My enjoyment of racing games skews more towards the more realistic end of the spectrum. I enjoy both sim-type racing games and those with a definite arcade slant (Need For Speed, for example). When it comes to karting games though, if it isn’t Mario I tend not to pay too much attention. Fresh off of reviewing LittleBigPlanet Karting, here I am with another karting game F1 Race Stars. While not as feature-rich as a game like LittleBigPlanet Karting, F1 Race Stars was a lot of fun to play.
F1 Race Stars is developed by the folks at Codemasters Racing. These guys tend to know their stuff when it comes to making racing games. Their F1 series are excellent games and F1 Race Stars has a definite Formula One slant. As a fan of F1 and auto racing, this perspective on karting games is something I really enjoyed. Fans take note; this is a very kid friendly take on both F1 and karting.
Only 11 of the 20 races from this F1 season are represented in the game out of the box. Tracks are over-the-top interpretations of their real life counterparts. While they maintain the basic layouts, tracks are exaggerated and enhanced with crazy jumps, stunts and things characteristic of the region they are located in. Examples include racing along Germany’s autobahn highway, navigating quickly moving streams in Belgium and even racing through the Ferrari World Formula Rossa roller coasting at the Abu Dhabi GP. Fans that know the tracks well will still know, for example, when you’re navigating Eau Rouge at the Belgium GP. Tracks also feature a few shortcuts here and there. All in all the track design is pretty well done.
Cartoony likenesses of each of the 2012 teams and drivers are represented plus a few additional teams and drivers including a few ladies. Different drivers have different default enhanced abilities. Very much in the style of Mario Kart, F1 Race Stars features three different engine displacements to choose from when you race. The 1000cc class is your entry level. Competition and speeds are lighter in this class so it is good for learning the game and tracks. It provided little challenge as I quickly came to grips with things and was able to put a lot of distance between myself and second place. Not much rubber banding present at all. For more of a challenge players can race up to a 3000cc class where the action and competition is much tougher.
The control in F1 Race Stars is best described as progressive. I generally find Codemasters games somewhat twitchy in their controls but not here. Steering feels good. There is no drift mechanic like you might find in other karting games. Instead F1 Race Stars uses a boost system based on the KERS technology used by its race teams. In real life, KERS stands for Kinect Energy Recovery System and is used to boost acceleration in short bursts. Most of the corners in F1 Race Stars feature highlighted boost zones. Blipping the throttle when you are in the zone fills your KERS and it automatically kicks in as you leave the zone. Blipping the throttle multiple times fills your KERS boost even more for a greater boost. There’s a little bit of strategy here. It isn’t necessarily always the best thing to fill right up and boost as hard as you can. Unlike most other karting games, you have to use the brake in F1 Race Stars to navigate some of the tighter corners.
The power ups in F1 Race Stars, while varied, definitely keep things kid oriented. Instead of missiles you shoot bubbles that trap other racers and slow them down. You can drop balloons full of confetti that obscures competitors’ (or yours) vision. There’s even a seltzer bottle power up that boosts you back into contention sometimes. Some power ups have F1 themes to them. For example, one is a safety car that slows the leader down so that others can try and catch up and Codemasters has tagged a boost power up with the DRS name. In another interesting, F1-related twist, cars take damage after they’ve been hit with enough power up attacks from others. Your performance drops and you are forced to seek out the pit lane for repairs. Once in the pits it is entirely an automatic process but I thought this was an interesting dynamic.
As with any Codemasters game there is a strong online component with support for up to 12 players to play online. Codemasters games typically have strong online code so expect a smooth experience. You can also play 4-player split screen if you have friends over. F1 Race Stars supports Codemasters Racenet community which offers leaderboards for time trial events and full stat tracking online if that is what interests you. The core Career mode offers 30 different championships to run. You can also jump right in to single races or simply race for time in the Time Trial mode.
As I alluded to earlier, F1 Race Stars has a very cartoonish look to it with lots of big shapes and bold colours. Each of the drivers is characterized in a cartoony fashion but is generally identifiable by sight. F1 Race Stars holds a steady frame rate and there is plenty of action, effects and character animations to be had. In fact, I don’t remember F1 drivers being as friendly with each other as they seemingly are before and after every race in this game. Any memories of Prost versus Senna, Schumacher versus Hill or even Schumacher versus Villeneuve will be erased when you see them all flashing signs of support to one another on the grid. Not very F1-like at all if you ask me but I’m sure kids will like it.
The soundtrack in F1 Race Stars is a mix of 80’s-ish guitar rock in the menus and a circus/theme park theme during game play. The music is neither charming nor offensive. In fact, the more circus-y tunes fit with the way over-the-top game play. Most impressive in this department though are the directional effects when playing with any sort of surround sound. For example, the roar of the Torro Rossa roller coaster sounds pretty damn good as you weave through its structure. Definitely not what I expected from a karting game but Codemasters has always had a high attention to detail for sound even back to their TOCA days.
Despite its simplicity and presentation that seems geared towards a younger audience, F1 Race Stars a fun game to pick up and play. Being a fan of the sport definitely helps the enjoyment here but several nods to F1 during gameplay also help make this one of the more unique karting game experiences. This one is definitely worth of a look if you are a looking for a kart racer this holiday season.