GAME NAME: F1 Race Stars
PLATFORM(S): PS3, Xbox 360 and PC
GENRE(S): Kart Racer
RELEASE DATE(S): November 16th 2012
Codemasters have created quite the reputation for themselves when it comes to racing games. With both the F1 and Dirt franchises under their belt, they are seen as many as one of the premier third party developers when it comes to technical racers. F1 Race Stars is a departure for the developer though, an attempt to produce a more mass friendly kart racer that’s less focused on core mechanics and more on fun, while still making use of their expensive F1 license.
Unfortunately it feels like the F1 license is what holds this title back, preventing it reaching the heights it hints at from time to time. With Codemasters eager to ensure the game retains the feel of F1 Racing, the game feels constricted by this choice. With so many rules and regulations governing the sport and so many aspects to integrate, the game never boasts the freedom a kart racer of this ilk should.
Kart racers are, by and large, aimed at a younger market than Codemasters usual racing sims. So, the decision to include a handling system more at home in a simulation is baffling. Perhaps I’ve been ruined by the likes of Mario Kart and Modnation Racers, but I’m used to far more forgiving handling in a kart game, especially since you can be hit by a rocket at any instant. Instead Codemasters present us with an exercise in frustration, understeer in the corners and a real sense of twitchiness everywhere else. Having to slow to an absolute crawl when cornering might be realistic, but when I’m racing against friends slinging giant bubbles my way I want to take those corners at top speed. Likewise with the damage system, which slows your kart down the more damage you take. Having to pit to repair might be realistic, but it simply distracts from the action. You’ll spend hours learning how to play a kart racer all over again, and it feels like wasted time, time that could have been better spent having fun.
These criticisms however do not mean that F1 Race Stars is a terrible game. There is a full career mode for those of us playing alone, although it can also be played in multiplayer. Speaking of multiplayer, F1 Race Stars comes packed with features and modes built to last. Besides the aforementioned multiplayer career options, there’s support for four player split screen racing and twelve player online action. There is also a collection of options that allow the race host to tailor the experience, changing everything from the presence of weapons or number of laps to something more complicated like reversing the controls for whoever is currently in first place, making holding that pole position extremely difficult. This collection of tweaks means that no two games need be the same and ensures the game has some real legs long term.
Track design is make or break and for the most part F1 Race Stars does well. Featuring eleven of the current race tracks used in F1, each one is beautifully overstated and taken to the extreme, creating unique environments littered with character. However, some of them do feel long, and with such a small number of tracks available, things can become repetitive at times, although this is offset by a mirror option for each track. Unfortunately our old pet peeve of DLC rears it’s head again and it looks like additional tracks will be available fairly regularly over the coming weeks and months. While we’re not opposed to extra tracks and such as DLC, the small number of included tracks in the game does leave you feeling a little short changed, especially for a game sold at full retail.
The excellent visuals extend beyond track design, with both the recognisable drivers and F1 themed karts all gorgeously detailed and devilishly charming in their cartoon nature. Unlike Modnation Racers the menus are snappy and loading screens are short lived, ensuring that you are never waiting long before getting back onto the track. To help maintain this illusion there are short intro sequences that are humour filled with drivers taunting one another and gesturing to fans, once again adding to the cute charm of the game. Sound is perhaps an area that could have done with a little more attention, especially on the voice front. Still, the usual race sounds are all present and accounted for, alongside a collection of sound effects to cover the craziness that can occur during a race where weapons are the norm.
F1 Race Stars is a solid entry to the kart racing genre for Codemasters, but for a developer of this calibre, I wanted more. Eclipsing the likes of Mario Kart on their first go was always going to be a tall task, and the core mechanics of a genuinely fantastic title are there, but I felt the game always left me wanting that little bit more. Better handling, the ability to protect myself against incoming weapons, and a larger selection of tracks are all tweaks I pray Codemasters investigate before too long. There’s a demo available for the game on each of the relevant platforms so check it out, get a feel for the handling in particular, that way you’ll know if it’s for you.