Game: F1 Race Stars
Developer: Codemasters Birmingham
Publisher: Codemasters Racing
Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows PC
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
When you think of a game based around the world of Formula 1, you automatically think of realistic cars with incredible looking lighting and weather effects, perhaps a good deal of physics thrown in for good measure too, just to make your experience just that little bit more realistic. F1 Race Stars is a new Formula 1 game that takes everything you thought you knew about the genre and throws it out the window, instead giving us a kart racing game to the Mario Kart style, or more recently, LittleBigPlanet Karting.
Is the change in direction a welcome one? Is it just what Codemasters needed to open up the franchise to a new range of people, or is just a little bit of fun?
GRAPHICS: F1 Race Stars makes use of the Ego Engine that we’ve seen in a couple of Codemasters games now, although it’s admittedly being used to totally different effect here. All of the characters that you’ll come to meet throughout your travels in the game look enough like their real-world counterparts that you’ll be able to instantly recognise who they are, but they’re different enough to pull in the type of people that would shy away from a game with the word “F1” at the beginning of it. There’s no doubt that the characters in the game look amazing, and it’ll take a long time before you get tired of them waving at each other at the start of every race. No matter how good the characters look though, the thing that really steals the show is the environments. All of them are designed so that you’ll be able to tell where you are, even if you didn’t select the track. But they’re not the type of track you’ll be used to when it comes to an F1 game. Don’t expect familiar bends and turns, instead expect massive sections where you’ll be driving off road, through traffic or even defying gravity.
SOUND: One thing that you don’t expect to be realistic when it comes to a karting game based on Formula 1 is the engine sounds, but many people will be pleasantly surprised to hear that the sound of the engines as they whiz past is actually spot on. They’re never going to sound exactly like the real thing does, and neither do they have to in a game that’s clearly not trying to be realistic in any way, but many people will be surprise at just how high-powered they do sound. Codemasters Birmingham could have taken the easy route and thought that because it’s a karting game, all of the vehicles could sound as if they were battery operated and nobody would really care. That’s where the developers have outdone themselves, each of the cars sound as if they’re pumped full of fuel, are tuned to the heights of their capabilities and are ready to be let loose on whichever track you happen to choose.
GAMEPLAY: Fundamentally, your only goal being is to get from the start of the track all the way to the end in one piece. If you happen to finish in first place too then fantastic but even if you don’t, it doesn’t matter, you can always pick up a couple more points further down the line in the tournament. Delve deeper into the game though and you’ll see that there’s much more than first meets the eye, in the form of Career mode, Time Trials, Online play and just simple, down-to-earth racing against other people. Whichever mode you decide to play first, you’re in for a ride. So you better strap in.
The first mode – the simply titled ‘Play’ mode – is where you’ll want to go if you just want a quick race around one of the eleven tracks that are available in the game. Simply choose a track, choose a racer and you’re off, weaving through your opponents and taking them down with one of the many weapons that you’ll find littering the track. There are a lot of weapons too, from the simple missiles that you’ll find in every karting game (both manual and automatic aiming varieties), all the way through to weapons that feel more at home in an F1 game, weapons with wonderful abilities like making it rain on the track or deploying the safety car in order to slow your opponents down and allow you take make some of those valuable seconds back.
Time Trail is a mode which does exactly what it says on the tin. Pick a character and a track and you’ll be given an infinite number of laps in order to achieve the best time you possibly can. It’s modes like this that remind players that F1 Race Stars can be a brutally hard game at times, despite first appearances. There are three trophies that can be awarded in Time Trial mode, Bronze, Silver and Gold, and while the Bronze and Silver cups are relatively easy to attain, in order get that elusive Gold trophy you’re going to have to memorise each corner of the track, every point where you need to slow down and speed up and even try to find the short-cuts that are hidden away in each track. Going for the gold isn’t for the faint of heart, but some of the more regular racing fans will be happy to have the challenge.
Finally, Career Mode is where you can pick a single racer and take them all the way to the top. Collecting as many of the trophies as you can by competing in (and winning) the many tournaments that will comprise a full career mode. With 14 racing teams, 28 racers and 90 trophies to be won (30 tournaments, each with Bronze, Silver and Gold to be won) you’ll be spending a lot of time in Career mode if you want to totally complete it.
LONGEVITY: If you’re the type of person who gets a few friends round and plays racing games, there’s a good chance that F1 Race Stars is going to find itself at the top of the pile. There are enough tracks to keep plenty of people entertained for the long run and the addition of Codemasters’ own RaceNet service means that there’s always going to be something to do even for the lone online racer. Even in terms of the championships, with almost a hundred trophies to claim, you’re going to be at this a good long while, and there’s a chance that in that time you may have only scratched the surface.
VERDICT: F1 Race Stars does a perfect job of getting people that wouldn’t normally associate themselves with an F1 game to sit down and race with the likes of Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and the rest of the gang. If you’ve ever played Mario Kart, Crash Team Racing or even the recent LittleBigPlanet Karting, and have fallen in love with the crazy antics that a kart racer allows you to get up to, then F1 Race Stars is the game for you. If you’re a fan of F1 but just wish they’d lighten up from time to time, then F1 Race Stars is the game for you too. Even if you’re just a parent who wants to get their young children into the world of Formula 1, sit them down with this gem from Codemasters Birmingham and you won’t be going far wrong.