|F1 Race Stars|
|Developer: Codemasters Birmingham
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: 1-4 Split-Screen, 2-12 online.
F1 Race Stars is racing game specialists Codemasters’ first foray into the crowded, cartoony world of karting games. As fans of Sky’s F1 coverage we became hooked on McLaren's animated Tooned series, and the F1RS cars look fabulous in a similarly stylised way, as do the drivers, although some likenesses are a lot better than others. There are a couple of fictional teams with their own drivers, and you can also race as your avatar. You see them on the starting grid and at the podium presentation, and it’s a nice touch, especially if you don’t want to be Sebastien Vetteltoon, Jenson Buttoon or Lewis Hamiltoon and would rather race against the stars.
You can choose to race with 1000, 2000 or 3000cc Karts and you’d be hard pressed to notice the difference initially as the variation in the impression of speed isn’t that great. That’s until you notice the different lap times required to win races- we’ve seen it be up to 20 seconds more (easier) on 1000cc compared to the hugely demanding 3000cc. And when I say ‘demanding,’ I in fact mean evil, unfair and vindictive. 3000cc races are almost uniformly ludicrously hard, and have managed to make me (or so I’m told) drop my normally ice cool demeanour and issue such anger-filled rants as “Oh My Fucking God, did you see that fucking little fuck? He fucked my fucking kart right fucking up, right on the last fucking corner. FUCK!” – although I’d never admit to as much.
The racing is about learning the tracks, the optimum racing line, where all the boost pads and KERS corners are and where best to use the weapons, some of which will do you more harm than good if deployed at the wrong time/place. There’s no ‘boost’ or ‘turbo’ button as in many kart racers, the KERS corners are a clearly marked zone in which you can charge up a speed boost by holding/releasing the throttle (R Trigger by default) up to 3 times to gain a the maximum boost as you leave the KERS zone. There are various random pick-ups, some are boosts that can be saved and used when you want and others are deployable bubble-based weapons (forward and rearward firing missiles and drop mines) to damage and slow the other racers down. Not being able to boost right when you want to on every lap makes F1RS feel different to many kart games, but there are so many pick-ups and the tracks are so long that every lap feels different.
Another thing that sets F1RS apart from most kart racers is that there’s no jump button, and given the amount of sticky-out bits of grass/mud/sand/water etc, a jump ability would have made for a lot more engaging racing and fewer speed-sapping annoyances. Another gripe is that the player cars seem to get buffeted by the AI cars far too often, and while it’s possible to bump them back (even knocking them off narrow raised sections) this often results in your car getting damaged, and therefore slowing it down until you pit and repair, making ramming other cars pointless.
Each team has its own speciality weapon that you’re more likely to pick up, for instance Red Bull has a Slipstream Boost and McLaren has the extremely useful ability to swap pickups. The randomness of the pickups is fairly kind, and you’ll usually pick up one that’s useful for your position in the race i.e. missiles/catch-up boosts if you’re trailing and shields or drop weapons if you’re leading.
As brightly coloured as a Mario game, the looks shouldn't lull you into a false sense of security. The AI opponents are unrelentingly evil, they will nip in front of you to steal power-ups that you’re just about to run over and also seem to use the weapons to their utmost ability. While it’s possible to build up an unassailable lead in some races with good driving and perfect use of weapons/power-ups, it’s not uncommon to get passed by 2 cars on the start/finish line just as you approach the chequered flag thinking you’ve won. The game even has a Safety Car, but it only seems to appear when I’m in the lead (this is a lie), its purpose being to close the field up again (this is true.) Although some races seem harder than others they all play out differently and unlike most other karting games you never feel like you’re in a staged event or a time trial masquerading as a race.
- Bright, colourful and cute as a (Jenson) Button.
- Speedy, addictive racing.
- Surprisingly good multiplayer split-screen and online.
- May be too hard for kids and casual gamers.
- 3000cc is, frankly, absurdly difficult.