2023 marks the fourth consecutive year that I’m reviewing Codemasters’ annual Formula 1 game, with each one being notably harder to write than the last. As is tradition, F1 23 has brought with it a slew of mechanical upgrades which render this year’s iteration superior to the last, whilst remaining fundamentally unchanged to the extent that it’s once again hard to recommend to those that have played F1 22 in the 335 days between release dates.
As a near-lifelong Formula 1 fan who must watch every Grand Prix and its surrounding events – whether that’s Australia’s 2:30am Free Practice sessions, or pausing a hike to stream the race from my phone on a sunny Sunday afternoon – I guess I could categorise myself right within EA Sports’ target demographic for this game.
However, F1 23 continues to lay on the “live service” elements, with its Podium Pass (read: season pass) more deeply intertwined than ever into the core game. This year, outside of the Braking Point story and the now-standard Career and My Team modes, all of the game’s single- and multiplayer content is encapsulated within a mode called F1 World. Time Trials, ranked online matches, and curated “series” and “events” from Codemasters all fall under this umbrella, whereby you can earn rewards and upgrades for your personalised F1 car.
It makes for a much deeper and more meaningful experience – especially compared to last year’s rudimentary F1 Life – but there’s just something about the tiered upgrade system, where car components are ranked from Uncommon to Epic, and bonuses include “+24 tyre durability after completing 5 overtakes”, that feels so forced within the context of Formula 1. It worked wonders for Fortnite, though, and EA clearly wants to replicate those levels of engagement – and, in turn, income – with its annual sports series.
Thankfully, all of that gubbins can be totally ignored and, cynical as they may be, F1 23 can be enjoyed without delving into those systems; aside from a slight layer of abstraction over the online multiplayer components, they don’t detriment the overall experience.
And with that out of the way, what an experience!
It feels like the handling model has been completely revamped in the relatively short turnaround time since the previous entry. Obviously, I’ve never driven anything that even resembles a multi-million pound Formula 1 car, so I’m clearly no authority on the handling here, but F1 23 does a fantastic job of emulating the feeling described by the actual drivers and pundits of the sport. Even the movement of the driver’s steering wheel is animated more accurately than ever.
One downfall with previous games has been the difficulty to handle the cars on tracks with high speed, swooping corners using a controller. Sharp 90-degree bends, such as those at Baku and the ousted Russian Grand Prix, were fine, but corners in the first sector at Suzuka, or Maggots and Becketts at Silverstone, have always made me feel like I’m on the back foot while steering with the DualSense’s left stick. It’s hard to pinpoint how exactly, but the handling of F1 23′s cars feels so much more predictable while driving through these previously formidable sections in a way that I only thought possible while using a racing wheel.
Even with no assists enabled, oversteer from accelerating slightly too fast can be caught and corrected, and understeer from carrying too much speed into a corner can be corrected thanks to the precise controls where previous games – and particularly last year’s game – would’ve preferred to send you into an uncontrollable spin. This time, you’re punished with more realistic tyre wear and degradation, with visible debris collecting on your tyres when you run off the racing line adding another element of realism.
Finally, F1 2021′s Braking Point story mode returns with a more ambitious narrative sequel, albeit one that’s not flawless. This time, it doubles down on its Netflix inspirations with a documentary-style format and drama aplenty, but sadly falls short in the action department. There’s no dramatic battles for championship glory; rather you take control of four fictional characters associated with the fabricated midfield Konnersport team and, well, buckle up for some hyperbolic storytelling which almost resembles an ITV soap more than it does Drive to Survive.
Still, the scenarios themselves are enjoyable and it’s certainly worth sifting through the in-game emails, news articles and social media feed between events for the sake of enjoying the unique scenarios and additional context afforded to what could otherwise only be presented as a lifeless list of in-game challenges.
F1 23 (PlayStation 5) verdict
F1 23 is easily the best, most comprehensive Formula 1 tie-in to date, and it’s never been easier for me to recommend Codemasters’ annual entry. I’ve said it before in previous reviews, but there really is something in here for anyone and everyone that’s not already rinsed one of its recent predecessors. Regardless of your skill level, knowledge of the subject matter, or tolerance for live service games, there’s a good time to be had with F1 23.