By Nicholas Simonovski
I sometimes approach a new Codemasters’ racing title with some form of scepticism. While they’ve been responsible for some of this generation’s most enjoyable games (think Colin McRae DiRT, Race Driver GRID and F1 2012), they’ve also had a track record for ruining what were once respectable franchises as well (just think what a shamble DiRT 2 was for the Colin McRae series). I was therefore somewhat confused when the announcement of F1 Race Stars was made earlier this year. Was it going to be a fun game, or much like DiRT Showdown, or an addition to a franchise that wasn’t really necessary? Needless to say, my opinion was essentially made-up when I selected Mark Webber for my first race and heard the most rubbish stereotypical Australian accent I’ve ever seen in a game. Let me elaborate.
As I’m sure most could tell from the first trailer, F1 Race Stars bears heavy resemblance to Mario Kart. Now, while this doesn’t necessarily make it a bad game (after all, it’s difficult not to make a title like this without comparisons to Mario Kart being made), the issue here is that F1 Race Stars does nothing better... or even right. Let’s begin with the handling of the vehicles. The first thing you’d expect from a game like this is ultra-arcade physics, high speed and the ability to drift around corners, right? Sadly, F1 Race Stars only delivers on half of that. While you’ll be racing in F1-inspired vehicles, unless you’re racing with 3000cc engines (the hardest difficulty), they simply just won’t feel fast. Combine that with the fact that you can’t drift around corners, there’s no real reason why you’d want to play this game over something like Mod Nation Racers. Yes the physics are easy to get used to, but the fact that you need to brake to go around corners rather than just drift through them seems ridiculous. There’s no sense of satisfaction in playing this game – you never feel rewarded like in Mario Kart for drifting along a long bend and the concept of braking in a karting game like this just feels out of place.
This idea of a poor Mario Kart copy-and-paste job continues with the power-ups too. Despite being described as featuring "awesome power-ups" in the trailer, yet they come across as nothing short of unimaginative and frustrating. While there are some F1-inspired power-ups, such as a safety car which speed-limits the rest of the drivers and prevents them from passing or the ability to douse the track with torrential rain which makes the course more slippery and not as fast, the developers were lazy with others. Red balls (yes I know, such creativity) that hone in on your target and makes them temporarily immobile or yellow balls that you can shoot which ricochet off the walls, are just two examples of power-ups that have been lifted straight from Mario Kart (think red and green shells, respectively). Hell, they’ve even copied the Bullet-Bill missile power-up too!
Continuing-on, another aspect which is annoying about the power-up system in this game, is that whenever you are hit by an opponent’s item/weapon, the parts of your car fall apart as if they would on an F1 vehicle (such as when you colliding into a wall). While it might have seemed like a good idea to have your front wing fly off, you’re rear spoiler crack and your tires loosen after an accident, it becomes incredibly frustrating to have to drive at a slower speed as you make your way to a pit lane to repair your vehicle -- all while your opponents speed past you in the process. It’s therefore even more frustrating to come out of a pit lane, return to speed and then have someone hit you with another power-up moments later, once again leaving you driving at a slower pace for another section of the track as you find the next pit lane. It decisions like this which make me wonder who exactly this game is geared towards.
The identity crisis that F1 Race Stars suffers from continues to be evident throughout the game in all other aspects too. For example, you’d think the developers are trying to take a realistic approach at times where you’ll have indicators appear at the top of the screen advising you of the type of corner you’re approaching, despite the fact none of them are ever really difficult to get around. With the cartoonish nature of the game you’d think it would be aimed at children, yet F1 Race Stars becomes ridiculously difficult even on the medium setting, not even a fifth into the game. You’ll struggle to finish in the top three for most racers but because the position of each driver can vary so significantly between events, you can place tenth in one race, second in the next, and still end up winning the tournament.
In-short, F1 Race Stars is a game that tries to make the Formula One franchise a little more friendly, a little more inviting, but instead makes it feel completely ridiculous. Despite the fact this is an officially licensed F1 product, it’s no wonder the drivers didn’t lend their voices to their own characters – it would be as embarrassing as a celebrity doing a Japanese television commercial for some quick cash. It’s not to say that Codemasters has ruined the F1 franchise, but this game serves as a stain on what has been a respectable series by the publishers up until now. F1 Race Stars isn’t a game that’s fun to play and is one that doesn’t appear to know who its target market actually is. To put it simply, adults are better off picking up F1 2012 and kids are much better playing Mario Kart on their Nintendo Wii.