The announcement of F1 22 last week was a big moment in the racing calendar, and it came with the confirmation of something that at first sounded totally outlandish.
The F1 Life hub will see players be able to "unlock and show off supercars, clothing, accessories, and more". That includes driving the supercars in a new Pirelli Hot Lap mode.
While exciting, this is a huge risk for Codemasters as it puts F1 22 in a realm it isn't really used to... Direct comparison with other games.
Existing on its own
The Formula 1 series from Codemasters has consistently been among the best-rated sports games around. The main reason for this is its strong single-player modes that let players build from the back of the grid to the top.
The Codemasters game is the only game that has every F1 car and every track from the current season, and benefits from that in an interesting way.
Sure, you can get mods into Assetto Corsa, and rFactor 2 has its own Formula Pro car, but what those games add in terms of realism they lose in accessibility and career mode options.
The F1 series' balance of accessibility with a pinch of realism is what makes it so special. iRacing's version of the Mercedes W12, released last year, showed just how hard a true sim F1 game would be.
As a result, the F1 game kind of exists outside of comparison. While Gran Turismo and Forza go toe-to-toe, iRacing and rFactor 2 fight it out for sim supremacy, F1 stands alone.
Thanks to F1 Life, it won't any longer.
Supercars are the bread and butter for almost every racing game. From Lamborghini Huracans and Audi R8s, nearly every racer you can think of has at least a handful of supercars.
While we don't yet know if players can race these cars or just do the Pirelli Hot Laps, the ability to drive these will put the spotlight on Codemasters' handling and physics in a way it hasn't been before.
Players will be able to compare F1 22 to Gran Turismo 7, Forza Motorsport 7, or even Assetto Corsa. With tracks like Spa and Monza readily available in those games too it will be a very direct comparison. And not one that the F1 engine is likely to hold up well too.
We have long-praised the Formula 1 games for accessible but challenging F1 cars. However, that toned-down vibe doesn't mesh well with cars that are already more user-friendly.
Stepping out of the comfort zone
Codemasters has built its current reputation off two genres of racing: Rally and Formula 1.
One thing notably missing from that is supercars!
The recent instalments of GRID are the only Codies games where you would find an Audi R8 or Porsche 911. While those games are enjoyable, they do not stand up well in comparison with GT7 or AC when it comes to feel and feedback from the car.
Gran Turismo 7 has been tweaking its physics since release, trying to get the perfect blend for its cars. This is not something Codemasters is likely to be able to do with its supercars.
With brand new F1 cars for 2022, there is already a huge challenge to get 10 fresh cars with their own handling nuances into the game. We often see post-release updates to handling and physics that bring the Codemasters version of F1 more into line with the real thing. Can they afford to do that with supercars if the initial model is a little off?
If they do, will it bite into their ability to keep the core of the F1 game strong?
A big gamble
There is a lot at stake for Codemasters and EA in F1 22.
The new F1 cars must deliver as the main attraction of the game. The series is evolving toward the tastes of its new owner, something that fans have been nervous about ever since the first rumours of a Codemasters takeover started swirling.
As FIFA and Madden players can attest to, the EA annual sports games are not in the best state right now. This is while F1 has been a shining light for the single-player sports experience. Adding more cars, along with "lifestyle" content that draws away from the on-track experience is a big, bold, and risky step.
If Codemasters gets this wrong, especially if it is perceived as pushing more microtransactions, then the backlash could be severe.
We've already seen the swift pushback to Gran Turismo 7's microtransaction nudging in the early stages of that game. Polyphony rowed back and gave into the fan pressure. That is not something we have seen EA do before, and it could lead to a souring of the relationship between Codemasters and its loyal and growing user base.
Of course, F1 Life could also be a smash hit. A chance for Codemasters to flex its muscle and create road cars to a high degree of fidelity and with a realistic handling model.
It could just be the first step toward a whole new world either within the F1 game or spun off into a new standalone game.
We hope the gamble pays off for Codemasters, but if F1 22 struggles to capture the new generation of F1, the blame will be placed squarely on the shoulders of F1 Life.