A new era for Formula 1 means a new era for the official Formula 1 game. This year’s release, scheduled for July 1 worldwide, marks developer Codemasters’ first with EA Sports front and centre on the box, right next to the title. It’s also the first entry since the sweeping new aero regulations have taken effect, that have redefined the grid order and introduced new driving dynamics — and new problems.
I had the opportunity to get to grips with an early build of F1 22 containing the Miami circuit, a peek at some of the new Grand Prix weekend structure settings and presentation options, and of course those new cars and their new physics.
The F1 Life feature introduced for the first time in this instalment — a “customisable hub” sort of like ESPN NFL 2K5’s “Crib,” where you can show off supercars, clothing and accessories collected through gameplay and virtually hang out with fellow players — was not present in this demo. Nor were the supercar hot lap events, which will be peppered in the career mode between race weekends.
F1 22 adds support for sprint-race qualifying for the first time, though it nixes Braking Point — the narrative-driven single-player mode introduced in F1 2021. I personally wouldn’t consider that a massive loss, but disappointed players will be encouraged to know that development schedule constraints are merely to blame for its absence. In other words, it’s entirely possible it could reappear for next year’s instalment.
Finally, eagle-eyed readers should note that the placeholder, generic F1 show car models you see in this preview are not final; they’ll be replaced with ones accurate to each team’s chassis by the time the game launches.
Enough of what isn’t here, though — let’s focus on what is. I spent a lot of time on the asphalt in Miami, behind the wheel of a range of cars. This build was only available via PC, and though the game is still in development and it’s too early to talk performance, I found it smooth and consistent at high settings on my machine with an RTX 3070 and Ryzen 7 2700X. I didn’t mess with raytracing, in the interest of keeping the frame rate high.
The first thing I noticed was the handling, and how much more compliant and predictable it is than in previous titles. Like most pseudo-realistic racing games, F1 22 is best experienced with a dedicated wheel and pedals. On a pad, however, previous entries were edgy on the limit of grip, and things became exponentially more precarious once rain entered the equation. That’s an issue considering how many first-time players this series is gaining thanks to F1’s burgeoning American popularity.
The handling model’s fickle nature been massaged with a new tire model, so that turn-in is less darty and you’re free to use a bit more throttle on corner exit than you could before without risking a spin, even in the wet. Some will surely read that and deduce that the game’s been made too easy or — dare I say, arcadey. For me, it’s just a bit easier to see the cliff of grip coming before you’re already tumbling off of it, and that makes the driving more fun, and the racing closer and more consistent. If you yearn for something more punishing, I’ll point out that Mercedes’ latest F1 car is coming to iRacing at some point this year, and the official F1 series has never been celebrated for the authenticity of its physics, anyway.
Unlike the bulk of F1’s street circuits that I thoroughly hate driving, I found Miami to be a fun one. It flows more like a conventional track, devoid of Singapore’s ad-nauseum 90-degree bends or Jeddah’s never-straight straights. It even has a little elevation change to mix things up, around the tricky Turn 14-15 chicane.
The new broadcast presentation options were something else I got to sample in this build, and they do a fine job of melding the experience of playing an F1 game with the experience of watching a race. Some players are all too happy to steer their car through a formation lap and assume their spot on the grid, but personally I look to video games to take away all the un-fun aspects of racing, like trundling along behind a safety car.
Those who want to do those things still can, but others who’d prefer a little break during those non-competitive moments can do so, take their hands off the controller or wheel and see everything unfold (with time skips) from trackside and in-car cameras as they would if they were watching TV. During formation laps you’ll even find AWS-branded predicted pit stop graphics. The broadcast presentation looks good overall, though EA isn’t allowing pictures of it to be shared quite yet.
Make no mistake, though: none of this represents sweeping changes to the way these F1 games have been presented for years now, and there are older aspects that could still use a little sprucing up. The pre-race starting grid graphics — with middling-quality captures of the in-game models of drivers making one of three poses — just don’t hit home like actual photos of the drivers would. It would also be neat if David Croft’s circuit explainers were accompanied with picture-in-picture snippets of dramas from previous races, like they are on television.
New for F1 22 is a more immersive pit experience, which tasks the player with turning in at the precise moment to ensure an optimal entry and thus, an optimal stop. It sounds like a good idea on paper, though the way Codemasters has implemented it — pressing the “A” button in time with a countdown like a quick-time event — feels like somewhat of a missed opportunity. Even just directing the player to turn left or right at the opportune time would feel a bit more natural.
There’s also a new Dynamic AI difficulty setting that is intended for beginners, in that it adjusts the speed of the competition on the fly to deliver closer, more eventful racing. If it sounds like rubber banding, it basically amounts to the same thing — and don’t worry, the old 1 to 100 adjustable difficulty slider is still present, too.
Annual sports releases like F1 22 tend to be more iterative than revolutionary, and once again that’s the case here. That’s not to say there aren’t areas Codemasters could look to improve, but it’s clear that with additions like the new broadcast options and dynamic difficulty, the studio is concentrating on broadening the interactive F1 experience to welcome newcomers without spurning longtime fans and sim racers. F1 22 doesn’t look to surprise anyone who knows these games well, but it is shaping up to be the most adaptable instalment yet.