F1 Race Stars – Preview
“If I was in charge of that license, I wouldn’t let them make a game like that.”
“Well, it’s seriously uncool. No one wants to play anything that colourful. Who’s going to want to race go-karts as F1 drivers? You don’t even race on the proper circuits!”
The announcement of F1 Race Stars garnered a mixed reception in my house; while my dad instantly dismissed it and refused to see the possibilities, I was shocked no-one had thought of it before. While Formula One games have delved outside of the racing simulation genre with titles like Formula One Arcade, Grand Prix Manager and the recent F1 Online, they’ve never gone out and directly appealed to a wider audience in the same way as they have with F1 Race Stars.
Eschewing the realism of their annual racing simulator, Codemaster’s new title instead features bobble-head F1 drivers, over-the-top circuits, a variety of weapons and a colour palette that’ll make a rainbow seem dreary. Each race allows the player to slip into the miniaturised vehicle of their favourite driver and square off against eleven other racers, each with their own special ability that helps differentiate them from the rest of the pack; Raikkonen will be able to fire multiple yellow balloons at enemies, while Vettel will gain a greater boost from slip-streaming, meaning foes will have to find another way to keep the World Champion at bay.
These special abilities are bolstered by the inclusion of on-track weapons, which players can receive when driving through item boxes, and much like the famous plumber-based counterpart, getting them before your rivals means you’re better able to attack and defend accordingly. These weapons include a red balloon that leaves anyone affected floating above the circuit, a cloud of rain that inflicts wet-weather conditions on your rivals, and a short KERS boost. KERS will also play an important factor, as power-sliding is nonexistent. Instead, at key points on each circuit, staying on the track will cause your battery to charge up, but completely filling it requires the player to know when to lift off the accelerator and apply it again to fill up the second and third bars. Not only will this give players a much-needed lick of extra power, but it can also be used to reach shortcuts hidden around the circuit, as I discovered when a fully-charged boost rocketed me over a ramp to the upper floors of a castle and out of the way of the mayhem and weapons being slung about below.
Staying out of the line of fire is doubly important in Race Stars, as vehicles begin to degrade with every shot successfully landed; first crippling your engine and preventing it hitting the higher revs, then dismantling your wings and later smashing your suspension and leaving you a sitting duck for anyone attempting to make their way past. In order to save yourself from the back of the pecking order, drivers have to take a detour through the designated repair zones, which will instantly repair your vehicle and restore it to its original speed and handling ability. Though you’ll lose a few seconds from straying off-circuit, it’s more than worth it if you don’t want your opponents to be distant specks on the horizon.
I failed to spot any incidences of rubber-banding AI during my time with the demo, with my first race ending unsuccessfully when I didn’t realise until too late how to repair my vehicle or properly utilise the KERS zones. I imagine it probably didn’t help matters when I somehow managed to hit myself with Raikkonen’s special ability. Twice. In a game appealing to such a wide audience, it’s a massive positive that it’s so easy to understand what’s going on and accustom yourself to the driving style, and after a single race I’d gone from a straggler at the back of the pack to a race-winner.
While the demo I played was only for two players, the final version will feature four-player split-screen, and will accommodate twelve drivers at a time online. While only one driver from each team will take part in each race, every driver is represented with their own bobble-head counterpart and is fully playable. F1 Race Stars is a little bit of absolute genius; taking the licenses and personalities from the ever-expanding motor-sport franchise and providing a title that focuses on entertainment over simulation, Codemasters have the next ultimate party experience on their hands. With a November release coinciding with the final races of the season, this is going to be a game that will undoubtedly keep the sport alive next March and beyond.
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