I have always been a rabid F1 fan, and generally lap up Codemasters hardcore F1 titles. But I am also a huge fan of karting games, for the way they bring together crowds, create lasting friendships, and act as a form of social glue - a common bond between strangers.
So what happens when you merge an official FIA F1 2012 license with the karting genre? After having spent the last few days hunkered down putting F1 Race Stars through its paces, I can safely answer that by saying "something impressive."
F1 Race Stars places gamers in the bobble-headed caricatures of famous contemporary F1 racers. Drivers include Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel, and Lewis Hamilton, and they come complete with stylized versions of their rides - each lovingly recreated down to the advertising on the side pods. Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull - they're all there, with each team offering a different bonus to the player for the upcoming race.
The game allows you to hit the tarmac in eleven of the world's most famous F1 tracks, each with a substantial element of fantasy thrown in. The tracks come alive with jumps, shortcuts, power-ups, loop-the-loops, and more, but each still manages to capture some of the elements that make the original circuit great. The tight hairpins of Monaco, the twisting corners of Sao Paolo, and the dramatic starting straight chicane of Melbourne are all there to make fans of F1 feel at home.
The merging of the real world with the developers' outlandish fantasy works extremely well for a karting title, and the tracks are all substantially different from one another, giving enough variation to keep things interesting.
The tracks all look amazing, with the cartoony graphic style pulled off perfectly. The only downside is the small number of tracks: there's only 11, a small number for a karting title. However, there is hope for DLC tracks in the near future.
The racing itself is an absolute blast. First of all, up to four players can compete against each other on one console, which is an excellent recipe for fun. If this wasn’t enough, up to 12 players can compete online in a range of game modes.
The handling has some minor elements of real life F1; not too much to put off younger or casual gamers, but enough to make fans of F1 smile. Cornering will require braking, and because F1 doesn’t have a powerslide, neither does F1 Race Stars. The developers have instead introduced the Kinetic Energy Recovery System - basically a boost system - that you can build up on special KERS strips around the track, using them to propel you forward. Slipstreaming is also in - and it's a blast to tuck in behind other racers and use their slipstream to slingshot past.
The large number of game modes both in Career and online keep you coming back, as does the three-tiered difficulty level. Career mode allows you to engage in your usual "first place is everything" race, while other game modes - like Refuel Racket, where you have to collect fuel around the track and not run out, but the more you carry the slower you go, so its a fun balancing act - also entertain.
Another fun mode is Pole Position, where you gather points for being out in front. Elimination Nation, meanwhile, knocks out the player in last position when the timer runs out, while Slalom Story has players darting through goal posts in an effort to string together point combos.
Online the game modes are similar, with one of my favourites requiring gamers, in teams, to set the fastest sector times throughout a track. Each captured sector counts towards your team's total score. These team-based games are a blast, with nothing about the modes feeling contrived or thrown in without consideration.
The power-ups pack a punch, not least of all because your F1 car takes damage that can only be repaired by a drive through one of the two pit-lanes on each track. You take a significant performance hit until you can limp your way back to the pits, puffing smoke along the way, so pitting is generally a good idea.
The power ups, for the most part, have an F1 theme, such as bringing out the safety car to pull the pack back together, or drenching the track with a torrential downpour while yours is the only car on wet tyres. But there’s also your usual homing attack (the Red Seeker Bubble), and obstacles to drop in other racers way - such as the Blue Bubble Trap. The attacks are all well balanced and really add to the fun.
F1 Race Stars is truly a karting masterpiece. It is an absolute blast to play, particularly with a few other players in the living room. It’s equally fun on your own, too, and taking it online is a blast. The merging of an F1 license and some whacky creativity has really worked well without choking creative license, and the world of F1 comes alive in a vibrant and attractive way that will appeal to the whole family. The stunning graphics, and the truly diverse tracks are just a joy to race in.
If you’ve been hanging out for some wholesome fun, F1 Race Stars has got it - in bucket loads. Now all we need are some more tracks!