F1 Race Stars
Developer: Codemasters Birmingham
Publisher: Codemasters
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: 1-4 Split-Screen, 2-12 online.
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F1 Race Stars is racing game specialists Codemasters’ first foray into the crowded, cartoony world of karting games. As fans of Sky’s F1 coverage we became hooked on McLaren's animated Tooned series, and the F1RS cars look fabulous in a similarly stylised way, as do the drivers, although some likenesses are a lot better than others. There are a couple of fictional teams with their own drivers, and you can also race as your avatar. You see them on the starting grid and at the podium presentation, and it’s a nice touch, especially if you don’t want to be Sebastien Vetteltoon, Jenson Buttoon or Lewis Hamiltoon and would rather race against the stars.

You can choose to race with 1000, 2000 or 3000cc Karts and you’d be hard pressed to notice the difference initially as the variation in the impression of speed isn’t that great. That’s until you notice the different lap times required to win races- we’ve seen it be up to 20 seconds more (easier) on 1000cc compared to the hugely demanding 3000cc. And when I say ‘demanding,’ I in fact mean evil, unfair and vindictive. 3000cc races are almost uniformly ludicrously hard, and have managed to make me (or so I’m told) drop my normally ice cool demeanour and issue such anger-filled rants as “Oh My Fucking God, did you see that fucking little fuck? He fucked my fucking kart right fucking up, right on the last fucking corner. FUCK!” – although I’d never admit to as much.

One thing I immediately noticed and was disappointed about was that, while I thought it was a staple of all karting games, the F1RS cars look and handle a lot like real F1 cars and have an immense amount of grip, so you can’t really powerslide, at least only in the wet-but being a Codemasters racing game it rains regularly-heaven only knows what their fascination is with rain, maybe they live in the arid desert part of Birmingham.

The racing is about learning the tracks, the optimum racing line, where all the boost pads and KERS corners are and where best to use the weapons, some of which will do you more harm than good if deployed at the wrong time/place. There’s no ‘boost’ or ‘turbo’ button as in many kart racers, the KERS corners are a clearly marked zone in which you can charge up a speed boost by holding/releasing the throttle (R Trigger by default) up to 3 times to gain a the maximum boost as you leave the KERS zone. There are various random pick-ups, some are boosts that can be saved and used when you want and others are deployable bubble-based weapons (forward and rearward firing missiles and drop mines) to damage and slow the other racers down. Not being able to boost right when you want to on every lap makes F1RS feel different to many kart games, but there are so many pick-ups and the tracks are so long that every lap feels different.

Another thing that sets F1RS apart from most kart racers is that there’s no jump button, and given the amount of sticky-out bits of grass/mud/sand/water etc, a jump ability would have made for a lot more engaging racing and fewer speed-sapping annoyances. Another gripe is that the player cars seem to get buffeted by the AI cars far too often, and while it’s possible to bump them back (even knocking them off narrow raised sections) this often results in your car getting damaged, and therefore slowing it down until you pit and repair, making ramming other cars pointless.

Each team has its own speciality weapon that you’re more likely to pick up, for instance Red Bull has a Slipstream Boost and McLaren has the extremely useful ability to swap pickups. The randomness of the pickups is fairly kind, and you’ll usually pick up one that’s useful for your position in the race i.e. missiles/catch-up boosts if you’re trailing and shields or drop weapons if you’re leading.

The tracks are themed on the real locations and are as fantastical as anything you find in Mario Kart game, but if you’re an F1 fan you’ll be able to recognise landmarks, features and famous corners built into the cartoony circuits. Take Monaco for example, you start near the Royal Box, round the fast right-hander at Sainte Devote, dive left, zoom up the hill through Beau Rivage, speed up an almighty jump ramp covered in flashing red chevrons, fly up the mountain and land on the helicopter landing pad... well-you get what I mean it’s themed. Later on in the lap you recognise the hairpin at Mirabeau, the famous Portier corner leading to the tunnel under the hotel and the swimming pool section, through which you can take a shortcut!

As brightly coloured as a Mario game, the looks shouldn't lull you into a false sense of security. The AI opponents are unrelentingly evil, they will nip in front of you to steal power-ups that you’re just about to run over and also seem to use the weapons to their utmost ability. While it’s possible to build up an unassailable lead in some races with good driving and perfect use of weapons/power-ups, it’s not uncommon to get passed by 2 cars on the start/finish line just as you approach the chequered flag thinking you’ve won. The game even has a Safety Car, but it only seems to appear when I’m in the lead (this is a lie), its purpose being to close the field up again (this is true.) Although some races seem harder than others they all play out differently and unlike most other karting games you never feel like you’re in a staged event or a time trial masquerading as a race.

Split screen racing is perfect all-the-family party fodder and online racing supports 2 to 12 players. You can play a single race or a custom championship, play a straight race, elimination, refuel, trophy chase, pole position, slalom, exhibition or sector snatch, set the number of laps, choose power-ups, alter the damage and add some wicked modifiers (such as mirror mode and reversing the leader’s controls.) The most interesting mode is without doubt ‘Refuel’ which adds an element of strategy to the races ,as you have to run over fuel pump icons to top up your fuel. Run over too many and your car gets too heavy and slows down. Run out, and you have to sputter slowly around until you find the next pump. We had a lot of fun online, but we never managed to fill up a race with all 12 players, so unlike its big brother (F1 2012) perhaps the game is not that popular—yet.

F1 Race Stars is a hugely cute and endearing little racing game that is a classic example of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It may sound churlish but the AI opponents are too good, and at the highest difficulty use weapons in the meanest possible ways, slowing you down, damaging your car just after you’ve pitted, robbing your power-ups... At times it’s about as much fun as being kicked repeatedly in the testicles. This seems daft, as even 1000cc races take a good deal of skill to win, and what I perceive to be the target audience ain’t gonna like being beaten repeatedly in such a mean manner. This is even stranger if, like me, you think Codemasters games have been noticeably tweaked down in difficulty over the last few years, both to appeal to a wider audience and because they, unlike some developers, have realised that nobody is going to sit and play the same overly difficult game for weeks/months on end trying to beat it-there are just too many other games to play these days. The good news is that with some practice 1000cc gives a pleasant game for the average racer, 2000cc is for experienced racers and 3000cc is for passive-aggressive masochists who only buy one game a year – and I know quite a few of those!

Best Bits

- Bright, colourful and cute as a (Jenson) Button.
- Speedy, addictive racing.
- Surprisingly good multiplayer split-screen and online.
Worst Bits

- May be too hard for kids and casual gamers.
- 3000cc is, frankly, absurdly difficult.

by: Diddly

Copyright © Gamecell 2012