There are two things that are at the complete opposite end of the racing spectrum in the games industry, kart racing games and F1 racing games. F1 Race Stars takes those two things, throws them in a blender with a few clever changes, and hopes for the best. It could’ve turn out to be a mess very easily, but it generally worked well.
F1 Race Stars, a Codemasters spin on their F1 2012 game, takes one of the biggest staples of kart racing games and tosses it in the junk pile. The mechanic in question is drifting. You are probably asking yourself the same thing I was when I first heard that little fact, “how does that work?” Quite simply, it does away with the typical boost-inducing mechanic (aka drifting) by adding “Kers” boost pads around the track. To manipulate these, you let off the gas for a second, push the gas in, and repeat two more times. Once you reach the end of the pad you fly off as if you had just drifted around the corner.
Axing drifting gives the game a more authentic flavor. Cars don’t drift in Formula One. It’s all about racing. F1 Race Stars may hold that fact to its heart, but it does so in a light-hearted manner with the presence of elements such as weapons, another staple of kart racing games. When you pick your driver/team, each racing team (all 12 teams from the 2012 season of Formula One, with two drivers each, are present) has a modified power up. For example, Mark Webber from one of the Red Bull teams, has a Slipstream Boost whereas Felipe Massa has a Backward Seeker Bubble perk. Teams become more of a choice between perks than the cars, as they all driver very similarly.
The other serious overhaul to the genre is the introduction of be having to going to the pits to repair your car. Taking enough damage throughout a race will eventually slow you down. Along the course are a few pit stops here and there, which repair your car. This is another one of those authentic touches that F1 Race Stars takes from the sport of its inspiration. Pitting, though, is not a detour that makes you stop, it’s just a detour you drive through and then you’re back on the main road in seconds.
These big changes feel fresh for a genre such as kart racing, and even though the graphics want you to believe this is a kid’s game, it’s actually pretty difficult (even early on). It does have the standard 1,000CC-3,000CC settings, but even on 1,000CC it was always a close race after the first few races, a problem I never have in kart racing games. On the higher difficulty, karts don’t actually feel much quicker than the standard karts until you go into a corner. There’s no real sense of speed, which makes judging when to brake quite difficult.
Two other small touches that make F1 Race Stars the karting equivalent of Formula 1 racing are the track locales and the length of races. Tracks themselves aren’t exactly like the actual race tracks featured in F1 racing, but the courses in F1 Race Stars do have an aesthetic to match their real world counterparts. Some of us, though, are not going to think anything of it. The length of the races is rather long, as playing the career has you race in a series rather than just a single race at a time.
There are a variety of race types, which freshens things up a bit. You have standard races, elimination races, a few other newer ones, and my favorite, slalom. Slalom has three colored gates on the track at various points. You have to continue driving through the same color to add up the multiplier, and whoever hits the target score first wins. This is really a game mode I would like to see hit other big racing games, as they were tense and required a little more focus.
Online play is hit or miss. it was relatively easy to find a game online during the game’s first week of release but, after another week had passed, it became much more difficult.
F1 Race Stars is fun and brings new things to the table, but it lacks a sense of player accomplishment. You can unlock horns, but there is no other reward except for simple satisfaction. You could be completely okay with that if you know about the lack of player feedback going into the game. But if you are expecting some sort of unlockables (besides horns, which I never use except by accident), you will be very disappointed and probably stop playing after a dozen races (ie. three events). However, if you need something a little more lighthearted to play during the holiday season, F1 Race Stars may appeal to you at the $39.99 USD price tag.
Note: This review was written based on gameplay on the Playstation 3 console with review material provided by the publisher. F1 Race Stars is also available on the Xbox 360 and PC platforms.