It's vaguely surprising that we didn't get F1 Race Stars sooner. There's Codemasters, a publisher with a racing pedigree, sat on a licensing deal that includes (arguably) the world's most recognisable race stars. It's also got a bit of a job on its hands getting anything notable without an automobile on the cover to succeed.
So, here it is: a karting take on the Formula 1 license. Or, if you prefer, an F1 take on the karting genre.
The highly technical, strategic and data-driven challenges of F1 don't seem to have an obvious fit with the fast, furious and off-the-wall antics of your average kart racing title, but they work better than you might expect. Rather than just slapping an F1 skin onto a Mario Kart
clone, Codemasters has put a bit of work in to import some of F1's hallmarks without sucking the fun from karting's bleeding neck.
The first thing you're going to notice when you fire up F1 Race Stars
is the lack of drifting. I spent several laps randomly pressing everything I could think of because I must
be missing something, only to conclude that, nope, it's not happening. Because, I suppose, it's F1. F1 cars don't drift.
This may be a deal breaker for you. Drifting is so ingrained into the fabric of karting that even after several hours of play I was still instinctively trying to slide round corners every now and then. Similarly, bumping into another vehicle really knocks the speed out of your kart, so you'd be well advised to avoid collisions wherever possible.
These two features mean you actually have to (feel free to gasp here) handle
your vehicle. And what I'm trying to get at here, without breaking it to you too suddenly, is that you have to take your finger off the accelerator and even brake sometimes
Going some way to make up for the lack of drift as a way of building boost, there are Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) zones scattered along the track (more F1 nerdy info on KERS can be found here
). Pumping the accelerator in these zones builds your boost, while taking a knock or coming off track will cancel it out.
The game's handling factors sit alongside a couple of other features that elevate the level of strategy beyond your average kart racer. The first is damage that genuinely hinders your performance.
Various power-ups will deliver a blow that leaves your engine crackling and smoking like a New Jersey power substation in a Superstorm and your speed severely hampered. A second hit knocks one of your wheels out of shape and you really start to limp.
There's a solution to these problems, however – the Pit Lane. Yeah, that's what you read: the Pit Lane. You don't have to pull to a stop, but trundling through the pit lane might take you on a longer route than the track offers, or you might miss a boost-pad or power-up.
So, pitting becomes another strategic choice. Is this a pit lane that adds a prohibitive amount of distance onto your race? Is worth missing that power-up really worth it? Are you going to emerge into a cluster of other racers you can't get out of?
The tracks also have the odd branching pathway to keep things interesting. They're not too dramatic but you might come across a shortcut that clips a fair amount off a corner but will only do you any good if you have a boost power-up to shoot you across a sticky surface.