F1 2023 Reviewed: Codemasters new game a huge step forward in fun

Thomas Maher
F1 2023 Screenshot 1

F1 2023 Screenshot 1

The 16th installment of Codemaster’s F1 franchise is released this week, and F1 2023 is a marked step forward from last year’s game.

Last year’s official Formula 1 game was eagerly awaited, due to it being the first made under the new ground-effect regulations that promised plenty of enjoyment for players.

Instead, what we got was a game that was, to put it kindly, slapdash. While graphically pleasing, F1 2022 never won a place in my heart.

While an improvement on 2021 in that you could finally actually drive over a kerb without being hurled off in the scenery, the overly sensitive throttle and peaky torque maps meant that the game was a bit of an ordeal to actually race with – even the smallest midge of greed on the throttle would result in an uncatchable moment.

I’ll address the handling aspect of F1 2023 in a few moments but, having fired up a copy of EA Sports and Codemasters’ new offering over the weekend to get in a few initial hours with the game, it’s clear that the complaints of last year have been addressed.

How does F1 2023 look?

Regular players of the F1 games won’t find anything too scary about how the game is mapped out. While the menus and fonts have been revised slightly, there’s nothing in here to make the environment feel alien or unfamiliar.

The menus and loading screens all boast the usual aesthetic, but it’s in actual gameplay that the game starts to shine.

The cartoonish saturation of 2022 has been turned right down, to the point where my initial hour or two of the game made it feel as though I was driving with a whitewashed screen. But, even over the days of my playing, this was refined to the point where the colours are considerably more representative of reality.

Racing on track feels visceral, with the annoying shiny veneer having been dialed right back in favour of a more realistic palette, while the cars throw up dirt and smoke as they explore different parts of the race track.

Draw distance appears to have improved too. While my TV is far from top of the range, I felt it was considerably easier to spot a car off in the distance than in recent years, making the hunt that little bit more thrilling!

It’s much easier to discern different engine notes too, with the Mercedes, Honda, Renault, and Ferrari power units all having distinctive and pleasant signatures. Driving through the Monaco tunnel and hearing the noise bounce off the walls is a real treat!

The game is mapped out easily too – the main menu allows for the selection of the usual Career Mode, the Braking Point mode (more on that in a moment!), and a central hub for single and multi-player modes called ‘F1 World’.

It’s through this mode that players can access the usual single Grand Prix, Time Trial, and Online Multiplayer modes. Nothing revolutionary, but makes the structure of the game quite easy to navigate.

F1 2023 Screenshot 2
F1 2023 Screenshot 2

What’s new in F1 2023?

While F1 2023 is clearly evolutionary rather than revolutionary, a new storyline mode sees the return of Braking Point.

This mode allows the player to take part in a series of race scenarios, driving for the new team Konnersport. You play as the hero, Aiden Jackson, who has to endure the utterly unlikeable returning antagonist Devon Butler through the ups and downs of the team’s first season in the sport.

It’s difficult to make a truly immersive story mode out of a racing game, meaning that the player participation intermissions don’t always translate well for the cutscenes. For instance, retire from a dominant lead of a race while Butler is outside the points? The cutscene will have Butler laughing at you, smug as he is the one ‘delivering for the team’, context be damned!

Add in the extra ingredients of dealing with the media as the likeable team owner Andreo Konner, playing to the ego of sponsor (and Devon’s father) Davidoff Butler, and it’s a reasonably interesting way to while away a few hours of immersing yourself in an overly dramatic Hollywood-esque version of Formula 1.

There’s also a secondary storyline involving female Formula 2 racer Callie Mayer, meaning the player also gets to dabble in the F2 cars for some of the racing scenarios.

Aside from Braking Point, there’s the addition of the Qatar and Las Vegas Grands Prix circuits. While Las Vegas is a forgettable street circuit, somewhere stuck between the characteristics of Singapore and Miami, the Lusail circuit instantly marks itself out as a fantastic addition.

Recreated using thousands of reference photos as well as photo data to recreate an accurate 3D model, both circuits offer two very different challenges. While Las Vegas is a finicky circuit with plenty of spots where the car feels cumbersome and awkward, Lusail is hugely enjoyable, although took a while to learn due to the desert landscape not offering much in terms of landmarks.

Be sure to check out that final sector and see how brave you can be! More serious racers will definitely want to have track limits switched on for this one…

Along with the new tracks, other recent tracks are included – Shanghai, Paul Ricard, and Portimao are also included. Pity Hockenheim hasn’t been refreshed for inclusion, however…

In terms of racing scenarios, the game also includes red flag stoppages. It took a while to figure out how to trigger one (a fellow reviewer finally managed it by parking sideways across the racing line during one of our races!) but the process is quite simple.

Players are kicked back out to a menu to select their strategy for the remainder of the race, giving you the chance to have damage repaired or change tyres, before the game resets to the grid for the rest of the race. While a nice, realistic feature to include, it seems like a feature that could be abused by players who feel like having a race reset…

While Codemasters don’t refer to an overhaul of the AI system, the relentless stupid aggression of last year’s game has been refined. Drivers will race and go wheel to wheel, but will yield in positions where you would expect – unlike last year. After some 10 hours of gameplay against the AI on a level of 85, I didn’t have a single moment of frustration with how they raced me.

F1 2023 Screenshot 3
F1 2023 Screenshot 3

How do F1 2023’s cars handle?

While the new F1 2023 game hasn’t introduced anything groundbreakingly essential in terms of visuals, navigation, or content, it’s in the car’s handling physics that the developers have clearly pulled off something special.

A major criticism of F1 2022 was the ridiculous traction issues that patches only tempered, rather than fixed. The throttle had to be treated like a wounded animal, because the slightest touch would result in you facing the wrong way.

However, Codemasters have taken on board the very loud and public complaints that spoiled the experience and enjoyment of last year’s game to create a far more realistic driving model. Taking feedback from the real F1 teams and drivers, Anthony Davidson was brought in as a consultant to help refine the physics.

Having read similar blurbs in press material before, I was skeptical of the claims of improvement – until I actually drove the car. Using my Logitech G29 and the same throttle saturation and linearity as last year, I continuously found myself losing buckets of time on the exits of corners, simply because I was treating the throttle with the same level of caution as last year.

Having spent a year dulling engine torque through short-shifting and gentle squeezes of the throttle, F1 2023 boasts near the same level of grip as the gluey F1 2020 offering. While you can’t stamp on the loud pedal with wild abandon, it is possible to be far, far more aggressive than previous – even if it does take a while for your brain to accept the very thing you have probably trained yourself out of with last year’s game.

Driving in the rain is now a joy, for similar reasons, the cars simply grip far more. And, wet or dry, moments where the car steps out or goes sideways are actually catchable. While not as driftable as the likes of Gran Turismo or Assetto Corsa, for obvious reasons, you will feel like an absolute hero with some of the saves that are possible on this game.

While I haven’t played the game on a controller, the improvements will apparently be just as evident for pad players thanks to the introduction of Precision Drive, “allowing more control, precision, and finesse thanks to a controller technology rewrite”.

Kerbs are also attackable, although you can’t get too greedy. Going too far over the kerbs will result in you bottoming out and ‘monorailing’ along the top of it. Depending on the corner, you can find yourself being thrown off into the gravel, as I found out at the high-speed Mastersbocht at Zandvoort!

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What’s the verdict on F1 2023?

F1 2023 addresses many of the problems that ’22 had, making for a far more refined game that actually feels finished. While online multiplayer races frequently suffered from momentary lag that resulted in my real-life opponents materialising directly in front or behind me, I’ll give the benefit of the doubt that the servers will be in a much better position once the game is properly available to the public.

Racing without spinning or having to concentrate 100% on not squeezing the throttle a smidge too much is back on the menu, making for a far more enjoyable experience.

While F1 2022 felt promising but unfulfilling, F1 2023 has corrected the most fundamental flaw a game can have – this game is actually properly fun to drive, and race.

With the old reliable F1 2020 starting to feel quite dated, and stuck in the old regulations, gamers will finally have a worthy replacement.

F1® 23 will release across PlayStation®5, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation®4, Xbox One, and PC via EA App, Epic Games Store, and Steam on June 16, 2023.

To keep up to date on the latest F1® 23 news, be sure to follow the official Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube channels.

Check out our video review below, with onboard footage from the new Las Vegas circuit and some wheel-to-wheel racing in Qatar!