Formula One is a soap opera masquerading as a sport, and this season it’s experiencing its Bobby Ewing moment. A complete rewrite of the sports design regulations has left fans feeling the past eight seasons (of the so-called turbo hybrid era) were actually someone’s dream sequence.
The new regulations allow drivers to run much closer to each other and, therefore, race properly again. There are also new tracks, such as Miami, which saw its first race on the F1 calendar, which means new and veteran drivers are competing on a more even field. And on top of that, there are unexpected factors, such as ‘porpoising’ – a strange physics effect that causes cars with poorly implemented aerodynamics to bounce down the straights. It’s making for one of the most exciting seasons in years.
It’s also the first F1 game since EA bought Codemasters, which should grant access to the development resources needed to mirror the changes made to the real cars in F1 22.
Fun on the track
In advance of Miami’s inaugural Grand Prix, we hit GP mode and set about acquainting ourselves with the circuit and the new cars. The McLaren instantly feels different from last year’s car – it’s heavier, with less downforce-generated grip through medium-speed and fast corners. But, the bigger, lower-profile tires offer more mechanical grip, making them less skittish through low-speed corners, which came in useful on Miami’s complex between Turns 11 and 16.
Previous F1 games modeled the loss of grip drivers suffer when tailing a competitor. In F1 22, it’s noticeably easier to pull up to the back of a car without suddenly feeling your front-end wash out, leaving you to either lift or drift into an understeer-y off-track excursion. All this means you can just concentrate on thinking your way past the cars in front, although, as in the real cars, this year’s Drag Reduction System has a more significant effect, making it easier to slipstream and pass cars down long straights.
“For the game, handling and physics changes have been paramount this year,” senior creative director Lee Mather tells us. “We had to develop a good understanding of the different weight of the cars and their body metrics, and make changes to the tire model. But it’s the best handling model we believe we’ve ever implemented.”
Mather ran through a litany of changes and additions, the most striking of which is that the PC version of F1 22 will support all major VR headsets. Though, as we learned, there are no plans to support PSVR 2.
The new tire specifications led Codemasters to reconstruct the whole pit-stop process. The sequence’s been newly motion-captured, and now you can get much more involved in pit stops and safety car periods. You can automate them both as if you were watching them on TV, or if you want to stay in the action, you can participate fully, driving around the track behind the safety car.
Mathers says that Codemasters is trying to make F1 22 as true-to-life and as accessible to newer, less skilled players as possible. One new tool to help is the new Adaptive AI. This beginner-friendly AI is more forgiving and should prove handy for those who find themselves trailing at the back of the pack.
One central element missing from F1 22 is the Braking Point story mode that graced last year’s game. Mather explains that each Braking Point storyline has a two-year development process, so we can at least expect it to return next year.
Under new management
We’re suspicious of the final new addition to F1 22, which sounds like that’s come from EA management, known for its enthusiastic use of microtransactions. It’s called F1 Life, and Mather described it as: “A new player hub, in which you can customize and stamp your personality on the game.”
F1 Life will give players an apartment they can deck out with furniture and decorations, access to the supercars that you often see drivers taking around tracks for publicity purposes, virtual clothes from brands (including New Era), sunglasses, and so on. Sure, we’d all like to live the bling lifestyle of a Formula One driver, but the whole exercise sounds like a cynical means of getting gamers to pay real money for virtual cosmetic items.
You will, however, be able to drive the supercars you collect around F1 22’s tracks, which is cool, as well as the two safety cars manufactured by Mercedes and Aston Martin. Two other innovations that Mather mentioned should please hardcore fans: in F1 22, in GP mode, where you set up a custom program of races, you will be able to enable sprint races for all the circuits (not just those which run them) should you so desire. And while crossplay will be available at launch among the same console manufacturers – PS4 versus PS5, for example, or Xbox One versus Series X – Mather is confident that full, platform-agnostic cross-play will come to F1 22 via an update.
We’ve only seen a limited version of the racing game in preview, but just as the new regulations have given new life to real-world F1, that restoration appears to have carried over into F1 22. We will be front and center to try out the full game when it launches in July.