The usually very serious sport of Formula One racing pokes fun at itself.
Let’s face it, Formula One is a pretty serious sport. You don’t see the highly paid drivers leaping out of their stupidly expensive car after being first through the chequered flag and busting out some celebratory moves on the track. They don’t have funny pictures painted on their crash helmets. When was the last time an F1 driver had his helmet visor sprayed black for a laugh? No, it is all far too serious for any shenanigans.
But imagine how much fun it would be to shrink all of the cars, give the drivers giant heads and take the famous tracks from around the world and make them silly. That would be a sport worth watching.
And obviously the guys at Codemasters felt exactly the same. The official Formula One game is great to play, but from a development point of view, all of the source material is already there. There is no chance to let the imagination free and come up with some crazy ideas. F1 Race Stars is what happens when Codemasters finally cracked, or had too much to drink.
Taking the well established kart racing formula, F1 Race Stars leaves the serious behind and offers itself as an entertaining game that can be enjoyed by all of the family, no matter how little they know about the incredibly tight rules of Formula One racing. It is this aspect that comes across most strongly in the game – the colourful visuals, the sense of humour and the simple gameplay is aimed at family game night, and the inclusion of four-player split screen across pretty much all of the game makes it perfect for light-hearted competition.
The mechanics themselves are what you would expect from a karting game, with one exception. In an effort to inject just a little of that Formula One seriousness into the game, or perhaps just to make the game easier for gamers of all levels, there is no drifting in F1 Race Stars. Veteran kart racers will likely find this more difficult to get used to than anyone else. I know my first few races were tarnished by my constant insistence that there must be a drift button somewhere, and no, I didn’t read the manual. To negotiate the winding tracks and the hairpin turns, players will have to actually slow down, just like real life.
That being said, the game is very forgiving and will happily let players bounce off walls. Just remember that no wall means no bouncing, as I found out after a particularly high drop into the watery depths. There are three levels of kart to race with, offering a variety of speeds and levels of challenge, with the most powerful engines providing a sense of speed that will please the veteran kart racers, whilst the lowest setting will keep the newcomers whizzing around the tracks.
Perhaps to make up for the lack of drift, which is so often tied to boost in karting games, F1 Race Stars has a KERS boost system. By driving over the blue pads on the corners, players can charge their KERS boost up to three times, providing a very powerful speed increase once activated. It won’t quite make up for the smug feeling of pulling off the perfect drift, but it is suitably tricky to charge the boost three times, giving players something else to master.
There are a nice variety of power-ups in the game, which players can collect as they hurtle around the track and then use to give themselves an advantage or hamper the efforts of rivals. However, despite their variety, the power-ups themselves feel a little underwhelming compared to other karting games, and just don’t have the same level of impact. This could well be to lower the levels of frustration commonly felt after being knocked from first to last by a missile, when only meters away from the finish line. Or maybe it was just something that Codemasters felt was not important. Either way, the power-ups feel like they play a much lesser role in F1 Race Stars.
The different race modes are well thought out, although they do all concentrate on the racing side of things and there is no arena-style battle mode as found in many kart racers. Instead, the players race as normal but with different rules applied, such as the person in last place being eliminated or players competing to be the fastest through different sections of the track. The Refuel race mode is interesting and offers a level of strategy as the player has to gather fuel to complete the race, but more fuel means a slower car.
A hefty career mode will see players, up to four, moving from one country to the next in tournaments as they compete for a podium place. As the player progresses, the AI drivers get more and more difficult, offering a nice challenge. Besides the standard time trail and quick play, taking the game online offers the final games mode. Here, players can race against up to 11 other players in customised championships, and the split screen players can also join in, making even the online play ideal for families.
Visually, F1 Race Stars is impressive. The various Formula One drivers in their bobble-headed form, complete with character traits, are great fun, even if only fans of the sport will recognise most of them. The tracks, which are each based loosely on the real world tracks, are interesting to race around and enjoyable to look at, with famous features often mixed up with pure fantasy. The presentation is bright and bold, working exactly as it should with easy to navigate menus and straight forward instructions. Overall, the game is polished to perfection.
F1 Race Star’s main problem comes from the fact that F1 racing is inaccessible to many gamers, and the F1 fans will probably turn their noses up at such childish kart racing. It also doesn’t help that it has launched around the time of two other big name kart racing games, offering the kart racing fans an obvious alternative rather than taking a chance on a game that may be too “Formula One” for their tastes. That is a shame, as F1 Race Stars is an excellent game.
The lack of drift takes some getting used to, and the Formula One subject matter may well need to be overlooked by anyone who is not a fan of the sport. Otherwise, there is no reason not to play F1 Race Stars if you fancy some kart racing action. It is a brilliant example of the genre that can be easily enjoyed by all levels of gamer, and is even more fun with groups sat around the TV. It may not quite hit pole position, but F1 Race Stars easily achieves a podium finish.