Watch out Mario, looks like you may just be beat to pole position as there is a new kart game in town and it looks, sounds and plays well, really well. F1 Race Stars has been developed and published by Codemasters and was released on 16th November to very little fanfare, which is disappointing considering just how much fun this title really is.
If you’re a fan of Mario kart racing then you know what’s coming. In fact this is very similar in game play and feel. F1 Race Stars is based (if only loosely) on the 2012 Formula One series and allows players to join Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel in a cartoony world racing against all our favourite racing superstars and teams including Mercedes, McLaren and Red Bull Racing. Each of the F1 circuits have been recreated in a colourful, vibrant fun way ensuring (and I promise you this) hours of karting fun.
One of the coolest features of F1 Race Stars is the ability to use your own Xbox Avatar instead of an F1 driver. It’s pretty damn awesome to watch the karts pulling up to the starting line and your own avatar that you have spent hours painstakingly perfecting is lined up next to Felipe Massa or Jenson Button. As the lights go from red to green you watch the drivers signal each other with a series of thumbs up or winks and then your Avatar prepares himself with a quirky pre-race animation.
All the 12 teams and 24 drivers are available, each one has certain abilities but to be honest it doesn`t make much difference really who you are or what team you drive for, and with the addition of two female teams it adds a nice balance to the game.
Back in 2008 Codemasters took over the F1 licence from Sony and have been responsible for all F1 games to date, yet this is their first kart racing game. F1 Race Stars draws on their experience from developing games like the iconic Colin McRae Rally and TOCA Touring Cars titles. So, with this pedigree F1 Race Stars should be well polished and good fun to play. The result is exactly that, a quirky grown up version of Mario Kart, with bright colourful graphics and pretty good game mechanics.
The drivers themselves do resemble their real-life counterparts, but in a funny short, cartoony dwarf kind of way. They all have big heads and little bodies… somewhat similar to the Bobblehead’s found in Fallout 3. The tracks are rendered well with some nice ideas, like driving through traffic in Germany or avoiding giant Geisha girls in Japan that add to the chaos that surrounds you. The tracks feature a bunch of ideas and gameplay elements to keep you having fun;
- Power-Ups – There are the usual amount of power ups and weapons, again similar to Mario Kart with homing bubbles, trap bubbles, slip stream power ups and more.
- Constructor Bonus – each team has its own special ability to help you on the track. This adds additional play-ability as you go through all the teams unlocking more abilities.
- KERS Boost – Instead of just sliding round corners taking out your opponents as you go, try to stay on the blue pads in order to build up KERS boost in your battery. You can charge up to 3 levels of KERS boost if you are quick enough and then let loose and watch your rivals left behind in the dust.
- Slip-streaming – nothing new here to be fair. Drive behind your rivals in order to increase your own speed and slip passed them. But wait, remember those power-ups? They can be used in reverse also… keep your eyes open.
- Secret Shortcuts – One thing that I found challenging yet fun was to collect a unique key during each race which unlocked a shortcut enabling quick and speedy routes to fly by the opposing teams.
F1 Race Stars comes with a host of game modes both off and online. Career mode allows up to 4 players to play locally and work their way through various Championships unlocking a variety of rewards. Quick Play is just that, a quick and easy way to race against the AI or 3 friends in some tradition karting split screen action. Time Trail is actually one of my favorite modes in the whole game as it challenges you to see how fast you can get round the circuit without disruption. Then add to this race modes including Elimination, Pole Position, Sector Snatch, Refuel, Slalom, Exhibition and Trophy Chase, each adding new and bizarre twists to the karting genre.
Multiplayer online is fast paced and action packed and although this is a cartoony, cute and cuddly karting game, online multiplayer is not for the weak hearted. The best thing about the online multiplayer mode is that you and three ‘Friday night pizza and beer buddies’ can join online games whilst using split screen thus meaning no one misses out on the action. Join races with up to 11 other (12 in total) opponents in King of the Screen and Team Racing match-ups.
F1 Race Stars isn’t (nor does it claim to be) the most innovative kart racing game ever created, yet it does have its charm. It’s over the top, it has well thought out, crazy, mind bending circuits that keep you on your toes from start to finish, and it includes a plethora of power-ups and other gameplay elements that just add to the fun and carnage on screen. With a full packed, if not slightly repetitive Career mode, and superb multiplayer mode, Codemasters have done almost everything they can to ensure that F1 Race Stars is a title every family can enjoy over the Christmas and Holiday period and way beyond into the New Year.