Codemasters look to bring F1 racing to a totally new stage in F1 Race Stars as they tear up the rulebook and let their imaginations run wild, but does the transition suit Lewis Hamilton and co. Is it worth it finding a way into your collection of light-hearted games?
Cute but deadly
F1 Race Stars is above anything else, cute. The drivers are fantastic likenesses of the genuine article. Codemasters are clearly making the most of having the creative freedom to express their licensing rights in a new way. The element of careful design extends away from their racers and into the tracks too.
The tracks on offer cover each corner of the globe and cleverly focus on one or two key features (such as the tunnel from Monaco for example) whereas the rest of the track becomes a fluid and silky smooth compact of a particular countries ideals, icons and stereotypes. Take for example, the UK. You'll duck and weave through a car factory, slalom between Harrier Jump Jets (very cool) and endure some pretty bumpy country roads. There's also what we Brits fondly refer to as a 'roundabout' (traffic island to most others) and the dreaded yellow speed camera makes an appearance too. Other reviews have lamented the styles and choices of the track design, but honestly I found it quite enjoyable. Some tracks stand out more than others in terms of their actual layout, but then that's always going to happen, isn't it? Tracks on a racer are like maps on Call of Duty. We all have our favourites, and we all like some variety. The bottom line here is that variety is here by the bucket load, and there are plenty of multiple routes, shortcuts, hazards and length to account for most tastes.
I've been red balled!
The second most important part of any kart racer worth it's salt is the range of power-ups on offer. A quick summary here includes; projectiles both seeking and non-seeking, bubble traps, boosts, teleportation, safety car drops and weapon jammers. You'll forget 90% of the time you're playing an F1 themed kart racer but there are constant nudges with F1 themed weapons to remind you that this isn't Mario or Luigi in your hands. The Safety Car bunches up the pack and allows you to catch-up again, whilst the wet weather you can call down from the sky produces some rather awesome visuals and causes the opposition to struggle for grip and produce slower lap-times too. That's a cool touch, no doubt.
Mostly, though, the weapons are uninspired and these are the ones that are far more common in the mystery boxes dotted around the course. Not only is this boring but it detracts from their value too. If you're lagging behind and just unlocked a boost it doesn't matter. So did 8 out of the 11 other cars ahead of you. It's the same with the Kers System. You earn boost by travelling over charge pads and 'revving' to bank additional boost. It's so easy to store the maximum boost that everyone manages it. As a result you leave the pads, the boost is automatically engaged (there's no option to store it) and nobody changes position or gains any benefit.
Some championship events restrict power-ups to a select few and others ban them completely, but it does little to keep them from getting stale. Most worryingly is that the game becomes a dreadful bore when competitions ban all power-ups in any form. OK, it's only a couple out of all the events on offer, but the game doesn't stand up without them and you'll be eager for them to be finished as fast as possible. That says something quite worrying I think. The core mechanics seem to be flawed.
I'm rubber, you're glue
The karts handle themselves well for the most part. It's when you step up the difficulty that you'll be left wanting. Each event allows you to compete at three levels; 1000cc, 2000cc and 3000cc. This represents an increase in the ability of the AI and of course increases the level of competition you'll struggle against for victory.
At the 1000cc and 2000cc levels you'll be right on the pace with the AI and happily gunning for a podium finish. Turn that dial up to 3000cc, however, and now we find that the AI is gifted additional perks to compensate for their driving style. They don't actually alter their paths, but magically become really good at sticking to their lines. And I mean 'sticking' literally. If you try to take a sharp corner at the same speed as the AI (and brake in the same place as indicated by the puffs of smoke and tyre marks) the kart will understeer badly and you'll lose speed and positions — you'll likely head off track too. Put simply, it's a dirty old trick of AI programmers, but it's alive and kicking here. Skill makes a much smaller impact on your final position than a large dose of luck.
I should also mention the Time Trials too, as there are linked achievements. You'll manage a Bronze and Silver run (they stack) on your first lap. But Gold? Gold times are brutally calculated. After an hour running laps on a track yesterday and pin pointing boost points with a scientific method worthy of astro-physicists, I was still 0.39 off the required time. Consider each lap lasted just under a minute, and I failed every single time for an hour solid. Now consider I beat the Silver time on my first lap. That would imply a rethink might be required of the conditions you need to meet.
The achievements here are standard fare. Complete all championships, win all trophies, play with a friend split-screen etc. None will cause too much of a hassle, though beating the dirty AI at their own game on 3000cc at all tracks might require some effort and a lot of luck in drawing the right random power-ups at the right time. When all is said and done, I expect the final TA score to settle around the 1500 - 1750 mark.
Is it a podium finish?
Despite the awesome individual flare and creativity of each track and the cute characters to choose from, the experience falls well short. Thanks to the all too familiar power-ups and the below average single player experience, you'll find it wearing thin all too soon. You might get more mileage out with some friends, but in my experimentation with local co-op we found one event of a few races was enough for us. We weren't drawn in, even with team based play. It misses the mark on too many levels. In short, Codemasters need to dream up bigger and wilder karting ambitions.
Get the biggest Xbox news delivered straight to your inbox every week.