As Formula 1's popularity continues to soar, F1 23 marks EA's earliest release of its annual racing simulator offering. This year is all about improving the core foundation of the sim, bringing back a drama-filled story mode, and improving upon its social experience with the new F1 World hub. The real question is, with car technology remaining mostly unchanged from the prior season, is F1 23 worth the upgrade cost or is it just a roster update covered by a shiny coat of fresh carbon fiber? Let's dig into it.
Drama returns to Braking Point
Netflix really turned the Formula 1 world upside down when it debuted Drive to Survive several years ago, offering a behind-the-scenes look at the world's premier racing series. While much of its stories are likely exaggerated and finely tuned to showcase as much drama as possible, it is also at least in part responsible for the creation of the Braking Point story mode. First appearing in F1 21, Braking Point follows rookie driver Aiden Jackson as he makes his mark on the world's grandest circuits. While Braking Point took a year off in last year's F1 22 release, it is now back and sees Aiden pairing up with his rival, Devon Butler, on a brand-new team. If that's not straight out of a Formula 1 soap opera script, I don't know what is.
Not only do you step into the racing suit of Aiden, you'll also take turns making decisions as the new team boss of Konnersport Racing. Your decisions off the track will have an impact on team reputation, morale, and technological advancement. Oh, and the team is of course heavily funded by Devon Butler's father, providing the already cocky driver more ammunition to play the spoiled rich kid driver. No relation to any real world father-son teams intended, I'm sure.
Braking Point can be an entertaining distraction from the more serious racing modes on offer, but it also comes with unique challenges. To maximize dramatic effect, you're usually thrust into the middle of a race and given specific goals to accomplish. This can be a tough ask, with unknown tracks, unfamiliar cars, and at times frankly outrageous goals. In one of the early chapters you take the seat of Callie Mayer, a rising F2 star, in Zandvoort. While this is a familiar track to most F1 racers, the handling of the F2 car seemed clumsy and at times downright broken. This made the goal of winning the race from 12th position after a Ferrari-esque pit stop maneuver more annoying than it should have been.
In the end, whether you'll enjoy Braking Point or not will depend heavily on how much you enjoy role-playing an F1 team during a season of Netflix's Drive to Survive. I found it to be a welcome return that provides a bit of variety from my usual, more clinical, racing experience. If you think that Drive to Survive is a soap opera aimed at creating drama out of thin air, then Braking Point will have you cringing. Fortunately, there are plenty of other ways for you to hit the track in F1 23.
The F1 World is yours
A new addition to the F1 series is F1 World. This hub replaces F1 Life, last year's poor attempt at creating a centralized place to participate in race and race-related events. With F1 World, EA is introducing what appears to be a more fleshed out central area to launch solo and multiplayer activities. Each activity will reward a variety of different experience points, tech upgrades, team staff contracts, boosts, performance mods, reputation levels, and ultimately impact your license level. If that sounded like a lot of things to keep track of, it is. Ultimately, your license level is what determines which series you can participate in and who you will be facing off against in ranked online modes. When you initially begin in F1 World, you start at a tier where each series offers assists, has crash damaged disabled, and allows you to get familiar with the onslaught of upgrades and points coming your way
For more advanced drivers, there's no way to skip those lower tiers, so be prepared to breeze past much of the early content. You'll quickly find yourself upgrading four different areas of your car that improve performance, and handing out lucrative contracts to four staff areas, which similarly improve your level and unlock new tiers. F1 World isn't likely to appeal to players who want the full race experience, as most of the events focus on participating in shorter races. Throughout those races, you will complete certain requirements, and grow your skills as a driver. An Australia-specific series entry, for example, is aimed at weening drivers off the racing line assist. A noble goal, but poorly implemented, as the first session included the racing line and the second simply turned it off. Not much of an actual training regimen there, but I suppose it offers a bit of variety.
For those that enjoy multiplayer events, F1 World offers not only online series, but an overhauled ranked system with daily, weekly, and seasonal competitions. It features divisions along with promotions and demotions depending on your performance. Along the way, you'll keep earning Podium Pass XP, tech and staff upgrades, and a number of other currencies used to customize and improve your car and living arrangements. Yes, you can still customize your apartment with furniture and stock your garage with cars. A fun addition is the Compendium, a sticker album that can be filled with collectible images of Formula 1 history.
Overall, I find F1 World to be an improvement over last year's F1 Life iteration, but I dearly hope that EA will stick with something and continue to improve it in future releases, rather than reinventing the wheel every year.
A substantial upgrade package
To me, the core of the F1 series will always be the career mode. Particularly the co-op career mode. Fortunately, F1 23 brings with it a substantial upgrade package that impacts all areas of the game. While career mode doesn't see any highlight-worthy additions or changes outside of stability improvements, the core racing package of F1 23 has received a number of updates that are quite noticeable. Based on actual F1 team feedback, the handling and physics engine has been refined. Not counting the poor experience I had in the F2 car, racing in an F1 car still feels incredible, especially in VR. With force feedback provided by a wide variety of supported wheels and pedals, the racing experience is exhilarating. Throughout my time with F1 23, I could feel when I was about to lose control of the car, enough so that I was still able to catch it and recover. There's nothing quite like a near miss that turns into an amazing recovery drive. Overtaking particularly feels more rewarding in F1 23, and I found the claim of better traction when braking, accelerating, and cornering to be true.
Visually, F1 23 also continues to impress. Whether racing at near 4K ultra-wide resolution or in a cranked up HP Reverb G2 virtual reality headset, the world flies by in spectacularly smooth fashion. The color and lighting system has received some upgrades to create a more life-like experience, and it shows. What stood out most to me regarding lighting were the helmet reflections during night races in Singapore and on the new Las Vegas track. This may be unique to VR, but the visuals inside a helmet in first-person VR view are as close as I'll ever get to driving a race car at its top speed.
Two new circuits, the aforementioned Las Vegas and the new Losail International Circuit in Qatar, join the calendar in F1 23. Commentary is provided once again by David Croft or Alex Jacques, with Natalie Pinkham providing interview footage on occasion. F1 23 does improve on its predecessor with a number of these upgrades, and EA has managed to succeed in improving on F1 22's strongest elements.
What's that strange rattling sound?
While F1 23 certainly does take strides in some areas and brings back a reasonably entertaining story mode, many long-standing issues of the series remain. Race commentary, including engineer feedback and post-race interviews, are still often far removed from reality. There's nothing quite like finishing a race in the points after starting at the back of the grid, only to hear about how disappointing the result was. Or conversely, winning a race and then hearing Crofty discuss what a mess that was for the team. EA as a whole has not yet quite managed to fully align commentary with the actual experience of races.
Mission goals in both F1 World and Braking Point can be frustratingly unrealistic given the scenario, and there is no path through failure. Not meeting a requirement for a story mission requires you to replay it, no matter what. It's very obvious that you're just playing mini races throughout a heavily scripted campaign. Driver AI still seem impervious to penalties, and damage incurred during collisions seems to unevenly fall on the player's side. F1 23 adds red flags to the game once again, which should result in more race strategy options, but I have not yet encountered one. Safety cars, yellow flags, and retirements not caused by the player are far and few between.
Despite some of those shortcomings and the fact that F1 23 doesn't fix issues that have persisted in the series for years, there is value here. Those that enjoy the Braking Point cinematic storyline, or are itching to improve their license tiers in single and multiplayer events, will find a lot of traction. For co-op and career mode enthusiasts, F1 23 offers much of the previous year's game, but bundles in some solid improvements under the hood.
F1 23 is an improvement over last year's iteration, but not nearly as impactful of an upgrade. Here's hoping that the F1 series can continue to build on its successes and take a page out of Red Bull's recent Formula 1 dominance: incremental updates are more valuable than wholesale changes.
This review is based on the PC Steam release. The game key was provided by the publisher for review consideration. F1 23 is available on June 13 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and PC.
- Braking Point returns with enjoyable drama
- F1 World offers decent variety of activities
- Graphics, audio, and VR performance are excellent
- Many small yet noticeable improvements under the hood
- Driver AI remains an issue
- In-game currency overload
- At the core it's very much the same game as F1 22