F1 2012 was by no means the most amazing Formula One game ever released, but is that down to the fact that Codemasters were a little busy last year not only working on one F1 game but two?
Perhaps that is the case, as their other project in 2012; F1 Race Stars came out a couple of months after their annual simulation release. Easily compared to other arcade racers such as those from the Mario Kart series, F1 Race Stars is an attempt to move away from the die hard fans of the sport and bring in a true arcade feel to the sport of Formula One, with a whole lot of fun along the way. But is this fun at the expense of a game series that some fans aren’t thrilled with the direction it’s taking, or is it a great attempt at a family friendly game that may just attract some new fans to the sport?
Let me be clear from the start: if you want a Formula One game this is true to the sport and lets you race on all the circuits with all the teams and simulation you would expect from a game based on the sport, this is NOT the game for you. This game is essentially the result of F1 2012 having a romantic evening with any Mario Kart game from the last 20 years and coming out 9 months later sucking on air and being born into the world. And lets not beat around the bush, this game IS fun. It’s just probably done at the same time as costing F1 gamers a true experience when it comes to the sport they love.
Every single one of the 24 drivers from the 2012 F1 season is here, albeit in exaggerated cartoon form. In fact while the likeness of each driver is fairly accurate, they look very ‘wooden’ and you almost expect some strings to appear at some point as you realise they are actually marionette puppets rather than your favourite Formula 1 stars. As with any ‘cartoon look’ likeness, the exaggerations are there, from Alonso’s thick eyebrows to Schumacher’s big chin, although given the facial features of Mark Webber, it’s safe to say he looks a little too realistic for my liking. Given the drivers are there, the teams are there too, although having an elongated helmet sticking out of a smaller version of the cars you are familiar with, as well as constant hand gestures out of the cockpit, makes for interesting watching. There are several ‘tracks’ from the F1 calendar on the game, although I can’t remember the last time I saw Silverstone littered with conveyor belts or the Spa circuit having a loop-de-loop in the middle of it. The ‘circuits’ are essentially used as a guide, with a few real life corners represented but soon overtaken by the outlandish nature of the game. From power ups, to rivers, to cliffs right through to aquarium surrounded tunnels, it’s like watching what would come from the mind of a slightly (more) bonkers Bernie Ecclestone and a drugged up Herman Tilke in an age where technology is no barrier. It is however a blast to be able to race s Michael Schumacher driving upside down and catching a speed boost to overtake Lewis Hamilton, before finding yourself hit from a mysterious blue balloon which then sends you back.
If you are familiar with games such as Mario Kart, you would know they are filled with a wide variety of items to pick up during each lap. That is no different in F1 Race Stars. Wide varieties of pick ups are available and will depend on your position on track as to what you receive. If you are coming last, then expect to receive the safety car which bunches the field up so you can catch up to everyone. If you are coming first, expect to receive a blue balloon to fire at your opponents, fairly useless if you have nobody in front. Added to these pickups is the constant appearance of a pit area as you will be damaged a LOT in this game with all the carnage that goes around you. A quick drive through a lane without stopping and presto! Your car is fixed in no time! Expect to see a similar system in place in Formula One by the end of the decade.
The single player mode is fun at the start but soon gets fairly repetitive. You can compete in a wide variety of ‘championships’, from the ‘Europe Series’ which includes the likes of Spa and Monza to the ‘Asia Series’ which has Abu Dhabi and Singapore included, right through to a full World Championship with the limited tracks available. The championship points system is the same, although don’t expect it to be based on actual results and form guide. I can’t remember Pedro de la Rosa ever winning the Belgian Grand Prix from Timo Glock, but you might if you play this game. Its fun for a while, but this game wasn’t designed with single player in mind. Yes it is great for a short blast every now and then, and the time trial mode is probably the most addictive single player aspect of the game, but let’s be honest. If you have this game, it’s a game you will want to play with your friends because that’s where the fun begins. Just like the likes of Mario Kart, when you race your friends this game comes into its own. I managed to race against my fiancé who is not even an F1 fan, and she had a blast beating me on our first outing and by a considerable margin (when I asked her for a re-match on F1 2012 she politely declined). And it’s not just for 2 players either. You can invite as many as 3 other friends to race with you at home, and even more online. Changing the engine class increases the difficulty, bringing several hours of playability for you and your friends.
Graphics wise, don’t expect much. For a cartoon based game, it’s great. If you are after a realism element, buy F1 2012. The game does run smoothly with multiple players and I didn’t notice any lag time online, but based on the very basic graphics it wouldn’t really effect the overall frame rate. Sound wise I was left disappointed with the noises coming from these ‘F1 cars’ (and I use that lightly). You come to expect certain sounds coming from a game boasting a full F1 license, but they are seemingly missing from this game. Yes you will hear the groan of an F1 car randomly, but really it is more of a ‘kart’ sound than that of a V8 F1 engine. The controls are alright, it’s a bit of a learning curve to get used to the steering of the cars, especially around some big long tight corners. Once you get used to it though it’s fairly easy to adapt.
I guess from a personal stand point, my biggest gripe of this game comes from the fact that really it came at the expense of F1 2012 being a better game. Codemasters having to work on two Formula One games in one year surely meant that they couldn’t have put the same effort as they did into F1 2010 and F1 2011 and it showed. There were many issues with F1 2012 and many things missing, and given F1 Race Stars was developed only a few months later, you can assume this is the reason. It’s a great game for a bit of fun, but given that it too doesn’t really set the genre of arcade racing games alight, it really only belongs on your shelf if you are sick of playing as an Italian plumber or a green dinosaur or you are an F1 fan who wants to experience your sporting heroes in a different light. The game isn’t overly expensive and I expect it to perhaps be a lot cheaper in a few months time, so that too is another reason why you may want to buy this game. Hopefully for 2013, Codemasters will stick to making one F1 game, perhaps with an element of arcade to it to save not only the series, but some money for their customers as well.
The Pros: Fun game to be played with your friends. Great for arcade fans who want to try something else besides Mario Kart. Comical to see F1 drivers as cartoon characters
The Cons: Repetitive single player gameplay. Too similar to Mario Kart. Lacking true F1 ‘sound’. Bit of a learning curve on the steering.
Verdict: 6 out of 10
F1 Race Stars is out now. Playstation 3 version reviewed
This article was originally written for The Qualifying Lap. You can read the published version here