The 2012 Formula One season was one of the most hotly contested series in the history of the motorsport. Despite the season coming to a heart-stopping end, Codemasters Racing allows race fans to create their own Formula One experience with F1 Race Stars.
Developer: Codemasters Birmingham
Publisher: Codemasters Racing
Platform: Microsoft Xbox 360 (Reviewed), Sony PlayStation 3, Windows PC, Nintendo Wii U
Players: Single-Player, Multi-Player
Release: (EU) November 16th 2012, (NA) November 13th 2012
Codemasters Racing are well-known for producing race-bred simulators retaining a degree of authenticity as close to their real-world counterparts as possible. F1 Race Stars departs from all the Formula One politics, dramas, and high profile pedigree in favour of a fun, family-orientated interpretation of the motorsport. Inevitably with kart-style racing games, F1 Race Stars will no doubt draw comparison to the likes of Mario Kart; and rightly so as the inspiration from the successful franchise is evident throughout, yet F1 Race Stars differs on enough points to make it unique in its own right.
Tracks come alive with inspiration taken from the 2012 FIA racing calendar as key locations such as Germany, Monaco, Brazil and Australia receive a fantasy world twist. Over the top jumps, loop-the-loops, multiple routes, shortcuts and more adds a carnival atmosphere as players speed down colourful, out of this world track designs. With 11 tracks to explore, there’s plenty to see, especially the Truckosaurus monster imposing itself on the USA circuit. In comparison to other kart racers, F1 Race Stars track lengths are longer, with plenty of corners and pit stops along the way. Race conditions dynamically change from a sunny cruise to downpour in a matter of seconds to throw a preverbal spanner into the well-oiled works. Circuits can at times feels like an endurance race given two laps can take the equivalent of four to six on other kart racers, but it does make for a rewarding sense of satisfaction to come in first across the checker flag.
The drivers from F1 2012, love them or not have been re-imagined in cartoon form, sporting their officially licensed race suit and team car in matching team colours. Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel, Webber and more have been faithfully captured, some better than others, with over-sized heads and chiselled features. Those familiar with the characters and personalities from F1 will delight at seeing the caricature drivers speaking gibberish and interacting with the other drivers like never before. Unfortunately the voices haven’t been provided by their real-life equivalents and the Australian accent of Webber will make you shake your head in disapproval.
Joining the cast are a few unknown racers who I suspect are original creations by Codemasters, catering to those who don’t really care for the team sponsored drivers. The Xbox 360 version also allows for a more personalised touch with the ability to import your very own avatar into the driver’s seat. Further options are available such as customised banners, along with extra content available to purchase to add that individual stamp of your own.
Whether you’re well versed in the art of kart racing or not, one of the three choice of skill levels will help ease you into the world stage of competitive racing. To help you on your way, there’s an included tutorial to get you warmed up but I found the controls basic enough to understand through trial and error and soon enough you’ll find yourself caught up in heated tussles for the race lead. There’s plenty of racing modes to test your skills on from the tradition career campaign comprised of 29 different championships and a selection of diverse game modes for variety.
Extra challenges such as Refuel Racket where your fuel is constantly draining throws in an element of on-the-edge racing, more aligned with the Formula One experience in which the game is based upon. Local split-screen allows for up to four player gaming, or take the races to the global stage with up to twelve players in online competitive mode. Codemasters Racing has also integrated their all-new RaceNet hub as a free extra for online tracking of races, rewards, rivals and community-based events.
Power-Up zones are littered along the race track to help and hinder, from disastrous bubbles that halt you in your tracks, to explosive speed boosts and Safety Car abilities to rein in the lead car. It all adds an extra layer of uncertainty; and just because you’re running hot in first place, doesn’t mean you’re going to retain that spot for long.
When you think Formula One, you’ll undoubtedly think pit stops. Vehicles in F1 Race Stars do sustain damage and will require the occasional tune-up to remain competitive throughout the course of a race. Driving through a designated pit stop zone will automatically repair your car back to maximum speed potential. The pit stops don’t require a pit crew, or actual stopping for that matter to prevent slowing the pace of the game down, but it would have been nice to see some sort of interaction rather than a magical spanner floating above as your rear axle is completely repaired.
Slipstreaming behind another car is a fine art in Formula One and executing this maneuver well provides a much needed slingshot past the lead car when fighting for position. Extended slipstreaming rewards consistent speed boosting, although attempting to slipstream and not collide with a group of leading drivers will require a little patience and practice to master.
Feeding off the F1 theme, F1 Race Stars introduces KERS zones. Placed in plum corner locations, as you drive around these blue striped corners, the accelerator trigger can be pumped to build up KERS energy for a speed boost upon exiting the corner marker. Driving off course within these marked zones will deplete your collected KERS supply so be sure to stay on track for maximum advantage. Couple the KERS concept with slipstreaming and power-ups and you’ll find an unsurmountable lead surprisingly easy to close, and this is where the kart racing appeal truly shows through. Unlike your simulation based racing titles, even with a few unlucky missteps, a chasing pack will still be able to close a lead.
There’s interesting concepts at work here in F1 Race Stars, although mostly those familiar with the Formula One scene will truly appreciate the relation between this off-shoot title and the main event. That being said, the easy to pick up and play nature of the game will appeal to the wider racing audience. Graphically brilliant with the Codemasters’ EGO engine at work and highly polished gaming for a title that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Those after a quirky racing title are spoilt for choice this holidays with Sonic and Sackboy each throwing up a challenge, but F1 Race Stars performs admirably under pressure and a well worthy contender for your seasonal spending.
7.5 – Good. Entertaining but is held back by a couple of flaws. It will certainly capture its intended audience but it won’t appeal to everyone.