I’ve never been a big fan of Formula 1, I’ve never really seen the point in watching cars drive around in a circle for hours on end in the hopes that something interesting just might happen. With that in mind it’s fairly obvious that I’ve never been interested in any of the Formula 1 games that have come out over the years, I’ve played them, and I certainly understand their charm and other people’s love for them, but they’ve never really done anything for me.
When Codemasters announced that they would be putting out a brand new Formula 1 game, one that was aimed more towards the people that didn’t really care about the realism that they can get from the flagship title, I sat up to take note. I like racing games, but in order to get me interested in them, they’ve got to be arcade games, they’ve got to have an aspect that I can jump in and jump out of and, more than anything, they’ve got to be fun to play. F1 Race Stars, developed by Codemasters Birmingham and published by Codemasters Racing ticks all the boxes on paper, but does it do everything I hoped when I recently got my hands on a preview build?
The first thing that players will notice when they start up F1 Race Stars is the aesthetic that the developers have chosen to go with. It has very stylised versions of all your favourite Formula 1 drivers, all with humorous sound banks for their voice (for example, Fernando Alonso, when you pick to race as him, will exclaim “It’s-a me, Alonso”). Seeing this, as well as the extremely easy to navigate menu system, will let most players know what they’re in for from the moment they start the game. They’re in for a game that emphasises the fun of racing instead of striving to be realistic in any way. It looks like your standard Kart racing game, similar in tone and style to something like Mario Kart, Crash Team Racing or even the upcoming LittleBigPlanet Karting, but the juxtaposition of having those cartoon visuals and seeing racers with real names whiz past you on some of the corners feels a little bit odd at first. You soon get used to it, however, and later on in the game you’ll feel those rivalries bubble up inside you as you grip the controller even tighter as Sebastian Vettal passes you on the inside of a bend for the fiftieth time.
The gameplay itself isn’t your standard karting game either, normally you’d find yourself with a drift button, something that you’d press in order to get yourself around some of those more difficult corners, and in most cases giving you a speed boost as you exit the corner. F1 Race Stars is in a totally different ballpark. Instead of drifting around the corners you’re expected to drive a little bit more realistically, slowing down for the corners, taking them on the inside and exiting on the outside, accelerating out of the curve and utilising your KERS for a little bit of a speed burst. This is by far the most shocking aspect of F1 Race Stars, if you attempt to play the game like any other kart racer that you’ve played over the last decade or so, then you’re quickly going to find yourself at the back of the pack, desperately trying to catch up, and unless you change your driving tactics, you’re not going to be able to do so.
There are plenty of game modes to keep players coming back for more and more, there’s the normal race mode, which is something that most people will be used to, and will arguably be the mode that most people dip into when they’re just interested in having a quick race. After that there’s ‘Elimination’, where the player has to stay away from last place if they want to stay in the race, ‘Pole Position’, where you earn points for staying in (or near) first place, ‘Sector Snatch’, which allows the player to take ownership of different areas of the tracks (the more sectors you own, the more chance you have of winning the match), ‘Refuel’, where you have to collect cannisters of fuel in order to stay in the race and earn more points, ‘Slalom’, which tasks you with driving through gates in order to gain points, ‘Exhibition’, where you’re given a target number of points and the first person to reach that target wins and, finally, ‘Trophy Chase’ where the aim is to collect as many trophies as you possibly can, using power-ups against the opponents in order to make them drop theirs.
Power-ups are items that are synonomous with karting games and F1 Race Stars is absolutely no different. There are a varying amount of weapons that you’ll be able to use against your opponents, some of them will be recognisable from other games of the genre, such as the red bubble which homes in on the player in front of you, and the red balloons which obscure the driver’s vision if they fly into them. However, there’s also a couple of items that are brand new and are inspired by events which you would see happen in a real Formula 1 race. If you’re out at the back of the race, and you want to get closer to the front, you might be lucky enough to pick up the Safety Car weapon. This deploys the Safety Car to the front of the race, slowing everyone down and allowing you to catch up and get closer to the front. Perhaps that’s not enough though, if you’re lucky you might also pick up the Wet Weather power-up, which will cause the heavens to open and rain all over the track, again slowing people down and causing a whole heap of slipping and sliding all over the place.
There’s so much more to talk about, but not enough time to do so. What people need to take away is that they shouldn’t dismiss F1 Race Stars as something for kids, or for people that have no interest in Formula 1. There’s something here for everyone and it stands in good stead to bring a whole new generation of F1 fans into the mix. It’s an easy game to pick up and play and (take it from me) when you put the game down all you’ll be able to think about it when you’ll get a chance to play it again. The tracks, based on some of the more famous tracks from around the world, are fun to play with just the right amount of crazy folded into them in order to make them fun for all. The power-ups are a good mix of standard weapons types as well as ones that would only be found in something based around Formula 1, the sound of the engines are amazing, the voices of the drivers are actually rather funny and the controls are easy to use for both seasoned racing game players as well as newcomers. You’ll be able to play couch co-op with up to four of your friends or take the game online with eleven other players and take your place in pole position. You’ll be missing out on something special if you dismiss F1 Race Stars, so don’t make that mistake.
F1 Race Stars is due to be released on Windows PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 on 16th November 2012, with the Wii U version being released at a later date.