There are few developers around who can claim to know more about the racing game genre than Codemasters. The UK based company are responsible for Colin McRae (DiRT), GRID and F1 games with gameplay ranging from the serious to more fun titles like DiRT: Showdown. That game showed that the racing game studio had a sense of what makes a fun game but following the release of the latest F1 simulator few would have imagined that a follow-up would be so quick to market but it is… kind of.
F1 Race Stars see’s Codemasters Racing studio head in a completely new direction with the franchise. Here we are bobble headed versions of the real world teams, complete with karts, power-ups, crazy circuits and, in theory, a whole load of fun.
We have all played Mario Kart, right? Well take that gameplay and mash it together with Formula 1 and we are most of the way towards having Race Stars. Here we have 11 circuits loosely based on well known tracks from F1 (Monaco has its tunnel and harbour roughly in place, but the hill after Sainte Devote is partially replaced by a rocket propelled jump towards the Casino area) or just plain made up. Within each track we have short cuts and multiple routes with hazards that range from simple water fountains to Truckosaurus…
Racing is split into three classes, 1000, 2000 and 3000cc which vary in speed and difficulty and within each are a set of cups to play through. Game modes also include Refuel Racket where we must pick up fuel to replace the depleting supply, balancing speed as more fuel means a slower car. Slalom Story keeps us on our toes through gates which increase our multiplier and thats just a couple of examples which add to the standard race mode. As well as some crazy circuit design and hazards the game is also filled with pickup’s where we obtain boosts or weapons that can be launched, or dropped at our opponents. Some of the more useful are Safety Car which slows down the leader, or Rain Cloud where the weather changes and we are the only car with tyres to suit the conditions.
Codemasters also apply their knowledge of the F1 brand with DRS power-ups that add super speed and invulnerability or KERS corners where we pump the accelerator to build up a speed boost for the upcoming straight. Pit’s are also included, but not in the normal way, as we are fixed at high speed during the pit lane should we become damaged by a weapon.
As well as the single player career, stand alone races and time trials we also get split screen multiplayer (4 players on one machine) and online gameplay against up to 12 opponents with stat tracking, rewards and community events.
To anyone who has played a kart racing game before, whether based on plumbers, primates or anything else they will immediately feel at home in Race Stars, in fact the only hit we really get is how to use KERS on corners… everything else falls into place itself. Past that we simply move from short chaotic race to short crazy race and beyond… never left to think for long about the insanity that is going on around us. If there is anything that gives Race Stars its own feel it is that braking is more of a requirement here than most kart racers, especially on some of the more demanding hairpins.
Video options are few and far between, everyone is getting the same graphical experience here with the game running at a solid 60fps on our GTX 680. Elsewhere the cars actually look rather good, some of the more life like art in the game with the racers all having an over the top look of the real person about them. Sound too is hyper exaggerated with the likes of Sebastian Vettel having a stereotypical German voiceover, Paul Di Resta going down the cliche Scots route for his voice clips.
With a pick up and play, straight forward feel to the game it was vital that Codemasters added a lot of variety to the game and they have also succeeded on that front. There are plenty of race modes both online and offline with enough power ups, unlockables and challenge available to keep everyone busy for a decent period of time. Track variation is huge and the only real issue with the game, other than being a touch to easy early on, is that it is probably priced on the high side. At £27.99 (Steam)… £19.99 seems more appropriate in our opinion. That said a higher price never stopped Mario Kart Wii becoming the best selling racing game of all time. Some extra originality, especially in weapons which are mostly quite familiar, might also have been nice because the ideas which are new here (like KERS, on the fly pit repairs and the like) are all very good and enhance the gameplay.
Back to the racing, F1 Race Stars is and always was going to be a game which is best played with others. If that is online, great… if its split screen with our mates, even better. There are few better gaming experiences than cartoonish kart racing with friends.
Summary F1 Race Stars is absolutely packed with character and makes no effort to be complicated, this is a race game which looks to be as fun and easy to play as possible.