How do you go about keeping a sports series fresh, particularly a sports series that continues to arrive on an annual basis? It’s a dilemma which has been thrown the way of EA time and time again over the years, with them managing to work the formula just enough to keep their games, and their players in a rich vein. The Fifa series is the best known for that, tweaking little things every twelve months or so. A similar thing happens with Madden, NBA and more.
Now, with the racing champs of Codemasters under the EA umbrella, it’s something that also needs to be considered for the F1 franchise as those behind it look to infuse enough to keep their racing fans happy.
F1 22 just about does that, but I’m not quite sure it reaches the real heights of those games from the most recent years passed.
EA Sports F1 22 to give the full name, is EA and Codemasters’ latest attempt at infusing the glitz and glamour of the real-world F1 circus into the virtual landscape. It comes with everything you would expect of such a game too; the finest on-track racing action, a huge career, plenty of one-shot options and your everyday multiplayer offerings.
But whilst this one does away with any form of story or narrative, as Codies keep that confined to a bi-annual cycle, something else has to be put in to keep the racers busy. It’s the addition of drivable supercars, a cosmetically advanced F1 Life and some VR goodies (admittedly only for PC players) with which hopes are pinned.
Truth be known though, these are just little add-ons to another great Codemasters F1 racer, with the on-track and F1 focused elements of F1 22 yet again of the very highest quality. I’m not quite sold on the rest of it though.
The career is the main thrust, split across two different options – the usual solo affair or that capable of playing host to a couple of racers; competitively or cooperatively. We’d guess that for many it’ll be the single player career which is the most sought after option and with both Driver (letting you focus on the behind wheel stuff) or Team (create, own and drive for your own team, dealing with everything that entails), the options are dandy.
So is the chance to jump straight into F1 or bide your time and hone your skills in F2. It’s the F2 2021 season that F1 22 – confusingly – covers, so you should expect to see opponents like new F1 rookie Zhou Guanyu on the F2 grid. It’s not quite as mind-twisting as previous seasons, but it would be nice to see the F2 series keep up and be a little more in line with the real world.
Whatever career you decide to take in, you should know what to expect. F1 22 is about as close as you’re going to get to the real world of F1 racing, and the structure is similar. Practice, qualifying, sprint races and full weekends will keep you busy, whilst R&D options ensure a bit of time needs to be focused off the track from time to time. How deep you go into the off-track business is up to you, but should you wish to really compete in the career, you’re going to need to keep up-to-date with everything going on in your team.
In terms of the actual racing and again, it’s as you’d expect. F1 is the pinnacle of all motorsports and Codemasters have always excelled with their racing prowess. Nothing is different here and the chance to amend nearly everything to your own personal preferences is easy. You really can make this racer as simple-to-use or as hard as you wish via a multitude of settings; it’s extremely accessible to all. We’ve found the AI to be super fair too, aggressive when the time calls but more than happy to race as you’d expect of some of the finest drivers in the world. The racing is super close – let’s thank the newly designed F1 cars, Pirelli 18-inchers and ground-effect cars for that – and so going all Verstappen vs Leclerc and competing for DRS lines is something you’ll fast find yourself considering.
Of course, F1 22 looks and sounds the business too. It’s a stunner to take in visually, with cars looking and feeling great (although the no-pod Mercs look better than they race), no matter which of the multiple camera points you decide to take in. That’s helped by some circuits that come across pretty much exactly as they would in real life, as you get to feel the grating of every kerb as you try to nail the fastest line. We’ve even been impressed by how decent the pit crews that help you out in the garage look, but there are just too many clones and some slight uncanny valley feels about the character models. Yes we’re here for the chance to get behind the wheel, so we shouldn’t be knocking a racer for dodgy models of humans, but it does take away from the immersion slightly.
It sounds just as brilliant. Obviously you’d expect the roar of an F1 engine to be the dominant factor, and you’d be right, but the whole audio aspect is on point from the second the F1 theme fires up upon loading. And as this is an EA game, expect a decent playlist of tunes to accompany you through your menus.
Credit must also go out to Codemasters for continuing to build on their broadcast style presentation of every race. Camera’s sweep neatly, circuits are shown in their glory and the biggest names from the F1 commentary team are all in place (Crofty, Ant and Nat the most standout of voices), doing sterling jobs no matter whether they are calling the shots, delivering facts or just chatting you through F1 Life tutorials.
Away from career and you can create your own race weekends or events in the Grand Prix one-shot option, whilst Time Trials let you take your favoured cars around your favoured tracks, chasing your favoured leaderboards as you go. We’ll admit that shaving milliseconds off our lap times in order to beat a rando, Lando or friend is something that we’ve become massively addicted to over the years, and it’s similar here. If anything, it’s going to be this that keeps us coming back to F1 22.
And then we have the multiplayer options, something in which F1 22 is certainly not lacking. Split-screen is set-up nicely for those with local mates, but it’s the online worlds of Social Play and Ranked Play which will mostly appeal going forward. Options are open to both rookie racers and season long veterans, again with all the amends you could wish for. Weekly Events will see you going up against the world with practice, qualy and races taking place over set weekends – the only bugbear here is that you’ll need to consider the timings of such events and make yourself free for participation. It’s a hard life being an F1 driver.
To negate the lack of story and alongside all that F1 and F2 racing is the chance to get behind the wheel of a number of supercars and F1 safety cars; you know much like how the Pirelli Hot Laps have seen ex-racers take the paying public around the same tarmac that the real F1 stars pound. It’s a nice little addition and does allow for those dipping into F1 22 the chance to get involved with something away from the most insane of speeds.
It’s a good addition and don’t get me wrong as driving the supercars is initially fun, but it’s not a patch on something you’ll find in a racer that is fully set up for car variety. There are only a few supercars included for starters – a couple each from Aston Martin, Mercedes-AMG, Ferrari and McLaren – and that means it does feel extremely limited. Personally, I’m here for the F1 scene and the lack of real supercar numbers mean their inclusion is nothing more than a little side platter; one that you’ll graze on from time to time, but ultimately ignore.
Perhaps that’s to do with how the new Pirelli Hot Laps section of F1 22 is set-up, tasking you with working through a number of quick hit challenges across a variety of disciplines – speed zones, checkpoint challenges, autocross, time attacks and drifts complement driver duels. There’s enough included to keep you busy in the short term, particularly if you try and nail the various difficulty levels for each event, earning medals in the process, but it’s not something that is ever really front and centre. But then, should it?
There’s also a massive learning curve to contend with. Supercars – by their very nature – are fast, agile and equipped with the biggest of brakes, but they still aren’t a patch on driving a real F1 machine. You’ll need to slowly, delicately work your way into the seat of these cars, as you recalibrate racing lines, braking points, listen to tyre squeals and work out exactly how the Mercs, Astons, Ferraris or McLarens are going to handle. Credit again must go to Codies, for it’s about as true to real life as you’re going to get, but aside from a casual tease, it’s rare that you’ll want to go from the most technologically advanced machines in the world, to slightly slower, less seat of your pants stuff.
I’m also not a massive fan of how these supercars worm their way into F1 22 via the new F1 Life elements of the game. Unlockable to own as you tick off goals – drive for x amount of miles in an F1 car, do similar in F2 etc… – F1 Life will then let you show off your new found glories to the world. I’m 100% sure this is going to appeal to some, especially those who get kicks from crafting their own unique race designs and wish to translate their imagination to a virtual home, but again, on a personal basis, it’s just not something that appeals. I’m going to blame this on an age thing, but the personalisation and customisation of F1 Life and the chance to hype yourself to the world, just isn’t something this particular racer is bothered by.
Similar thoughts surround the integrated Podium Pass too. The more you play, the more you unlock and the more you can amend your F1 Life space, driver style and cars. Again, for those that want it, there’s nothing to complain about as the free route through the Pass is seemingly set-up to deliver much. You’re going to have to be very serious about your online presence in order to warrant a purchase of the VIP pathway though. But hey, that’s far from an F1 22 issue – it’s where we are with gaming, and life, as a whole.
What this all ultimately means is that F1 22 is once again capable of providing a seriously hot F1 racing experience, but the bits away from that are less exciting. We’ll never tire of pounding Eau Rouge, hitting the Maggotts and Becketts complex at Silverstone or playing chicken with the walls of Monaco. We’ll even keep dipping in and out of the supercars experience for the quickest of racing hits. In fact, if it’s on-track F1 racing you want, F1 22 is the game for you. But just be aware that you may find the smaller supercar side notes and attempted fanciness of F1 Life to be of insignificance.
F1 22 is available from the Xbox Store