Published on November 17th, 2012 | by Ben Hedworth0
F1 Race Stars Review
Heavy on charm, light on content
Codemasters may have risen some eyebrows when they made the decision to take there Formula One license down the family orientated kart racing alley, but I liked the idea. When done right kart games can have skill based action packed racing, where good driving and track knowledge are imperative, the combination of mechanics, familiar characters and cartoony gloss attract a range of players.
2008′s Mario Kart Wii is arguably one of the best kart games ever made, it has a thriving competitive and modding scene but has also catered to hours of family fun. I’ve always envied Nintendo Wii owners and there exclusive kart experience, so the announcement of F1 Race Stars for PC got me giddy for some klassic kart
Race Star’s launched with a measly 11 tracks composed of the most prestigious locations on the F1 calendar, tracks have been inspired by the characteristics of there real world counterparts. The most apparent use of this is within the tight chicanes of the Monaco circuit; my favourite track for both F1 Race Stars and real life Formula One racing.
But in true karting fashion tracks are heavily stylized with many traits and stereotypes from the residing countries, rainy weather in Britain, thick forest jungle in Brazil and speeding along the autobahn in Germany. While these serve as brilliant environment pieces they barely add any true originality to the level design, which really is a make or break for a decent kart game.
“Race Stars relies much more on it’s proverbial array of power ups to create tension within the gameplay”
Tracks are bountiful with tricky shortcuts, the ability to skip corners if you have the correct power up and the potential to cut large amounts of track as long as you collect the special key. Personally the key required shortcuts feel illogical; players must deviant from the main track to race a slightly longer or potentially harder route that contains a single key, this key then unlocks a gate on the map. The nonsensical part is that you’re required to be in first, or at least the first person to collect the key, meaning the leading player only increases his position.
F1 Race Stars heavily lacks risk and reward; one of my favourite elements of the kart genre is taking the do or die shortcut when your behind to take the race. Race Stars relies much more on it’s proverbial array of power ups to create tension within the gameplay, with the exception of the safety car you can expect the same proven but tired powerup formula (ha get it?).
My issue other than originality is the health and safety super mega politically correct bubble wrap non-violent approach to the powerups. For the most part you will fire balloons, bubbles and occasionally hit by confetti, none of this particularly feels inspired by F1.
The caricature renditions of real F1 racers are both funny and cute, but if you don’t follow the F1 scene they merely become the oversized helmet sticking out of your favourite coloured car. All of the Formula One cars are identical in stats and come in 1,000, 2,000 and 3,000 cc, the variation comes in the form of the characters effects on certain power ups. Some racers can re-roll power ups while others can fire multiple items or even throw back items that otherwise are destined to go forward. These variations add depth and personal choice to an otherwise uncustomisable singleplayer.
“While the KERS corners take a fair bit of skill to get right, they fail in creating the incredibly tight racing lines of powersliding which more core kart gamers enjoy.”
F1 Race Stars opts out of the classic hop and powerslide mechanic in favour of the KERS cornering system. While manoeuvring a KERS corner a player will be able to charge the KERS battery up to three times by pumping the throttle, thus resulting in a powerful boost coming out of the corner. This is inspired from the handling of real F1 cars, they take slow corners and speed out on the straight.
Unfortunately Codemaster’s biggest change to the karting genre is also it’s biggest flop, completely destroying the fast paced gameplay even at 3,000cc. Players who don’t take a racing line will be slammed against a wall or worse, be found sifting through the dirt, gravel, grass and sand. While the KERS corners take a fair bit of skill to get right, they fail in creating the incredibly tight racing lines of powersliding which more core kart gamers enjoy.
Both my 11 year old brother (turned 11 today, happy birthday Thomas!) and I agreed the pit stop mechanic (Get it? Like game mechanic not a real one…forget it) was a challenging factor in the gameplay. If you are hit by too many bubbles your car will become damaged, this will result in slower top speed and worsened handling. Each track has at least 3-4 pit stops, some deviate from the track more than others but ultimately this adds some tactical depth to your choice between the well being of your vehicle, or the next power up you want to take.
The single player career mode is the same 11 maps recycled into 30 separate cups. It’s painfully repetitive, especially on maps that aren’t to your fancy. Codemaster’s did a great job on the AI, I may even say too good of a job. There incredibly aggressive with power ups, use all the good shortcuts and take great lines. Trying to overcome these artificial bastards is the only driving force within Race Star’s lack lusting single player.
Like most kart games F1 Race Stars is at it’s best with split screen. Supporting up to four player split screen F1 Race Stars also gives you the ability for you and your friends to go online together. Online gives you a few different gameplay variations, but the menu also doesn’t give you any idea of how many people are queuing for a particular playlist, which can often lead to prolonged wait times.
“Like most kart games F1 Race Stars is at it’s best with split screen”
As a prominent PC player I am obliged to complain at the state of the PC version of F1 Race Stars. With no 1080 support, no graphical options, locked frame rate, fixed keyboard controls and only supporting Xbox controllers this is definitely a shoddy port. For some absurd reason Codemasters locked the keyboard controls to w,a,s,d, you can’t even use the flipping arrow keys! With the help of the fantastic x360ce program I was able to map my favoured PS2 controller up. You can find that program here!
While Mario, Diddy Kong and Crash have brought immense amount of character to the genre, F1 Race Stars comes off as bland and heartless. While Formula One fans may have a few laughs here and there I doubt there will be huddles of families tucking into Race Stars this holiday season. F1 Race Stars would have served better as an online only F2P kart racer, or at least a fairer priced downloadable game due to the distinct lack of content. If your planning on purchasing Codemaster’s kart attempt bringing friends is a must.
Summary: While the intentions for F1 Race Stars were good and the idea on paper may have sounded great, the lack of content, originality and memorable moments makes this Formula One kart game a forgettable addition to the genre.