, you’re still right to feel optimistic.