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Through a change in formula, EA is looking to cement its status as one of F1’s official videogame creators. Can F1 23 use its drive for authenticity to take the franchise in a new direction?
EA’s acquisition of Codemasters in 2021 met with a lukewarm reception. News that F1 22 would now fall under the EA brand conjured monetisation concerns.
Instead, gamers received a product that still very much had the Codemasters touch: an F1 game built by fans for fans. While “F1 Life” was an example of monetisation, the rest of the game featured fantastic additions: adaptive AI, and supercars to name a couple. F1 22 as a continuation of an existing formula allowed EA and Codemasters to highlight the dominance the title has enjoyed since 2010 as the only licensed F1 game.
But EA’s game is no longer the sole offering for gamers. With the emergence of F1 Manager from Frontier Developments last year, it is now vital that F1 23 contains enough personality and unique features to warrant players choosing it over F1 Manager. Both games are of course vastly different, and the first build of F1 23 demonstrates that EA has recognised this.
Former F1 driver and Sky Sports F1 commentator Anthony Davidson and the F1 teams have been heavily involved in the design of the car mechanics this year. Their input very much shows. F1 23 marks a departure from the old formula and a beginning of a new era in modern F1 gaming.
Players of any F1 game from the 1990s onwards will know that all offerings have offered an “arcade” style feel at points. Depending on what settings were enabled, players could brake later into a corner than Daniel Ricciardo in his prime, confident the car would respond. In their previous offerings, Codemasters followed this concept, particularly with the 2017 to 2021 spec car.
That formula has gone in F1 23. EA highlighted significant changes to the car physics during the launch of the game, and that is highly evident in this first preview build. Tyres will no longer sustain heavy punishment into corners via optimistic braking. Instead, the car will slither into understeering wide, and players will need to fight to gain control. Needless to say in a race situation, time and positions will be lost.
In previous games losing tyre performance did not necessarily lead to a loss of car performance. Once again this formula has changed in F1 23. Car handling inertia and tyres is now more true to life. Extend your tyre stint too long, prepare to suffer the consequence of an ill-handling car. A lack of grip will result in understeer and oversteer, in a way that will give fans new respect for drivers in races struggling with tyres well past their best.
Similarly, players who enjoy taking to the kerbs must be careful. EA and Codemasters have made changes to the underfloor of the car, with more realism the target. The result sees cars bottoming out if a driver takes too much kerb, and will become challenging to steer.
Even gears have seen changes in F1 23. Racing games have a tough job of demonstrating how a car’s power is delivered. In older games, acceleration was standardised across all cars, lacking authenticity. While Codemasters has made progress in the area since taking over the franchise in 2010, F1 23 has seen the biggest jump yet. Gear changes and torque are now interconnected. The power delivery directly affects a gear change and is unique to every car on the grid. Gear changes even when in automatic setting feel important, particularly with ERS deployed.
These refinements show a real drive for authenticity. Making mistakes has become easier for veteran players, which is no bad thing. It also harks back to the former simulator games of the 1990s and early 2000s. Yet, it still provides an easy environment for new players to grow accustomed to F1 cars. Racing around Monaco and Singapore in game form just got more real.
Red Flags and Race Distances
As the debate in F1 rages over the use of red flags in races, F1 23 has also joined the party. Mirroring 2022’s F1 Manager, red flags have been reintroduced. Extreme weather or AI incidents can cause them offline. The most interesting impact of this will appear in multiplayer, as red flags will also be present here as well. Given the somewhat challenging nature of a minority of players, this is something to keep an eye on when multiplayer eventually opens.
Full red flag regulations apply with its introduction as you would expect, so players can try left field strategies such as fitting soft tyres and going for glory, or try and bring home a solid result if an unexpectedly high position.
EA and Codemasters have also delivered a new race distance mode. The standard 5-lap quick race remains, but the 35% race distance has been ported from Esports. This is a welcome addition, as provides a solid middle ground for races below 50% distance but not as low as 25%.
F1 and other driving game players are usually given two choices of experience. A steering wheel for authenticity, or a controller for more casual gaming. F1 23 looks to rectify that with the introduction of “Precision Drive”. A customisable setting that allows players to alter the sensitivity of the controls, the result so far is immediate.
Even in this first preview build, the difficulty the McLaren MCL60 suffers when steering into corners can be felt on even the most basic setting. Braking into the first corner off the line in Brazil, the car slithered, the steering heavy. The Red Bull by contrast proved highly responsive when cornering. All this could be felt via a PlayStation controller plugged into a gaming laptop. Players will love this experience.
For those in VR mode or who enjoy playing from the cockpit view, a massive change to the in-game steering wheel is instantly visible. Steering wheels have always been a tough nut to crack in F1 games. Mostly an afterthought, design has never been given too much attention. After the plethora of modes that appeared on them in recent seasons, Codemasters has taken a standardised approach, a black display with white text.
In F1 23, the formula has changed for the better. Colour greets you in the cockpit, showcasing all of the usual key information. But the layout is instantly more ergonomic and user-friendly. In previous years if players needed key information such as ERS battery remaining, a change of camera was likely needed. If more veteran players wish to spend a whole race in cockpit mode, is now more than feasible. The new steering wheel accurately replicates that of a real F1 car. A very minor change, but it benefits the entire experience.
A new formula of Authenticity
It is clear from just this first build that EA and Codemasters have placed authenticity at the centre of F1 23. From the car physics updates to the steering wheel input, a more realistic experience has been the aspiration.
What will be interesting to note going forward is how these changes will impact the more casual player. Slithering over a kerb or running wide from late braking is acceptable to a veteran player, but casual fans may need to spend time understanding the new game mechanics to get the best experience.
At this early stage, it looks like EA F1 23 could easily be the most authentic F1 experience to date. Watch this space.
Feature Image Credit: EA F1 23