F1 22 review – a stunning racing game sullied by money-grubbing | Games

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F1 22

In the real world, Formula One is enjoying one of its highest profile seasons ever. A change in regulations has made cars more raceable than they have been for years, and the contest between the obscenely talented young chargers Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc is thrilling. This year’s iteration of the officially licensed Formula One video game, F1 22, has the technical virtuosity required to capitalise on the real sport’s ever-growing status.

But there’s a problem – an ugly and very modern one. F1 22 includes a new mode, F1 Life, that is supposed to let you vicariously experience the enviable lifestyle of a Formula One driver. You’re given an apartment, which you can kit out with bling virtual furnishings and accessorise with supercars and virtual clothes from real brands for your avatar. Leaving aside the cloth-eared tone of super-rich virtual image-projection at a time when unprecedented numbers of people are resorting to food banks and struggling to pay energy bills, F1 Life comes across as a cynical means of introducing microtransactions into a hitherto unsullied racing game. This is exactly what pessimists predicted would happen when FIFA/Madden giant EA Sports bought F1’s developer Codemasters last year.

F1 Life’s virtual tat can be bought with Pitcoin (yuck), an in-game currency available in exchange for real money, although the game does give you some for free, and at least there are no randomised loot boxes. Everything you can buy is cosmetic and has no impact on gameplay; even so, it feels as though a venerable franchise has been dirtied up a bit.

F1 22
Technically stunning … F1 22. Photograph: Codemasters/EA Sports

On the track, F1 22 is superb, even by Codemasters’ exalted standards. The new cars have bigger wheels and lower profile tyres, so Codemasters has had to come up with an entirely new physics model for them – but they handle very convincingly, feeling noticeably different to last year’s machinery. There’s no story mode, but F1 22 has plenty to do, and has been enhanced by judicious tweaks: My Team, for example, which combines driving and team management, now cleverly has three entry points, one of which lets you start as a top team and challenges you to maintain its status.

A raft of improvements render F1 22 even more true-to-life: it apes Sky’s TV coverage impressively, and novice drivers can switch on an AI setting designed to flatter their abilities, however modest. Meanwhile, with the driver aids turned off, it feels like a simulator. No other mainstream racing game is so good at accommodating such a wide spectrum of driving skills.

F1 22 is technically stunning, and that, combined with the chance to drive this year’s cars on this year’s tracks, should make it irresistible to Formula One fans. As long as they manage to ignore the egregious F1 Life.