F1 23 Impressions: A step in the right direction or a stall on the starting line?
With launch looming, we've already had the chance to check out Codemasters' next sim-racing instalment.
There is very little doubt that the world's fastest motorsport is more popular than ever. The tickets for the various events are selling like never before, the stands are packed and the press, as well as the drivers and the staff, almost have to fight their way into the paddock. Never before has the buzz been so intense, drivers so closely watched and every little crumb of yummy gossip analysed from every angle possible. Thus, the pressure on EA and Codemasters is more tangible than ever before in this year's edition of its F1 game.
It's not enough to deliver a product that only considers and listens to what all fans want, the game is also expected to offer enough breadth to both satisfy veterans as well as welcoming newcomers. So, the question then becomes, does this year's iteration of F1 live up to expectations? Does F1 23 build on the strengths of previous titles, does it address fan requests and criticism, and not least, is this new edition a step in the right direction?
We've been given the opportunity to peek under the hood, or more accurately - jump into the cockpit of this year's edition of F1 and zoom around a handful of tracks. We've tested everything Codemasters and EA's preview has to offer, seen the many new additions, tussled with Devon Butler in Braking Point 2 (the narrative single player part), experienced the improved driving feel, studied the visual upgrades in painstaking detail and much, much more.
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First of all, I must make it clear that the preview only represents a small part of the whole game. Only eight tracks were available and the team at Codemasters still promises a lot of tweaks that will happen before release in about three weeks. But with that said, the first impressions and experiences have been very good. There is no question that Codemasters worked quite hard to improve much of what was criticised during the previous years' editions.
Personally, I have never been someone who preaches at the holy altar of realism. Much of the joy for me when it comes to car games often lies somewhere in the middle of the road, a fair balance between realism and arcade. A compromise that F1 games have historically succeeded quite well in capturing, and this tradition seems to continue in F1 23. Because even if Codemasters and EA still show some ambivalence about the game's ambitions, the preview was a significant step in the right direction direction compared to previous titles.
The promised changes to how the cars behave, the general driving feel, the physics and renewed focus on, above all, conveying this correctly to the (many) players playing with a controller seem to have succeeded. The updated and much stiffer chassis of the F1 cars introduced this year have been sprung to life in a whole new way and the frustrating unpredictability that plagued F1 22 has been blown away. What we got instead is something far more nuanced that enables a completely different level of control without being either overly punitive or dumbed down for that matter.
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But it is not only the driving feeling that has received a boost, also on the visual level F1 23 promises some changes and Codemasters claims to have used a completely new system, not unlike that used in the film industry to give us increased realism. Both colour and light are decoded in a completely new way and even the game's character models have been upgraded. Sure, there is still a measure of the uncanny valley here, but it is clear during the single player mode, Braking Point 2, that individual faces have become significantly more refined.
What makes this even more impressive is that F1 23 still runs on the same game engine as last year, but still manages to deliver what is graphically far more impressive than F1 22. Speeding around Bahrain under the lights with the night sky resting far above have never looked better. And this without being particularly more demanding than previous titles. However, the presentation was not entirely faultless, but since this is a preview that is also a few weeks old, that is to be expected.
Another bit of positive news, not least for all of us who appreciate a well-structured narrative, is the new chapter of Braking Point. Codemasters latest story promises a continuation of the narrative (and the conflict) between Aiden Jackson and Devon Butler, something that this year is also expanded to include F2 winner Callie Mayer. Three chapters in what promises to be an expansive, several-hour long story were available to test and plenty is recognisable from before. For better or worse.
Finally, it should also be mentioned that races can now be experienced in a more compressed format, 35% of total distance. A feature that many fans were hoping for and thus yet another area where the developers took the time to collect and listen to players' feedback and wishes. And this is clearly the guiding light that permeated the entire process from start to finish with F1 23 because as I mentioned before, it is very impressive how many and relatively large (positive) changes Codemasters and EA has actually managed to achieve here.
Whether you belong to the group of players who just want to laze around without feeling overwhelmed, or squeeze out tenths of a second and push the cars to their limits, F1 23 is looking to deliver. Last year's edition was unfortunately a disappointment in the eyes of many, and perhaps a little more was promised than was ultimately possible to achieve in one year. But in that regard, everything points to F1 23 being its polar opposite and I had a lot of fun with the preview, which looks to get everything right - and which may well be the most complete F1 game for many, many years when it arrives in three weeks.