Formula One is something that I’ve never had an interest in. The loud noise and repetitive nature always perplexed and bore me rather than rattle my core and send me into a screaming frenzy. The sight of cars that can go so fast in such a small amount of time being forced to screech to a halt to get round a corner is more of a confusion than titillating. And the process of the drivers doing 70 odd laps was mind numbingly dull. It should be said now that no sport has ever entertained me, I’ve tried with football, I tried rugby and I even tried snooker but each I felt was too long. Being the walking hypocrite and contraction I am I did for a very short time find golf fascinating, not because of the skill or excitement, but because the quiet sound of some birds tweeting, the occasional golf swing and the bright green colours would send me into some sort of serene fugue state.
I have always believed every sport can be improved with a computer game element, football and rugby receiving a “multi-ball” side game would be amazing to watch as all the players work out which is the closest of the 20 balls and the poor goalie would get pelted like a nerd at Halloween.
Formula One always has and always will be more entertaining with 2 introductions, the first is a death race style affair with spikes on cars and mohawks. The second thing that would make it better is Mario Kart style red shells and banana skins. The latter of these two Codemasters has stepped up to the plate with and dealt with balls out dedication; step forward F1 Race Stars.
I will say this straight off so that I don’t need to keep re-hashing the point, this game is quite similar to Mario Kart. Many people I imagine will say this is a bad thing but to quote Isaac Newton “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”. Many games these days “take influence” or indeed completely rip off other games. There are only so many genres in the world and the trick is to make the game your own and not to overly rely on a previous game for content.
F1 Race Stars is Codemasters attempt at bringing the quite complicated and insular world of Formula One to the wider audience. After nailing the F1 Simulators and tech heavy games it’s nice to see them try to break out of the mould and work with a new style, the style they chose is a heavily caricatured F1 world.
The game sees you take control of one of the, as it turns out, many F1 racers. Each has been designed to either look “cartoonie” or in one or two cases “like they’re the love child of Max Headroom”. The races are based around various real world locations but have been butchered and twisted so much that they often resemble how American Mcgee would see Belgium or Singapore. When I first heard about the game I decided that come play time I would play a meta-game; “How racist are the representations of the drivers or locations”. This may not sound like an obvious game but after playing Fifa Street 3 it was a concern. I am pleased to say that the locations in this game are note perfect in terms of design and class. A couple of times during my first play through I would be looking away from the screen when the race setting would show and then have a fun time guessing the locale, in most cases by the second corner you’ve seen three national stereotypes.
The main selling point of this game is its design. Crashing together the real world of F1 and the cartoon aesthetics of the game means you get both the familiar and the surreal in one. 3 laps, various weapons and bright happy colours, this is how F1 needs to be from now on. The weapons in the game jump from the genius to the slightly standard. Basic ricochet bubbles and homing bubbles are the game’s staple but other weapons stand out as masterful additions fitting with the source material. The ability to send out a safety car that slows the leading pack of cars produces great fun as 4 or 5 cars all jostle for the lead whilst being held at 5 miles per hour for a period. Causing a downpour also means slippy tracks and slower speeds, both things relevant to the real sport and clever uses of source material. The bubbles, after many hours of playing, I’m still undecided on. On one hand they take you out of this mash up world that has been created for you by some twisted god, on the other hand these races have tracks with loop the loops so realism isn’t everything, if you take some things from F1 and mash them with Kart Racing Games, you need to expect some bubbles.
Another F1 staple that they’ve managed to shoe in without any clunkiness is the Pit Stop. When hit by bubbles or elements of the track your speed machine takes damage, take too much damage and you’ll be at reduced speed and have a car resembling that of a 17-year-old first time driver, who is blind. Entering pit stops, of which there are a couple per race, allows you to magically repair all damage, the nice thing about this is that on the most part this doesn’t make you lose positions. Of course there are occasions where you’re punished for repairing but generally the pit stops only add a couple of seconds onto your journey to the chequered flag.
The game features 11 tracks at launch. This seems like a low number, with the amount of tracks Codemasters could have taken it seems a shame that the number is so low but that old double edged sword of DLC will have race fans sorted soon after launch.
The game’s controls are as simple as you would hope, accelerate, break and shoot are all present and correct but the one down fall in the game is the steering. I’ve yet to fully work out how to take most corners in the games. The main reason I’ve won as many races as I have is down to luck, great slipstreaming and the ability to use weapons. My personal process for taking corners takes one of two paths: slam on the breaks and slow down enough to take the corner safe, whilst everyone over takes. Or alternatively I try to take the corner without breaking go flying into a wall and let everyone over take me.
Multiplayer makes an obvious but welcome appearance, with 4 player split screen this game needs to be praised. Games today seem to be forgetting the joy that comes from sitting on a couch with friends and both trash talking and celebrating fun times. The multiplayer features various modes that put spin on the race with fuel drives, point scoring and segment capturing. The experience I had with the split screen was enjoyable and if you are in a house with only an Xbox this game is definitely worth considering with the lack of other good kart racers on the console.
This game is fun, it’s as simple as that. It has its flaws, namely the steering and a couple of illogical lack lustre weapons. But despite these issues Codemasters have produced something different and entertaining and this needs to be commended. Many sports titles are just phoning it in year after year, producing the same products just with better graphics and a social media element. Codemasters have taken a sport that has a polarising effect on people’s opinions and turned it into something that is a great party game. 4 Player split screen, including the ever elusive local co-op mode, is a great addition.
The game is trying to please a lot of people at once, families – with its cheap price and kid friendly gameplay and aesthetics, petrol heads – with its many many racers and F1 source material and finally the retro gamer – with its Kart Racing inspiration. All three camps should get something out of this product and especially with a few friends and some split screen the game has the potential to be something people return to often.
+Simple controls and gameplay
+Clever use of real F1 situations as weapons
-Cliché use of generic bubble weapon
+Original and interesting design
+Caricature drivers look great
-Can be hard to work out track layout
+Happy bouncey music
+No overuse of the usually infuriating F1 engines
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