Can F1 23 reignite the passion after a poor year?

F1 22 isn't a bad game, but Codemasters' most recent Formula 1 title was a letdown all the same. From a copy-paste single-player experience to the lack of Braking Point and the terribly misjudged F1 Life, it all just fell flat.

All those less-than-stellar features were combined with the understeery new F1 regulations and an expansive preview run that saw the game picked apart, played, and judged before it even hit the shelves. As a result, F1 22 has had one of the shortest cycles in recent memory.

With F1 23 finally announced and just a month away, can the game breathe new life into the community and restore the good name of the Codemasters series?

A giant in the making

It's a worn-out phrase at this point, but Formula 1 has never been so popular. The somewhat over-dramatised Drive To Survive series along with 2021's stellar championship fight between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton ignited interest in the sport like never before.

F1 has always done a good job of giving its drivers space and time to connect with the audience. Press conferences have always been a part of TV broadcast and now with things like Grill The Grid on F1's YouTube channel fans feel more connected to the stars of F1 than ever before.

F1 23 at Miami - Work in Progress image
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That should make for a wildly popular official video game series. Especially when you throw in the impressive balance that Codemasters has struck between accessibility for controller players and the suite of assists that make the game fun for new racers while also maintaining a degree of realism for the elite racers out there.

But bad press is never good for a game. When prospective players pop into a Facebook group or Reddit to see if the game is good and the community is in disarray and saying how poor the game is then it will only turn them off. When the user reviews are poor because the long-standing community feel left behind, because they see the lack of movement in game modes, it all stymies the growth of the franchise.

A breath of fresh air?

F1 23's pre-launch campaign got off to a bizarre start, with the "car launch" for Konnersport Racing for Braking Point and then tease after tease before we finally got a full trailer.

There was plenty to love about the trailer though. From Braking Point 2 and red flags to the inclusion of Las Vegas from launch, it all looks promising. But as ever the only real proof will be in the playing of it.

F1 World, revealed in a press release rather than the trailer, sounds like an interesting development, offering a mix of challenges to unlock new liveries, helmets, and unlock car upgrades.

Aiden JAckson returns in Breaking Point for F1 23
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But what every release has left out is the most popular part of the game, career mode and My Team. The biggest issue with F1 22 for many players was just how similar the single-player modes felt to previous years.

It's hard to innovate a formula that already works. The Codies' single-player experience is a good one, but with the seasons feeling repetitive and no fresh aspect being marketed for F1 23, players will rightly feel disheartened about F1 23 already.

Of course red flags are great, but they should have been in the game for years by now, and were in the games on the Xbox 360 before disappearing. Outside of that it looks like race day and the driver HQ will feel pretty similar to previous years, which is a bit of a problem.

Sharper members of the F1 community will have noticed the complete bypassing of any mention of anti-cheat as well. Something that has become a real issue for the competitive league racers out there.

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Return to glory

It's not so long ago that the F1 series was in a purple patch. The games were getting better and better, and with the introduction of My Team in F1 2020 the series hit a true zenith. Its popularity exploded thanks in part to real-life drivers jumping onto the game during lockdowns, and while there was a bit of a plateau in F1 2021 nothing really prepared us for the drop in F1 22.

Naturally, some fingers have been pointed at EA, who purchased Codemasters at the height of the series power and are now fully in charge. But the blame can't totally be laid at their feet.

Max Verstappen & Charles Leclerc going wheel-to-wheel in F1 23
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Codemasters has tried to please everyone for a long time. From pad players to wheel racers, young & new fans to seasoned pros, and now PS4 players and high-end PC racers, and it's held them back. Both the physics and graphics engines are starting to show their age and are in desperate need of upgrades. But these upgrades are unlikely to happen until the PS4 & Xbox One get fully left behind. Even then, it doesn't solve the balancing act to remain accessible but real.

The regulation changes to F1 cars for the start of the 2022 season were undoubtedly a massive challenge for Codemasters, and their understeery, lack-of-fun, style is not the fault of Codemasters, but these cars just made the game feel less thrilling than previous titles.

George Russell's Mercedes in F1 23
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Some of that may be cleared up by handling improvements. The traction changes are particularly promising for those that aren't prepared to sink thousands of hours in honing muscle memory just for F1.

There is a world in which F1 23 is a step forward, a return to the glory days. But it looks more likely that it will only be that for a portion of players.

Revised safety ratings should help clean up online play, F1 World could well be a gateway to F1 Ultimate Team and the revolution of the series. But if you're a career mode player then the outlook under EA is bleak. Just ask a FIFA or Madden player.

The proof of F1 23 will be in the playing, and we don't have to wait too long to find out if this game gets the series back on track or continues its decline. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

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