Being a fan of Formula 1, I get a kick out of anything that pokes fun at the overly professional and pretentious world. Although F1 Race Stars mainly just involves caricatures of all of the current F1 drivers, there is nothing demeaning about it. F1 Race Stars is a karting game that uses geographical stereotypes as gimmicks for its tracks, but also includes certain areas of circuits that are recognizable to their respective areas.
Let's get to the positives of this game. The animation and look of the caricatures and tracks are very vibrant. The game does run at a smooth 60 frames per second, and it never bogs down. You can pick one of any current F1 driver, as well as two extra teams that include girls. Each driver and team have a special trait they can use to help separate themselves from each other. If you are familiar with the sport, you will recognize areas such as the Spa uphill and portions of Monaco mixed in with the tracks, and that's definitely neat.
The driving mechanics are a bit dull. I was surprised to see there was no drifting mechanic. You will actually need to break. Drafting does exist and that will play an important part in passing cars, as that's hard to do on your own. There are three speed classes, but it's very hard to notice a difference in speed on the track. The implementation of KERS has been added. There are certain zones that you will need to press the trigger three times, and it will give you a boost once out of that zone. The issue with this is that you have to charge it with the same button you accelerate with, and you can't just bump the button three times, so in essence, you will lose speed. The other issue with it is the A.I. fills it's boost up every time, too, so it doesn't make much of a difference in the end.
Having to break in a karting game isn't something normal. I'm not sure if Codemasters tried to incorporate a real driving mechanic into a fantasy game, or if this is an issue with F1 licensing. F1 licensing is so strict, it's one of the reasons we never see classic drivers or tracks, and another reason a game was missing from the series for 3 years. So the idea of not using a drifting mechanic, and using bubbles as weapons, might stem from the licensing agreement. As I just said, the weapons in the game are bubbles, and speed boosts increases. There are homing, straight firing, and drop behind bubbles. No missles, bombs, bananas, and no leveling up of weapons as you accrue them.
The most interesting aspect of the racing comes in pit stops. No, you don't actually stop, but your kart takes damage and you can lose speed, and eventually blow up. I like this mechanic, but when you pit, you just go an alternate route and it fixes the kart automatically as you drive through. There is also a safety car that will be deployed that will limit the leaders breaking away. I haven't figured out if this is a weapon, or the cause of a car engine blowing up from an A.I. opponent.
The game is pretty limited in features, but it also only sells for $40. Play Now, Career, Online, Splitscreen, and a Time Trial are what's included with the game. The career gives you the chance to unlock badges as you play over time. You will compete in different cups that feature 11 different tracks. The tracks are long as the races also seem to drag on. It's not something quick like Mario Kart or Modnation. That's basically the jest of the mode play-ability in the game. The multiplayer aspect will help keep things going, however it will get stale if playing by yourself.
This game is meant to be a fun experience for F1 fans, but it comes off as more of a children's game with the bubbles for weapons and the use of geographical stereotypes. The problem with that is the certain dynamics of F1 like knowing what KERS are, having to break into corners, and also having to pit that I don't think a child would understand. This game only seems to fit a small demographic of people, and might have been a better fit as a downloadable game for half the price. The game also lacks in comparison to its competition. If you're a fan of F1 and want a quick multiplayer game, it's worth a rental.
GRAPHICS: 8 - I'm a big fan of the animation in this game. The game is colorful and runs smooth. The caricatures are very lively and well-done.
SOUND: 7 - The soundtrack is fitting, but nothing special. The karts sound well and each driver has a few different quotes they say that can be witty.
GAMEPLAY: 5 - A stale racer that has limited options. I do find the damage idea neat though.
ONLINE: 6 - Features 12 players online and runs fine, nothing special.
REPLAY: 5 - A quick option for multiplayer, but nothing to unlock and not a plethora to come back to.
BOTTOM LINE: 6 - The only way I could define this game is if you are an F1 fan who doesn't want to deal with jumping into 2012, has friends over, doesn't own Mario Kart, and wants to poke fun at your favorite driver. It's very hard to figure out what Codemasters was striving for here. They had mention they were focusing on fun, but it feels the potential of the game was limited. The game is worth a rental, or would have been better suited as a download game for half the price.