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 $1.2bn 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.
So the questions are clear: what’s new? How do the new cars drive? Will this live up to the expectations of an ever-growing audience of F1 fanatics after what was a thunderous 2021 season? Let’s get some first impressions by going to Miami.
Welcome to Miami
The newest entry in the F1 calendar takes us to the Miami International Autodrome — a track that weaves around some key landmarks, including the Hard Rock Stadium and a man-made marina that we recently found out has a layer of fake water that looks like it came from a PS2 game.
The "water" is being added to the artificial marina at the #MiamiGP circuit 😅📷 @Antsamp701 pic.twitter.com/ROaugg69T0April 30, 2022
Silliness aside, this track packs 19 corners and 3 drag reduction system (DRS) zones, all of which in my time around the circuit has a nice fluidity to it. The layout is a result of trialing 36 different arrangements of corners, which run anticlockwise with a distance of 3.36 miles.
While sectors 1 and 2 include some interesting elements and overtaking opportunities with turn 1 at the end of a start/finish straight DRS zone, the fast-moving bends of turns 4,5 and 6, and the challenge of controlling your car coming around turn 12, sector 3 is certainly going to be a favorite for many players.
The fast change in elevation on the chicane of turns 14 and 15 leads to a blind apex, which becomes quite the learning experience to optimize your rolling speed through them based on the angle you hit each apex. Figuring that out can mean the difference of a second or two in pace.
Then you’ve got the 0.75-mile DRS-enabled back straight to the hairpin at turn 17, which is going to be the big overtaking point, as you’ll hit 200mph and brake all the way down to second gear. It’s a varied circuit that you will have a lot of fun lapping, learning and improving on.
Let’s go racing
In my hands-on time with Miami, I was able to do some hot lap time trials and race in a Grand Prix. While interacting with the game feels familiar to long-time veterans of the sport, there are some significant changes to the accessibility of the game and how the cars drive.
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 — 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 unique challenges), and decorate with new pieces of furniture: like Animal Crossing but for those who appreciate the sound of a V8.
As for racing seasons, “My Team” and “Career” make a return (the latter can still be played in two-player) with some interesting additions adding to the authenticity. First off, you can start a season as either a newcomer, midfield challenger, or title contender, which presents you with different sets of budget, team, and competitive challenges.
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 wide across Valve Index, Meta Quest 2 with a link cable, Oculus Rift S, HTC Vive and Vive Cosmos. No announced support yet for the likes of 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.
Finally, let’s look closer at F1 Life and more specifically, 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. Not only that, but hopefully the monetary value of these coins remains the same, too (currently, 11,000 Pitcoins for F1 2021 costs £7.99).
Microtransactions have always been the bane of racing sims, with games like Gran Turismo 7 being ruined by getting the value-to-reward ratio completely wrong. I’ve reached out to devs for more information about this element of F1 22, and I can only wish that Codemasters learns from Polyphony’s mistakes and keeps it fair.
F1 22’s driving feels grounded on both steering wheel and controller, the track itself looks slick and the amount of assists ensures that even the freshest of newcomers will have a lot of fun.
On the face of it, this is a full-featured entry into the Formula 1 lineage that is going to provide plenty of fun, even though some of you may be a little gutted about the lack of Braking Point.
But now, we wait and see what the final product is like, though from first impressions, you’re right to feel optimistic.