Codemasters is doubling-down on racing culture with F1 22
Between the expanded Career mode and F1 Life, this iteration of the racing series is looking to become more than just a simulation experience.
Life really is full throttle for Formula One fans at this time of the year. We're at that stage of the season where Grand Prix - mostly based in Europe - come in thick and fast, almost on a weekly basis, and then to add to that, it's the season of F1 video games. For this year, this means F1 Manager 2022 at the end of August, but also before that F1 22, which will actually be arriving on the first day of July (slightly earlier than that for Champions Edition owners). With that next iteration of the series on the horizon, I've had the chance to dive into the game over the past few days to get an idea how Codemasters is expanding and improving upon the Career aspect of the title.
Right off the bat, you can clearly see the similarities to F1 2021's Career mode. You still have to either sign for a team, or manage your own, and then compete in a race calendar spanning one of three lengths. Here, there's still the usual trappings of Career mode as well, as you have to use earned Resource Points to continue to develop and improve your car, whilst also ensuring you rack up race results akin to what your contract and the team expects from you. Race weekends are split into the usual practice sessions, qualifying, and then the actual race - and these can be various lengths depending on what type of career you're aiming to simulate. In my opinion, medium length races are still the best, as who really has time to sit down for a full 90-minute race these days.
While you could look at the similarities as a bit of lapse in progress, in my eyes this system works to accommodate and highlight the main substance of the game: the actual racing itself. Which is why the fact that you don't spend too much time in menus playing around with options to run and manage your team is still acceptable. But that doesn't mean there hasn't been some improvements and additions here, as there have been quite a few.
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Namely, this comes in your other responsibilities as a driver. You have to make choices about how you're perceived in the public, be it by answering interview questions again or by working with the marketing team to put effort into a social media campaign or rather a charity initiative. Your decisions and choices influence your Driver Acclaim, which in and of itself influences how much money you can be paid when contract negotiations pop-up at the end of the season. Add to this the new Pirelli Hot Laps, which is a new gameplay feature where you take supercars out onto a track on a race weekend for a bit of showboating in the form of unique challenges (for example, scoring a high top speed over a speed trap, or in drifting events). Plus, there's Sprint races to take into account as well, meaning there's new challenges for you as a driver to tackle, and more points to earn over the season. As you can see, you get a Career mode that is more immersive and engaging, if it isn't exactly a massive reinvention of the formula.
But again, the systems that make up the Career mode aren't why we play F1 games. It's the actual driving and how well the cars are simulated in-game. For F1 22, this is simply an improvement on the already stellar systems that were on offer in F1 2021, meaning you get a demanding to drive vehicle that when you learn to push it right to its limits - on your respective assist and difficulty setting - will feel incredibly rewarding and thrilling to drive. As this is a new era of cars that perform differently on the track it will take a little bit of time to become comfortable with them, as they allow for tighter, closer racing but at the cost of being a little more demanding to weave and control through corners, particularly corner exits. But, this is just a learning curve at the end of the day.
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What Codemasters has done to expand the Career mode aspect of the game is add in F1 Life, which is basically a way to give your driver a bit of personality and existence outside of race days. What it provides is a nice house that you can outfit with furniture, collected trophies, even supercars, and if anything it does feel a little bit pointless, even if it is harmless at the end of the day. It reminds me of what Polyphony Digital is doing with Gran Turismo 7, as you can clearly see Codemasters is trying to sprinkle a bit of lifestyle and racing culture into the game so that it doesn't feel like just a hard, almost one-dimensional simulation experience. Perhaps for more casual Formula One fans this is quite an admirable addition, but for someone like myself who loves this series for its actual racing gameplay, it doesn't really do a whole lot to excite me.
But at the end of the day, the key thing to know is that the F1 Life addition is harmless, and if anything will likely be the way that EA's undoubtedly incoming monetisation influence creeps in. For dedicated F1 and racing fans who just want to hit the track, know that the performance of this game, the visuals, the gameplay and the improved physics models are all very impressive from what I've experienced, and it really does look like Codemasters is onto another winner with F1 22.