So we've finally arrived at the end of a season that has seen Max Verstappen and Red Bull dominate like no driver & team has ever done before. This despite the fact that F1's regulations changed last year and they heavily tweaked them again this year. So does Codemaster's sim reflect those changes? The simple answer is yes! So can you emulate Max? Can you beat Max? It's your choice, here's your chance.
Although I didn't play F1 22 extensively I appreciated the work the handling of the cars had received, and particularly the engine characteristics, grip levels and the AI driver behaviour, which at times became almost too polite compared to their real-life counterparts. The improvements have continued this year, as has the inclusion of a range of supercars to drive, including the Aston Martin Vantage and Mercedes-AMG GT Black Safety cars.
Once again the ubiquitous career mode (solo or co-op) features heavily and is probably what most people buy an F1 game for, but oddly, the dramatised story mode Braking Point takes pole position in the menu. “F1 World” is a new section that replaces "F1 Life", which contains a veritable truckload of modes and features; Play, a tab that hosts various other options including; Series (mini series with objectives that earn upgrades featuring F1, F2, your own F1 World car and the various supercars in the game), Solo & Multiplayer Events, Ranked Multiplayer, Goals, Grand Prix (Single race or custom series with either your own F1 World car, or any from F1 23, F2 2022 or F2 2023), Multiplayer Grand Prix (browse sessions or create your own), Time Trial (practice in any of the F1 23, F2 2022, F2 2023 or supercars on any of the 26 circuits) and F1 Sim Racing (for the more serious racers out there), Garage, Compendium, Customisation (of your driver, race & casual wear, car liveries, badges and My Place), Trophies and Showroom (where you can view any of the car models featured in the game.) Basically, if that hasn't put you into a coma, there's a lot to see and do.
F1 23 is about as n00b-friendly as any sim driving game has ever been. Featuring fully adjustable AI driver level, brake assist, anti-lock brakes and traction control settings that mean if you can't find a level to suit you then you're probably playing the wrong genre. Codemasters have even given you the option to remove the halo centre support (above), so if, like me, you love driving from the cockpit view, but hate the halo support slap bang in front of you then it's no longer a problem.
With all the assists off F1 23's cars are absolute beasts to drive‐just as they should be. They feel light, nimble and incredibly powerful, and real care needs to be taken when applying the throttle. The Ego game engine vitally provides the smooth 60fps action we've come to expect from Codemasters games. The designers have simulated the huge torque of the modern F1 power units and you can really control the attitude of the car by mixing throttle and brakes. "Rotating" a car with the throttle to make it straighten up coming out of a bend or oversteer if you've gone too deep into a corner is now a comfortably doable manoeuvre. If the cars are too much with all the assists turned off, the settings are subtle enough to still make driving enjoyable, without feeling like you're being "nannied" or by having control snatched away from you like many driving games have in the past.
It's noticeable that some, but not all of the modifications and improvements have been made to the tracks, so Barcelona has its chicane removed but Spa's changes are not apparent in-game. The Mercedes hasn't lost its "podless" look and reverted to more conventional side pods either, but some cars have had their latest liveries added.
If I'm going to have a moan, it'd be that the white lines marking track limits don't seem to mean much in the game. Rather than meaning you can drive anywhere within the limits, they seem to be rigidly enforced so that–bar a few exceptions–laps are deleted for the slightest deviation from the track. This is obviously a pain in the arsenal when you've only put half a tyre over the white line, and is also hugely unrealistic when you see what the real drivers have been allowed to get away with this season!
Cosmetically, the Codemasters (now EA/Codemasters of course) F1 games have always looked exceptional as far as the cars and circuits are concerned, but I have to say the driver likenesses are excellent, easily as good and maybe better than FIFA's. There's no better showcase for the car and character models than the previously-mentioned Braking Point, a story-based companion to your F1 career that is in its 2nd season, having started in F1 22. The character models really look amazing in the cut scenes, although Sky Sports F1's Natalie Pinkham (below, right) might not agree... Braking Point season 2 is an intense, dramatised tale of an ambitious young F1 driver (Aiden Jackson) and his various struggles and rivalries, particularly with his sneaky, daddy's boy team-mate Devon Butler (whose Daddy just happens to be the team owner… I wonder where the inspiration for that came from?) The story drops you into the action as you take control of Aiden's Konnersport car at various points, but also have to make the team owner Andreo Konner's vital, destiny-changing decisions at others. Later you'll also race as Devon and rising F2 star Callie Mayer. You may not be a fan of this feature of the game if you're only here for the sim aspect, but honestly, if you ignore it you'll definitely be missing out.
F1 23's multiplayer is as good as ever, and as we've recommended before: join an Xbox Club if you take your racing seriously, as randoms and trolls can spoil any open race. You can set up a lobby to be open or for friends/invite only and set every possible option including having damage and collisions on/off. As for the split screen mode, well we've had some fun with it but the frame rate seems to have inexplicably degraded since last year's game.
The game carries more info than ever before, including realistic telemetry that's actually useful - if you get that deep into the simulation side of the game. Racenet offers Time Trial analysis, League Racing and real-time push notifications of upcoming events. Tech Talk features patch notes and the Max Verstappen Pro Challenge (which allows you to compare your lap times to the best drivers in the world.)
To finish up, as I mentioned earlier F1 World has a "Garage" section where you can upgrade your F1 World car, like a generic F1 model that you can use in your career mode, complete with customised, upgradeable parts and sponsors. Basically, anything you do in F1 23 seems to unlock more items or cash to use on your very own F1 car. I could spend an awful lot of time here—if I actually had the time.
Other than a couple of typos (one in the subtitles) and the over-strictness regarding track limits it's hard to find fault with this year's F1 game, and racing games don't get much better than F1 23. Despite its apparent limitations, playing it through the summer has been great fun, and the inclusion of F2 and the small but relevant selection of Supercars has supplied just enough variation to keep me–an inveterate Forza and Gran Turismo fan–happy.