Cards on the table — I haven’t played an F1 game in some years, so you’re getting this review from a newbie perspective. Having said that, my partner is a huge F1 fan, who understands the rules and regulations, and how the car should drive and feel, so this helped me review the game from both angles. It also helped me see the difference in play when you compare someone new to the world of F1, with someone who has an in-depth knowledge of it.
Welcome! This column is part of a series in which members of the Tom's Guide staff share what they're playing and enjoying right now, with the goal of helping you find great games that you may have missed. Be sure to check out our previous entry, where we talked about how GTA Online just got its most useful update in years.
I wondered how far such a game could come over the years — things have changed to say the least. For those new to such a world, it’s much more than a Mario Kart-esque drive around, where you cut corners and knock the competition aside. There are rules which need to be followed, otherwise you risk penalties.
And the customization goes far beyond the car as well (although I'll cover the immense detail here later). You can manage your own team and build it up to success. There’s everything to consider, from financials, to time constraints to marketing and social media. It’s an in-depth experience, which requires time to understand and develop.
But before I break down exactly what F1 23 has to offer, know that immersion is what this game boasts above all. It promises a lifelike feel and realistic handling when driving cars — with or without a steering wheel. Precision Drive technology has been introduced to give more control when driving with a controller. Steering wheels have generally had an advantage as of late because of the added control in terms of the throttle and brake — and Precision Drive technology hopes to even out the field. My partner and I played F1 23 on a DualSense controller and I'll discuss the difference this makes.
The difference between F1 23 and previous versions
If you’re an avid F1 player, you’re going to be keen to know the new features it brings to the table. There are plenty of 2023 updates to start with, in terms of both the tracks and the cars.
First of all, you’ve got the option to race on the new Las Vegas and Qatar circuits. The first race in Vegas is due to take place in November this year, so you’ve got a chance to experience it before the drivers even do. Red flags have been brought back to the franchise again as well. Races can be red-flagged and temporarily stopped at any point due to serious safety concerns, adding more unpredictability and greater realism as you race. As this is something drivers face in real life, it only makes sense that it should be a part of the game.
Then there’s the aforementioned Precision Drive technology, to improve the precision on the throttle, brakes and steering when driving via a controller. Think of it as a substitute for the force-feedback you get from premium steering wheels, to make driving feel more real.
The handling and physics of the cars should see a general improvement too — EA announced ‘Veteran players will immediately notice a difference, as vehicle behavior in particular is more authentic thanks to three key areas of reworking: acceleration, braking, and cornering.’ Thanks to these adjustments, the feel of the car, from its grip on the road to the responsiveness of the engine, is more pronounced. It behaves exactly as it should in motion, even when you crash and take damage. A new 35% race distance has been added to the options as well when selecting the desired length of a full race. This provides a nice middle-man length to the previous 25% and 50% options.
Braking point returns
Another addition to F1 23 is the return of Braking Point; a story-mode of sorts that sees you play as ambitious driver Aiden Jackson in the Konnersport Butler F1 racing team. You face trouble with teammate Devon Butler, who can afford to be obnoxious and unpredictable thanks to his father funding the team through his company. Devon’s sister and F2 champion, Callie Mayer plays a part in this story when a personal issue throws everything into turmoil.
For me, Breaking Point is a great first step into this game if you have little understanding of the sport. It’s a linear storyline you can adjust to an extent by your actions and decisions, and there’s a lot more to it than just the racing. Between each circuit, you play as a different driver, and you get to peruse the news around your team and the F1 world — which is time-sensitive as well so you gain a history of the sport as you play. Plus there are social media posts to read up on to reflect your performance, some profiles of which are well-regarded in the industry. You can also open emails and answer calls between races too. Ultimately, it gives you a little break between consecutive races, but it’s a nice touch to make you feel more involved.
Cinematics help break up the time between events too; the quality of which I’ll admit I’ve seen better, but they get the job done. You also have the chance to get involved with media interviews, your responses to which affect your performance and reputation levels. Key decisions will need to be made throughout as part of managing the team as well. It’s a nice blend of all of the aspects of F1 23 without overwhelming. And it gives you a chance to experience the range the game has to offer.
Playing it myself, I found it quite difficult to complete the necessary tasks on the track at first, which was usually centered around achieving a certain position. My partner however was a natural, and found it easy to progress. Sometimes, he’d have laps to go with nothing to do. You can of course remove the driving assists to make things more challenging though, and there is the option of normal, challenging or hard settings from the start.
Braking Point could get a little confusing at times when you’re thrown into different drivers' shoes between the courses. But, it is good that F1 23 lets you experience the difference in cars between F1 and F2, so you’re more aware of the limits.
Those used to pure racing games may grow weary of toggling the additional bulletins between the races. But, if you enjoy taking the time to follow the story, it’s a theatrical addition to the game which shows some of the problems teams can experience behind closed doors.
For the real F1 enthusiasts, Career is the option to select in F1 23 — it’s been around in previous instalments and has been refined ever since.
In single or two-player mode, you get to start a career as a driver or run a team yourself, take part in F1 weekends across an entire season, or customize it just to the tracks you want. For each race, and in between, you can work to develop your car and the team's standing.
When it comes to track days, you’re given three practice sessions (which you can skip should you choose), leading to the qualifying stage and then the final race. Just as it is in reality, this gives you a chance to get used to your car and the circuit and make any final adjustments. You can also earn resource points by completing tasks during practice for further improvements.
You get to create your driver and team from scratch, everything from the driver number to your podium reactions. Then create your team or sign up with an existing one. Once you’re set up, you’re given an active calendar to showcase important dates, messages, and how things in your team currently stand. The detail is immense as always, not just in terms of what you can do to develop each of the R&D departments (aerodynamics, chassis, powertrain and durability), but also in how long such changes will take and the chances of success.
Should you opt to start your own team, the detail goes a step further as well. You get to choose your own sponsor, power unit supplier and teammate, which is where your budget comes into play. Media interviews are taken into account as well, which will have an impact on independent team morale. Plus personnel and marketing require attention on top of your R&D departments.
You can even assign activities in your calendar to fill free time, improving profit as well as team spirit. Ultimately, you’re given immense control over your team’s development, but if it’s a bit much, you can just stick to the driver career instead.
Personally, this is a lot of information if you’re wholly new to the sport. And a lot of it required explanations from my partner, truth be told. But, once you have that understanding down, it’s as realistic as an F1 experience comes and gives you an insight into the world far beyond just the racing.
Finally F1 World is another new mode you can play. Think of this as an alternative, connected version of Career, where you still get to develop your World car and create a customized hub for yourself, but you can quickly jump into single or online multiplayer mode on any tracks you choose to help develop your driving skills too. For instance, there’s a time trial option here to help you achieve faster lap times. There are limited seasonal challenges you can take on as well, which can reap rewards.
This is where you can hone your driving skills, encouraged by the upgrades you can earn to increase your car’s performance. You have the opportunity to upgrade the car itself as well as your team; upgrades varying in levels of rarity and the mods it brings along with it — increasing your overall Tech Level. The Tech Level then varies the performance of other cars on track too, so you can see roughly how you will compare.
It’s a way to get involved with customization within the game, but with a different route to the R&D department that comes with Career mode, and it does simplify things to an extent. Plus here you can peruse any trophies you’ve earned, as well as the Garage which contains F1 and F2 cars, as well as your own cars and supercars you’ve purchased. This mode was a little more suited for me at first, because it manages to simplify the customizations and provides alternative challenges to take on, but it still gives you the option of upgrading and progressing towards something. My partner and F1 fan, on the other hand, preferred the total immersion of Career mode.
Once you’re ready, you can then progress to League Racing mode, where you can compete with others online after creating an EA Racenet account. Although, you will need to subscribe to a payment plan to access this, as well as other online features via PlayStation Plus. There’s a general local multiplayer mode for additional local players too via split-screen or LAN. If you’re really into collecting F1 merchandise and customization, there’s even a store where you can purchase extras using ‘Pitcoin’ — a currency you can purchase directly.
What's it like to drive in F1 23?
Finally, how does it feel to drive in F1 23? On a DualSense controller, it’s likely as impressive as it can be. Resistance on the throttle as you drive is fed back through the adaptive triggers, and you can ease on the brake, meaning it’s not always full power on either option.
You do have better control thanks to the Precision Drive technology. And with different cars and different customizations, you can feel and see the difference in how each handles and corners, so you know the changes you make are making an overall difference. A steering wheel would likely still be better in my opinion — after all, you can be much more precise with two hands on a wheel, versus one thumb on the left stick. And force-feedback can add another level of realism.
One thing I found tricky was adjusting the race strategy and checking the car’s conditions mid-race. You need to select this table and make any changes necessary for the next pit stop while driving, which I found next to impossible. But, with practice and learning when best to access this menu, my crashes may prove less regular.
Should you drive or skip?
In short, if you love F1 — not just the racing, but the intricate decisions which go on behind the scenes — this is a great game. Priced at $69 (Amazon.com), it puts you in full control of managing a racing team, from engineering to marketing and budgeting. And when it comes to the racing, you’re getting an advanced simulation that reacts and handles as the car would on the track.
If F1 is new to you, there’s a chance to build something in developing your own car and a chance to improve your understanding of the F1 world at the same time. You might just become a fan yourself.