I must admit I was pretty excited about the launch of F1 Race Stars, a cartoony take on the very serious world of Formula 1. And who doesn’t love karting games? The speed, the madcap thrills and spills, audacious jumps and intense rivalry? What’s not to like, right? But coming hot on the heels of the much-anticipated LittleBigPlanet Karting, the competition was fierce.
It’s testament to the quality of Nintendo’s Mario Kart series over these past decades that there have been few games that have come close to wresting the proverbial crown from the moustachioed one. Sadly, F1 Race Stars is yet another title that starts well but fails to steer its way to the top of the leaderboard; it’s certainly not the pits but really needed to step up a gear to make it a must buy!
You see, while it’s fun and colourful, entertaining and competitive, it tends to run out of steam after a few hours’ play. There just aren’t enough tracks, the characters aren’t very varied and the power ups/weapons fail to excite. It’s a real shame – but shouldn’t distract from the fact that this is still good fun and perfect for some high-speed hijinks with a few friends. You can either play solo or ramp up the excitement levels by pitting your wits against others in four player split-screen and up to 12 players online. There are also plenty of different game modes that will keep you interested for a while with your standard Career, Race and Elimination options among them.
As with other karting games, the handling has an arcadey feel to it and the whole experience doesn’t take itself too seriously. The big headed caricatures of your favourite real-life racers such as Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel or Kimi Raikkonen are instantly recognizable and visually appealing, especially as they sit in tiny representations of the Formula 1 cars emblazoned with all that obligatory livery and sponsorship. It’s just a shame that some of the huge names from the past aren’t included… there’s no Mansell or Senna on the roster, for example.
Brace yourselves though… there’s a twist. This is a kart racer without drifting!!! Sacrilege I hear you cry! Instead of gliding effortlessly round corners and taking bends at speed, you’ll instead have to use the brake to decelerate enough to stop you careering into nearby hoarding. It admittedly feels a little alien at first but you quickly get the idea. Otherwise the controls are simple to grasp.
To keep with the whole F1 theme, Codemasters has also employed the use of KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System), which allows you to charge up your car by running over starry bits of track and then boosting past your competitors. The small battery icon that hovers at the rear of your car informs you how much charge you’ve attained – you need to fill all three bars before zooming off. Hint: brake a little when you drive through these sections and you can fill the entire bar in one go!
There are plenty of others ways of getting ahead of the pack too. The Drag Reduction System (DRS) – one of the power ups littering the circuit – gives you a sudden speed boost, while a firm favourite is the Bottle Rocket that transforms you into a projectile that shoots down the track at breakneck speed. Then there’s the Teleport, which also helps you gain a few places. And there are also plenty to slow your progress: rain clouds, a sudden downpour that drenches the track, safety cars, shockwaves, balloons that trap you and others that splash ticker tape all over your screen and limit your visibility.
One nice touch is that your car gets increasingly battered and your speed slows to a crawl as a result. But it certainly doesn’t mean your race is over… a swift steer into one of the pit lanes and you’re quickly patched up and ready to resume the race.
Aesthetically, everything looks great and is nicely animated – the bobble-headed characters shifting from side to side as you steer and occasionally giving a thumbs up or gesticulating wildly pre-race. The cars look the part and the tracks are nicely designed, roughly imitating real-life. Monaco, for example, has the famous curves, seafront and tunnel before transporting you to altogether wackier environments. Other circuits feature crumbling Italian ruins, imposing German castles, quaint Belgian towns and so on, and are punctuated by loop-the-loops and jumps. Some tracks even include huge obstacles such as giant sumo wrestlers and hungry sharks. There may only be 11 circuits (if you haven’t pre-ordered) but you do get to play mirrored versions of them too so it doesn’t feel too limited.
The lengthy – and slightly repetitive – Career mode sees you travel the world to rack up the points and podium appearances but it can be pretty tricky and frustrating, particularly with the over aggressive AI constantly targeting you with their power ups. A healthy lead can quickly be lost and valuable points lost in the championship race.
Nevertheless, F1 Race Stars is great in short bursts but probably won’t sustain your interest long term. As with all karting games, it’s more fun with friends – but it’s a fun package that will particularly appeal to fans of the sport.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3.