Formula One for the masses…Alright we’ll admit it, we scoffed at the idea of F1 Race Stars when it was first announced. A kid friendly version of the world’s greatest single-seater championship with power-ups replacing pit strategies and finely tuned overtaking manoeuvres for entertainment; count us out.
Codemasters were well aware of our prejudice towards all things cute and ‘karty’, and arranged an appointment for us to see F1 Race Stars in action, and do you know what? We’re immensely glad they did as this could be the most inventive use of FOM’s (Formula One Management) license since, well, ever.
At first glance F1 Race Stars seems like a natural bed fellow to Mario Kart and Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, but only when you look at it through the eyes of an motor racing fan you begin to see the care and attention Codemasters have paid to their dazzling spin-off. “Charming, delightful, exciting, heroic,” are the terms which have driven this game’s development and it shows with racers sitting on the grid grinning and pointing at each other like campy superstars before donning their helmets and racing into the distance just as the lights go green.
Every single team and driver from the current F1 roster features in the game, but races only feature 12 different drivers, but this really feeds into the casual nature of the experience. The tracks are the major game changer with each offering on the calendar not following the traditional layout, instead they’ve been re-imagined by the game’s creative team to include a few apexs you might recognise, but also massive deviations playing on that nation’s cultural heritage or nearby landmarks.
Take Germany’s Hockenheimring for instance, the stadium section at the end of the lap is still in F1 Race Stars take on the track, but rest of the layout sees racers venturing onto the Autobahn, around a Bavarian Castle, crossing over the Rhine and a brief tour around the Lorelei Rock. That element of depth and imagination isn’t something you’d expect of a kart racer, but Codemasters have clearly put plenty of work in. Abu Dhabi for instance features a rollercoaster-inspired loop-de-loop, which pays homage to the world’s fastest rollercoaster which happens to be located in the Ferrari theme park next to the track, and we expect the rest of the twenty featured tracks to be just as refreshingly inventive. We can’t wait to see how Monaco and Silverstone are treated…
It’s these kinds of peripheral details which interest us in these distinctly almost Pixar take on the sport we know and love. The inclusion of chibified versions of all the drivers is also particularly lovely, with Schumacher’s chin exagerated to an absurd degree and Bruno Senna’s rendition makes him look so much like his legendary uncle Ayrton that we literally had to do a double take. It’s clear that some ideas have perhaps been left on the cutting room floor because of FOM trying to promote a clean image of the sport, for instance there’s no inclusion of the infamous ‘Schumacher Chop’ or ‘Fernando is Faster than You’ or anything like that, but then F1 Race Stars is about playfully riffing on Formula One, not poking fun at it.
The power-ups are a great example of that gentile good natured humour with the inclusion of ‘The ‘Safety Car’ to slow down the front of the pack, ‘The Fizzing Bottle Rocket’ which coats your car in golden champagne making it go faster, and ‘Yellow Richochet Bolts’ which are fired at other drivers damaging their car, causing them to go slower. ‘DRS’, ‘Wet Weather’, and ‘Teleport’ options are in their as well; all of which sell the safe side of F1. Veering away from the perils of inter-team politics and pit babes as far as possible.
That’s to be expected though, as this is a family friendly experience after all and the gameplay is a prime example of that with power-slides earning boost (KERS) a la Mario Kart, 3 lap races and that trademark tipsy turvy rubber band AI causes positions to change constantly. It doesn’t quite reach Mario Party levels where the AI will screw you each and every time you’re close to winning, but it comes mighty close. Of course it is worth mentioning that Codemasters are still hard at work balancing the game and the AI, but this kind of jostling is what these types of games are all about.
The damage model too is really interesting, as cars in F1 Race Stars actually shed parts whenever they’re hit with power-ups. Multiple hits will lead to your modern speed machine to more closely resemble a Morris Minor as you need to limp around the track until you see yellow pit stop lanes to fix your car. It’s a system very reminiscent of F-Zero and here it works just as well, keeping you in action while still offering that element of nuance.
F1 Race Stars won’t feature a story mode or anything like that, instead again Codemasters are going for the Mario Kart approach with three different championship classes providing the bulk of the offline gameplay. Four player split-screen support does feature, and online racing can cater to up to twelve players in the same race.
We had a lot of misgivings before we actually got a chance to play F1 Race Stars, but after sampling a few races we have to say it’s a lot better than we had suspected. It’s definitely the family friendly approachable game we suspected it would be, but buried underneath its pristine colourful veneer are some of the delightful imaginative touches that Formula One will really appreciate.
Will it steal your attention away from F1 2012? Absolutely not, but it isn’t meant to. This is altogether a different kind of experience which is meant to bring new folks to the sport and perhaps bring back even those that were disenfranchised with Bernie’s circus during the days of Ferrari’s dominance, and in our opinion that can only be a good thing.
F1 Race Stars heads to Xbox 360, PS3 and PC this November.
Tags: F1 Race Stars
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