At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players
Matt Bailey PlayStation 3 Codemasters Codemasters Birmingham Up to 4 (Split-screen)/12 (Online)
Requirements Also on... Buy from Amazon.co.uk
None. PC, Xbox 360 Click here to buy F1 Race Stars.

F1 Race Stars review

The F1 season is now over, and after such an exciting battle for the championship, many fans will be making use of Codemasters' F1 2012 to satisfy their urge for open wheel racing ahead of the next season beginning in March. However, despite the company's attempts to broaden the appeal of the series and make it more accessible to newcomers, it might not suit all who want to engage with the sport. Enter F1 Race Stars, Codemasters Birmingham's attempt to bring the immediate accessibility of Mario Kart and merge it with the official license from FOM.

This bridging of worlds might not seem like the most obvious of decisions to make. After all, Formula One is as much about the cars and the teams as it is the drivers, so stripping it down to just the personalities of the people behind the wheel feels a bit strange. It means you end up with 28 identically performing cars (that's all 24 drivers, plus a couple of fantasy teams to provide some female drivers to choose from), who are differentiated from each other by unique special abilities and whether or not you like a particular driver. Even Mario Kart offers more variety in the vehicle selection and styles of play.

Even this didn't stop Kimi finishing ahead of Lewis in the championship

Even this didn't stop Kimi finishing ahead of Lewis in the championship

However, to dig straight into a negative point doesn't feel fair to a game which has come closer to nailing the feeling of an arcade karting racing game than many of its non-Nintendo rivals of the past few years. Sony keeps trying with the ModNation Racers and now the LittleBigPlanet Karting series, and there's certainly plenty of others on iOS, but Codemasters have used their long-running racing game experience to make F1 Race Stars more than a cash-in on the F1 licence. The karts, actually shrunken and stylised versions of the full open-wheel vehicles, have a good weight to them, although it can be a little difficult to get them round corners due to the curious omission of a powerslide option, often leaving you to instead (gasp) use the brakes, something generally unheard of in the genre.

The need to use brakes varies significantly with the courses, which span a good selection of the real-life F1 tracks, including Silverstone, Hockenheim and Suzuka. Each incorporates bits of the actual track, in particular the first and last few corners, with most of the action taking place in environments inspired by the country. So in Germany that's a trip through the forests and on to an Autobahn, whereas it's carnival for Brazil and a mix of Arabian Nights and the Ferrari World rollercoasters for Abu Dhabi. It's unfortunate that not all 20 locations are present, with only 11 on the disc, but more have arrived as downloadable content. That's still not many tracks by today's standards; Mario Kart usually has 32 of them, while LittleBigPlanet Karting is built on the premise that you can create as many as you like. As a result, while the racing is fun, and the tracks are quite interesting, you'll find yourself growing tired of them.

The repetition of tracks is emphasised in the campaign mode, where mini-championships generally consisting of 3 or 4 races, see you racing in the same locations quite often. The saving grace here is the variety of modes; instead of each cup consisting of a few straight races, some are focussed on a different type of play, such as Slalom, where you need to make your way between the checkpoints in time, or the fuel mode, where you have to balance keeping your vehicle topped up with the pick-ups littered around the track versus taking on-board too much fuel and slowing your car down. They are fun and original ideas that make good use of the licence.

This is also true of the weaponry, which features items such as a KERS boost and safety car (which slows down everyone), although it only goes so far before they ran out of ideas; red shells are replaced by red bubbles which act in a similar homing manner, while yellow bubbles act like green shells, and blue bubbles like banana skins. However, despite the lack of creativity, they work well to improve the balance of the game. The same can't be said of the warp ability, which unlike a Bullet Bill, leaps you straight forward in front of other racers. This is more disorientating than flying past your rivals, and if you're towards the front it can give you an almost unstoppable lead, especially as there's a lack of a blue shell equivalent, sadly.

If you get damaged, you'll need to head for the pit lane to repair your car

If you get damaged, you'll need to head for the pit lane to repair your car

As you might expect in a kart racer, F1 Race Stars is at its best in multiplayer, and pleasingly the increasingly absent 4-player split-screen mode is available here. Not only that, but you can take yourself and the people playing with you online to race others from around the world, with up to 12 players in total. It can be frantic and very enjoyable, although again the aforementioned handling and the tight corners, can damage the pickup-and-play appeal needed to make the game a must-have when friends come round. The cute visuals, which successfully bring a rather technical sport into a cartoon world, will help to win over newcomers and those with only a passing interest in the sport. It's great to see how each of the real world drivers has been reinterpreted by Codemasters, although their stereotypical national voiceovers might sit uncomfortably with some.

F1 Race Stars is a solid kart racer, but the lack of drifting makes the handling less appealing than its looks would suggest, and the low number of tracks makes the single player mode feel a bit too repetitive. There's a lot of potential here, and it has successfully demonstrated it's not just a cheap cash-in on the licence, but it will take a sequel to polish the game to a point where it can be recommended as your go-to party game.

Ratings

Overall The handling is a bit too harsh, and it's a little low in content for a full price point, but F1 Race Stars is fun, particularly in multiplayer, and the art style helps inject a sense of fun into the world's premiere motorsport. 7/10

Click here to buy F1 Race Stars from Amazon.co.uk.

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