Formula One as you’ve never seen it before…
When you think about it, no video game has ever done anything very imaginative with the Formula One license. Sure we’ve had on the nose experiences like driving simulations and management games, but really there hasn’t been anything that has tapped into the absurdity of the world’s most expensive circus ring-mastered by Bernie Ecclestone. The reasons for this are two fold, firstly the Formula One Management agency are known to be one of the most picky license holders on the planet and secondly no developer has had the bravery or the kudos to flip the sport on its head. F1 Race Stars absolutely does that, but in a Pixar’s Cars kind of a way rather than Comedy Central’s South Park.
Licensed kart racers aren’t new, hell even the WWE and NASCAR can boast such monstrosities, yet we still had a great, albeit short time, with F1 Race Stars.
Every team and driver is featured in a chibified form with the features of Bruno Senna, Vettel, Hamilton, Webber and Button caricatured to great effect with eleven featured tracks from the across the globe given a fanciful makeover. Entries like Silverstone are almost unrecognisable after the first corner, with the layout leaving the confines of Northamptonshire to reach Greater London, a generic forest and beyond.
The action on-track is fast paced with pick-ups spicing up the battles between the twelve different entrants. Deployables are scattered all over the track, ranging from a power which transforms your car into an auto-routing champagne-bottle rocket, the ability to call in the safety car to slow down the pace setters at the front, and a myriad of dummy projectiles which make cars shed parts like they’re confetti. The on-track gameplay is surprisingly nuanced for a kart racer featuring corners which require moderate braking without the ability to powerslide, rechargeable DRS zones which function as nitrous-like boost, and pit lanes where players can pull into to fix their car and restore its top speed. Where the problem comes in is that despite fancy scenery and an absurdly happy colour palette, the gameplay itself falls a bit flat.
Despite tracks like Abu Dhabi incorporating a full blown rollercoaster into the circuit, Japan with its duelling wrestlers and Australia featuring a jump down a shark’s gullet, the layouts in F1 Race Stars aren’t much fun to drive around. After a few tours you’ve seen everything they have to offer. Even with the fastest spec of kart, tracks feel a bit too long and that sense of speed which you get with this game’s clear inspiration Mario Kart, just isn’t here.
That’s a real shame as Codemasters have got everything right when it comes to presentation and adding charm to what is really a very serious and slightly stone-faced sport. Don’t get us wrong, we love F1 and there are some touches that fans will recognise and really love here, like going up Eau Rouge at Spa or racing through a car factory at Silverstone as many teams in the sport call Britain home, but repeated pre-race and podium celebration animations soon take the shine off the cutesy referential appeal.
Sure you’ll see Grosjean put his helmet on backwards just before the race, but that cheeky commentary on the young Frenchman’s ability is completely nullified when every driver has that animation every once in a while. The other issue too is that there isn’t much to actually do in F1 Race Stars. There’s a career option which takes you through all the different tracks in various themed championships with occasional token grab and elimination races to mix up proceedings, but if you’re going to play this on your own there’s little here to satisfy past a couple of hours.
Multiplayer though, is where F1 Race Stars comes into its own with support for twelve-player online and four-player local races, so you and the kids can gather around the monitor if you’re fortunate to have enough controllers, (bagsy not keyboard). Bashing elbows with your fellow competition in real-life and on the track is undoubtedly the way this game is meant to be played, as the bland gameplay is constantly interrupted by bouts of cheeky chuckles as you screw over your nearby competition.
Unfortunately the PC version feels a bit slack-handedly put together as well, with the resolution capped at 1680×1050 and no replay mode to see the tracks or the action in all its glory. To us this signifies that this game was rushed in order to take advantage of the lucrative Christmas market and we doubt those issues will be rectified. The inclusion of only eleven tracks on the F1 calendar rather than the full roster of eighteen would also support that conclusion. Unless of course Codies are leaving them out to make DLC offerings a bit easier to produce, but even so the selection seems a bit stingy.
Despite all of its problems and lack of content, F1 Race Stars is still an exciting and daring take on the world of Formula One. If you’re playing on your own you’ll enjoy its cute take on a brilliant and thoroughly entertaining sport but soon get bored, and if you’re fortunate enough to share a house with a bunch of petrol-loving kids you’ll definitely get your money’s worth. If you aren’t part of those two very niche audiences, we recommend you let this imaginative kart racer whiz right on by…
Great use of a license let down by a lack of content.
Tags: F1 Race Stars
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