F1 23 review - A fantastic racing sim that stops short of the podium's top step

F1 23 is easily one of the best racing-sims out there; however, its still a few steps short of reaching perfection (Image via Electronic Arts)
F1 23 is easily one of the best racing sims out there; however, its still a few steps short of reaching perfection (Image via Electronic Arts)

F1 23, the latest iteration of EA Sports' annual racing simulation franchise, is easily the best it has been in years. From the slick visual presentation, thanks to EA and DICE's proprietary Frostbite engine, to immersive sound design and an overwhelming suite of game modes, the latest entry in the F1 series is easily the best racing sim you can get for your money.

I'm not a huge fan of simulation racing games, with the only title in the genre I ever spent more than a hundred hours in being the PlayStation exclusive, Gran Turismo 7. However, despite my initial lack of enthusiasm, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly EA Sports' F1 23 got its hook in me.

While you won't get that arcade racing goodness of Need for Speed, Forza Horizon, or The Crew series (for obvious reasons), F1 23 does deliver what it's built for, a truly life-like Formula 1 racing experience. Although I enjoyed every single moment of my 40-hour-long session with the game, it's by no means perfect.


F1 23 is the pinnacle of driving simulation, with an authentic visual and audio design

Breathtaking visuals and art direction

One of the key aspects of any good racing sim is to blur the line between computer graphics and reality, making the experience truly immersive and, as a result, much more enjoyable and engaging. This is something F1 23 delivers to absolute perfection. The visuals, thanks to Codemasters' proprietary Ego engine, are immaculate.

I've always been an admirer of the Ego engine, its capabilities, as well as versatility. Although there have been a few duds - I'm looking at you, GRID (2019) - that make the engine look somewhat dated, with the right optimization and care, the engine shines and looks absolutely fantastic, something already demonstrated by games like Dirt Rally 2.0, GRID Legends and now EA Sports' F1 23.


Intuitive gameplay systems

While I was always enamored by the simulation experience of EA Sports' F1 series, I never got to try them out, partly due to my lack of interest in the simulation racing genre, but also since I often considered these games to have a steep learning curve. Fortunately, F1 23 wasn't that tough to get started with.

F1 23 features some really breathtaking visuals (Image via Electronic Arts)
F1 23 features some really breathtaking visuals (Image via Electronic Arts)

Yes, a few facets might overwhelm you at first, especially if you're not familiar with the genre. But if, like me, you have experience playing games like Forza Motorsport 7, Forza Horizon, and even Codemaster's very own arcade racer, the GRID series, you'll find many a number of details that will seem quite familiar, despite the thematic differences.

The intuitiveness of the game's controls and the gameplay systems are one of the most striking aspects of F1 23, leaving me hooked right from the get-go. Although there is complexity and depth within the game's customization and tuning options, for the most part, F1 23 is easily one of the most newcomer-friendly racing sim out there.


Immersive audio design

Another facet of the game that caught my attention was the immaculate audio design. From the ambient track audio serving as the backdrop during training and single-player races to the car sounds, everything is built to complement the game's aural presentation. I also liked the licensed soundtrack, with a varied list of music from different genres.

However, as with most of my racing titles, I did not spend much time listening to the game's soundtrack. Instead, I used my highly-curated and personalized racing playlist on Spotify as the game's background score.


F1 23's robust suite of single-player and online game modes

The immaculate campaign mode

While I understand racing games are best played online, with and against other players, I, among many others, really appreciate developers putting passion and heart into creating a robust single-player mode in their titles. I'm happy to say that F1 23 does not disappoint in that aspect. Instead, I'd claim the single-player career mode is easily the best feature of the entire game.

Cutscenes for the Breaking Point 2 are easily the best aspect of the single-player game mode of F1 23 (Image via Electronic Arts)
Cutscenes for the Breaking Point 2 are easily the best aspect of the single-player game mode of F1 23 (Image via Electronic Arts)

Similar to FIFA's "The Journey" story campaign, Codemasters and EA Sports' F1 23 features the return of "Breaking Point" campaign, complete with its own dedicated cutscenes and exclusive race modes. While my knowledge about Formula 1 and the real-life racers is as good as non-existent, I did enjoy the game's adherence to realism and how it portrays the real-life racers within the context of its campaign.

Coming fresh from games like Forza Horizon 5 and Need for Speed Unbound, I wasn't expecting much from the "narrative" aspect of the campaign, but boy, was I wrong. The story here feels like a genuinely good narrative drama replete with some really high production value cutscenes and an intriguing plot that kept me hooked to my screen for hours to reach its conclusion.

Like the previous titles in the series, customization plays a big part in keeping the moment-to-moment gameplay loop fresh (Image via Electronic Arts)
Like the previous titles in the series, customization plays a big part in keeping the moment-to-moment gameplay loop fresh (Image via Electronic Arts)

While the story isn't as lengthy as let's say, Need for Speed Unbound's campaign, it's enough to make you care about the characters as well as the gameplay itself. While the narrative is where I felt the game's single-player campaign shines the most, the gameplay does not slouch either, featuring a robust and rather challenging set of races that made the story even more enjoyable.

The narrative also features real-life events (albeit with a few fictional twists), such as Sebastian Vettel's retirement and the chance to witness and even participate in the legendary racer's final racing event alongside F1 icons like Daniel Ricciardo. Suffice to say, I was truly impressed by the single-player story, as well as the gameplay on offer.


Gameplay and driving mechanics

Once I was done with the campaign, I hopped into the game's career mode races to unlock a few good cars, upgrade and customize them and then head straight to the multiplayer. The racing in F1 23 is essentially the same as you would expect from a racing sim. However, I appreciated the slight arcade-like feel of the driving mechanics, which made it quite easy for me to get to grips with it.

Customization is also extended to your in-game avatar (Image via Electronic Arts)
Customization is also extended to your in-game avatar (Image via Electronic Arts)

Most of my time playing the game was spent on keyboard and mouse, which are my go-to racing peripherals besides the wheel. I wanted to use my Logitech G29 racing wheel, but it did not seem to work with EA App for some reason. I also tested the game using my Xbox Series and DualSense controllers, which also presented a completely playable and enjoyable experience.

Many racing games feel awkward with a keyboard and mouse (like Codemasters' very own GRID (2019), Need for Speed (2015), and Forza Motorsport 7). However, for F1 23, the keyboard and mouse felt like the perfect peripherals, even if you have a controller. Even games like Assetto Corsa, which have native keyboard support, do not feel good to play using one.

Fans of EA Sports' F1 series will find the progression system pretty much unchanged, with multiple daily and weekly challenges to complete to work towards exclusive rewards (Image via Electronic Arts)
Fans of EA Sports' F1 series will find the progression system pretty much unchanged, with multiple daily and weekly challenges to complete to work towards exclusive rewards (Image via Electronic Arts)

As someone who has been racing primarily using KB+M, I found it satisfying to get a game besides Forza Horizon 5 that dovetails with my preferred input method. Apart from the controller support, F1 23's driving physics are quite a step up from Codemasters' previous titles. You would no longer oversteer or understeer when trying to take corners, which was quite common in previous F1 titles.

Controlling your car also seems to be much easier, even when you might end up losing traction while taking a turn. Codemasters has taken major steps in the right direction to make their games much more appealing to newcomers while also retaining the complexity of tuning your cars for the best possible performance output during races.


The 35% race length is a game-changer

One of the biggest new additions is the 35% race length, which adds more options for those who may detest the rather lengthy 50% Grand Prix events. Although 35% seems quite minuscule on paper, it's quite a lot of time, rivaling a single lap of the Goliath sprint event in Forza Horizon 5. Tracks like Imola, which can feel quite a chore for the 50% duration races, feel like the perfect fit for 35% race length.

Apart from the new race length, F1 23 also features some minor under-the-hood tweaks that further streamline the racing experience and improve it based on feedback from fans. Given it's my very first foray into the F1 series, I can't state the key differences the latest entry features compared to its predecessors. However, it feels much better to play against Codemasters' recently released racing titles.


Things I did not like about F1 23

Although I really enjoyed my overall time playing F1 23, finishing the single-player story campaign, doing a bunch of races, delving into the nitty-gritty of car tuning, and even trying out my luck at a few multiplayer race events, some glaring issues keep the game from being that perfect racing sim that I was expecting of it.

Most of my complaints are regarding the game's performance on PC, which I feel can easily be rectified with updates. I played the game on a fairly decent PC, equipped with Ryzen 5 5600 CPU, GeForce GTX 1660 Super GPU, 32 GB DDR4 RAM, and a Gen-4 NVMe SSD. This by no means is an ultra-powerful machine but it is capable enough to run F1 23 at a decent framerate.

While the performance was mostly within the 60fps bracket at medium-high settings and locked 1080p resolution, the game has the dreadful DX12 stuttering issues that have been plaguing most PC releases as of late. I also had two instances of it crashing to desktop and once where it completely froze during an online race.

It should be mentioned that the stuttering was almost entirely gone after the first launch, with very few instances of dropped frames during races. However, the stuttering I faced at the start of the game was the cause of my abysmal early impressions. Apart from the stuttering and occasional crashes, F1 23 is a fairly decent PC port.


In conclusion

F1 23 is a fantastic racing sim that bridges the gap between an approachable arcade racing game and a hardcore simulation-driven racing title. Although it is the most accessible entry in EA Sports' F1 series, it isn't devoid of the complexity and charm that fans of the franchise have come to expect. With some really vibrant visuals punctuated by an equally robust sound design, F1 23 is easily the most immersive racing experience out there.

While the game's PC version leaves a lot to be desired, the single-player story campaign, updates made to the driving physics, and a near-endless amount of racing fun make it a title no fan should miss out on.


F1 23

The scorecard (Image via Sportskeeda)
The scorecard (Image via Sportskeeda)

Reviewed on: Windows PC (Review copy provided by EA)

Platform(s): Windows PC (Steam), PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S

Developer(s): Codemasters

Publisher(s): Electronic Arts (EA)

Release date: June 16, 2023