Under the guidance of Codemasters, F1 video games have seen a massive resurgence in both quality and popularity. But with only one game a year being developed for this hot property in the last few years, Codemasters clearly felt they weren't making the most of their licence. That's where F1 Race Stars comes in, a rather colourful karting game that's meant to offer a much more casual take on the very serious simulation world of F1.
Initially, F1 Race Stars is a game that looks like it's been developed for the younger generations. After all, the different drivers all have stylised cartoon races and their rather powerful machines have been turned into karts. However, this doesn't quite behave like a typical karting experience. Yes, there are power-ups, but Codemasters has been very careful to try and make this experience as similar to the real thing as possible. It's for this reason that one of the most popular karting moves - the drift - has been omitted.
Omitting drift is a very bold decision, especially as many of the courses found in F1 Race Stars have rather tight turns. You just have to approach everything as a normal driving game, so if you're approaching a tight corner, you'll have to ease off the acceleration and maybe even apply the brake - something that would be unthinkable in many other karting games.
In another attempt to make things as authentic as possible, slipstreaming and KERS also play big parts in the experience. They will offer significant boosts to your speed that can only be beaten by using boost pads that are scattered throughout the various tracks. However, karting fans will be pleased to know there is still a rather wacky way of gaining speed - doing rotations during a jump.
Those who're confident karters might opt to go straight for the hardest difficulty - defined by the fastest karting speed - but they might be in for a shock. Due to how the game works, adapting to the system does take a little bit of practice. And even when you're more competent with your driving in F1 Race Stars, that might still not be enough.
The more you race, the more you'll learn to rue the power-ups that are present in the game. Some of them offer severe advantages and no matter how good you are at driving, if you don't make good use of power-ups, you stand very little chance of winning. Even then, you might still come off second best. One examples is the Warp power-up. Upon using this, you'll be boosted through a few positions in the pack without even having to do anything. If you're already at the front, you just get boosted miles in front.
It doesn't help that the rest of the weapons are rather bland too. A lot of them are just different coloured bubbles that can be used in different ways. Being affected by the majority of weapons also damages your car, making it max out at a slower speed. The only way to fix this is to drive through repair lanes, attempting to replicate the pit stop in an actual race. It's all well and good that they attempted to do this, but it's a karting game where there's supposed to be some degree of equality. If you're already going slow due to damage, and you have to go through an even slower part of the track, it's doubly unfair.
Fortunately, even with these gameplay issues, F1 Race Stars is still a pretty fun experience. This is epitomised by how they've attempted to craft the original tracks into the experience. There has been a lot of poetic licence taken, but it's nice to drive through parts of famous tracks, like Monaco and Interlagos.
Perhaps where F1 Race Stars excels most, is with how the additional modes work. Outside of the bog-standard racing, there are some very interesting takes, again to try and keep things as authentic to F1 as possible. One such example will see your car going quicker when there's less fuel in it. You therefore have to run the risk of going fast, but your car potentially running out of fuel before you can get to the next pick-up.
When you get to the multiplayer, there are also some nice touches too as it's possible to split competitors into different teams. This can make things rather tactical, as it's not just about personal glory any more.
When looking at the graphics, they're pretty nice. The amount of detail placed on the different cars, in their new karting form, is rather impressive. All of the drives are also instantly recognisable too, and each have their individual quirks to make them more appealing to certain players.
F1 Race Stars is a solid attempt by Codemasters to bring this licence to a different audience, but it only manages to hit some of the right notes. And with so many other karting alternatives out there on the market right now, F1 Race Stars doesn't' feel anything more than average. It's commendable that the developers tried to create a karting game that employs many of F1's traits, but it's ironically the karting aspects which fall flat due to uninspired and unbalanced power-ups.
|Attention to detail with the cars.|
|How the tracks have been designed.|
|Multiplayer modes offer something different.|
|Power-ups are very unbalanced.|
|The luck of the AI.|
|Perhaps some of the classic F1 traits should have been left out.|