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Saturday, December 2, 2023

F1 23 Review

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After roughly 940 million kilometres, the Earth has reached the point on its 12-month celestial march around the sun where it’s time for another Formula 1 game. Fitting, perhaps, considering I feel like I’ve driven roughly 940 million kilometres in this series over the past decade-and-change. Jokes aside, it’s a testament to the incredible robustness of Codemasters’ brand of open-wheel motorsport magic that climbing back into the cockpit each year remains a pleasure, and F1 23 is no exception. Alongside noticeably improved handling for the new-era cars, F1 23 also adds the next chapter of the Braking Point story mode introduced in F1 2021 – plus a new reward-based progression system with daily, weekly, and seasonal goals. The result is plenty to keep us busy, even if your personal mileage may vary substantially depending on your taste in both curated, solo campaigns and live service-style game modes.

Last season’s sweeping regulation changes ushered in a field full of brand-new F1 cars, and with their bigger wheels and tyres they were the best-looking cars the sport had seen in some time. However, they were also the heaviest cars in the championship’s history. In F1 22 this translated to a model that made manhandling that additional bulk quite tricky. Relearning the limits of these new cars was admittedly an absorbing challenge, but it wasn’t always a fun one; there was definitely a fickleness to the way the cars had a tendency to both understeer coming into corners and oversteer while trying to throttle out of them.

Driveability has improved dramatically.


In F1 23, driveability has improved dramatically. There’s still a sensation of bulk here in the hefty new-era cars, but they feel considerably more cooperative; grippier and more stable, especially clipping kerbs. Better still, for those of you without a wheel there’s a truly excellent intuitiveness to the game pad controls this year. This was most evident to me while navigating slow corners in narrow street circuits and snapping out of early slides when getting on the throttle a little too hard. I don’t know if I’ve ever really been able to catch oversteer so effectively on a humble analogue stick in any F1 game, ever. F1 23 is easily the best the F1 series has ever felt on a traditional controller. The cars feel lively and dangerous, but they respect your commands. It’s like walking an obedient Dobermann through a butcher’s shop.

Brakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo

Braking Point 2 is the continuation of the story Codemasters kicked off in F1 2021 and, despite the fact its 17 chapters ultimately only lasted me a few sessions over a couple of days, it’s definitely my favourite part of F1 23.

For the purposes of a good yarn, Braking Point 2 adds a fictional eleventh team called Konnersport to the grid (much like we’ve been doing ourselves in My Team mode since F1 2020). The upshot here is that it seems to have resulted in a story with a bit more substance this time around. Emotion and conflict both run a little higher than I would suspect might have been possible within the bubble of an existing team with real-world sponsors. Also, while Braking Point 2 may move to a predictable enough conclusion, I was pleasantly surprised to be caught unawares by at least a couple of unexpected developments.

While Braking Point 2 may move to a predictable enough conclusion, I was pleasantly surprised to be caught unawares by at least a couple of unexpected developments.


While the original Braking Point concentrated on the chalk-and-cheese driving pair of rookie Aiden Jackson and retiring Dutch journeyman Casper Akkerman, Braking Point 2 broadens its lens. The focus here is really the whole Konnersport team, from the drivers (Jackson and his long-time nemesis Devon Butler) to likeable team principal Andreo Konner. Also in the frame is Davidoff Butler, Devon’s father and the CEO of Konnersport’s primary sponsor – plus up-and-coming F2 driver Callie Mayer, who’s being managed by Akkerman.

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As with the original Braking Point, the events in Braking Point 2 are a mix of scenarios with specific challenges to achieve as Jackson, Mayer, and even Devon Butler himself. Some events are full races but most are mid-race situations where you may find yourself asked to finish ahead of specific drivers or teams, salvage or defend your position after dealing with some bad luck, or capitalise on some smart strategy. Overachieving this time around can earn you bonus objectives, and doing so ranks you up within the story mode to unlock new responses to press questions and internal staff queries, but it doesn’t change the overall story – just minor side stories and conversations along the way. That said, I really like the structure; I appreciate the variety and I enjoy having goals. Make up so many spots. Don’t finish behind so-and-so. Maybe I just like being bossed around.

Perhaps surprisingly considering his role in F1 2021, Jackson takes a bit of a backseat in Braking Point 2. This actually may be for the best as I found him even harder to warm to this time around, although some of that may be to do with the fact he’s still probably the least fleshed-out character. We learned very little about Jackson in the first Braking Point and we learn even less here. The spotlight instead has shifted to the ambitious Mayer and the smarmy Devon Butler. Intriguingly, while his stint as Braking Point’s heel continues, Devon easily emerges from Braking Point 2 as its most interesting and layered character.

Braking Point 2’s cutscenes are a big improvement over the original and the facial performance capture in particular is far stronger. The interview sequences make for some clever script segues but I do wonder whether it would’ve benefited from a more documentary-style, fly-on-the-wall approach to the dramatic scenes also. The inability to prod the mode with the team you actually chose in the original is a minor miss, but it seems like it would’ve been an easy win for immersion’s sake. As it stands, the Braking Point 1 recap has Jackson and Akkerman wearing Alfa Romeo gear – in my game two years ago they drove for Haas.

The World is Now Enough

The other big new addition in F1 23 is F1 World, which is a standalone mode that appears to be built on the bones of the naff, lifestyle and apparel focused F1 Life mode from F1 22. You could probably describe F1 World as a secondary career mode where, instead of taking on traditional championship seasons, you complete a range of daily, weekly, and seasonal goals and races to earn rewards and upgrade your F1 World car.

I don’t really know what to make of F1 World, but I do know I keep bouncing off it. I can certainly appreciate the appeal of a mode more suited to dipping in and out for short bursts of F1 action than the more time-consuming full race weekends in the normal career mode, but I’m just not attracted to the upgrade loop that comes alongside it.

Upgrades in F1 World come in the form of miscellaneous and eccentric parts and performance boosters, like brakes that will make my tyres last a tiny bit longer – but only on North and South American racetracks. Or a bloke called Robert who will make my engine more powerful for 60 seconds after I make a pitstop, like some kind of motorsport warlock.

There’s an elegance in having what’s essentially an evolving quick play mode all housed under a single umbrella that rewards you for time spent, but there’s a mobile game tone here that I’m just not sure I have the constitution for. If you’re in the same boat, the traditional career and My Team modes remain present. Just know they’re essentially the same as last year, only with some extra tracks: Lusail and Las Vegas. It’s hard to say what kind of race the Vegas Strip street course will make for in real life this November but it’s a cracking-looking track in F1 23, daubed in a busy neon background and brimming with verticality just beyond the track boundaries. It’s extremely eye-catching.

Verdict

F1 23 is a far heartier package than F1 22, with 26 tracks, the enjoyable next chapter of the Braking Point story mode that began in F1 2021, and – for players who love to recline back into the couch and race – the best gamepad handling in the series, ever. The racing-focused secondary career mode F1 World is also likely to be a step in the right direction after last year’s F1 Life for some, although it’s equally probable its arcade-inspired, loot-based upgrade system will be divisive amongst traditionalists.

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