Gamescom 2012: F1 Race Stars Hands-On Preview – It's Great Y'Know, For Kids!
Written Friday, August 24, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Hands up who saw this one coming. Us neither, but strangely F1 Race Stars seems to make perfect sense. With Codemasters continuing to do a stellar job with the F1 franchise with its third season on the franchise coming next month, the expert racing studio is looking to expand the license with a title for young and old kids alike. The knee-jerk cynic inside had us rolling our eyes upon F1 Race Stars' original announcement, but getting our hands on the game is an altogether different kettle of fish to simply looking at screens and watching trailers. Early impressions? It's shaping up rather well. Better than we had anticipated, in fact.
“Charming, delightful, exciting, heroic.” These are the keywords that the game's Art Director adhered to during the development of F1 Race Stars, and it has to be said on that front, the game looks more than prepared to deliver on their promise. Boasting a bold and colourful art style, F1 Race Stars certainly looks the part, with three levels of damage for your car, complete with chunky bits that pop off the chassis when you're rammed or crash, like a Kinder egg toy. Sustaining damage slows your car down and little lightning bolts spark from the engine, as your wheels start to wobble and you limp towards the nearest pit lane.
This being a kart racer grants F1 Race Stars plenty of artistic licence, which means more than one pit lane that you can zip through without losing speed as your car is repaired with magic wrenches, and while the game also has official Formula One circuits, they invariably branch off into weird and wacky locations. Going hands-on with the Hockenheim track, you start out on the grid, tear around some of the official layout, before heading onto the Autobahn, into the black forest and through a castle with high and low routes to take (the higher route being a shortcut). The track banks and twists, whereas other circuits will even corkscrew or scale huge vertiginous heights, sending you around hairpins suspended high in the air.
On the track, you'll also come across KERS zones where you can charge your battery up three levels by pumping the accelerator at the right time, before letting go outside of the KERS zone (denoted by blue arrows on the track) for a speed boost. Like any kart racer worth its salt too, there are power-ups to pick up, appearing as collectible coloured stars on the track. Some of these are grounded in real-life Formula One, although like the circuits, cars and drivers, they've been massively exaggerated. So DRS rather than simply being a Drag Reduction System, in F1 Race Stars it turns you silver and renders you invulnerable. You can summon wet weather to make life more difficult for everyone else, while you have wet weather tyres to keep you on track, and you can even conjure up the safety car to slow everyone else down. And that's where any concessions to the actual sport of F1 ends.
The celebratory champagne bottle serves as a fizzy bottle rocket, you can shoot yellow ricochet bubbles at your opponents, blue bubbles to lift rivals off the road for a couple of seconds and teleport nearer to the front of the pack if you're struggling at the back. You can also lay balloons on the track that cover your opponents' view with confetti when burst. Like Mario Kart, there seems to be a good spread of power-ups that are pretty well balanced, making for some close-fought races. Handling-wise, F1 Race Stars could do with being a little looser, so you can perform some powersliding feats in true arcade fashion, but this being a Formula One game, there's loads of grip. It's still immense fun to play of course, and full of character, colour and personality. Each driver likeness is an excellent representation of their real-life counterparts, and all 24 drivers and 12 teams are accounted for.
F1 Race Stars also has a fully featured championship mode, comprised of classic first to the finish races and objective-based challenges. There's 1000cc, 2000cc and 3000cc classes to choose from too, defining the difficulty level, so if it's a little too simple and breezy for you, you're able to ramp things up a bit if you want. Online there's support for up to 12 players, as well as the option to play with friends in split-screen online with other racers. Locally, you can also play in 4-player split-screen, and as it's all powered by Codies' sexy EGO Engine used in every one of its racing titles, F1 Race Stars looks and plays remarkably well.
Visually appealing and more imaginative than we thought it would be, F1 Race Stars is already shaping up to be an enjoyable and entertaining arcade racer and a smart tie-in for Codemasters' main F1 2012 title due in September. Most importantly, it's immediate pick up and play stuff, and if Codies' can loosen up the handling just a tad, the studio is sure to be onto another racing winner to add to its bulging stable of four-wheeled triumphs.
F1 Race Stars will be taking the chequered flag in November 2012.