F1 Race Stars (Xbox360)

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F1 Race Stars is a fun and moderately challenging kart racing game, its beautifully created tracks, imaginative power-ups, and the ability to drive as any one of your Formula One race star heroes combine to deliver a solid racing experience. Yet oddly enough it’s these very same Formula One traits that also take a little away from the title too.

F1 Race Stars Screenshot 1

If you’re a fan of Formula One then you’ll love this super stylised kart racer, it features the official cars, teams and circuits, as well as caricature versions of the 2012 drivers including Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, and you can even race as your own Xbox Avatar. The tracks are over-the-top, and, almost, as crazy as the power-ups that you’ll be able to collect as you careen through the feet of Robo-Sumo wrestlers, race inside a shark’s mouth, dodge floats in Brazilian street parades, and jostle around corners at high speeds.

There are a number of modes in the game, and each one will keep you entertained for a number of hours. This is especially true of the Career mode where you’ll be able to progress through three different classes and compete in a series of championships. The control system is intuitive, making it a wonderful game to consider as a Christmas present for the younger generation, but it would also make a welcome stocking filler for everyone who enjoys kart racing!

F1 Race Stars Screenshot 3

The power-ups are a combination of whacky and wonderful, you can get anything from a speed boost to deploying the safety car or wet weather to slow the pack down, all F1 inspired of course! There’s also an assortment of special fantasy power-ups on offer, some are designed to speed you up (like teleporting to the front) while others work to slow opponents down (like the bubbles that trap other players for a short period of time). You’ll be able to deploy the power-ups backwards or forward, enabling you to either keep hold of first place or provide a challenge to those in front of you.

F1 Race Stars handles similarly to most other kart racers I’ve played before, but for one major exception, and unfortunately this can prove to be very frustrating at times. The game remains true to its Formula One roots and doesn’t allow you to drift. Initially this comes as a shock, because in kart racing drifting and power sliding are commonplace. In fact one could argue that they’re quite essential to overcome the crazy corners that often pop up in the sensational tracks.

F1 Race Stars Screenshot

Braking in a racing game has never been my strong point, and braking in kart racing even less so, and ultimately this was a game mechanic that I really struggled with. While the omission of drifting in F1 Race Stars is understandable (the development team wanted to create a racing game that was true to F1, and you don’t drift in F1), it does take a lot of time to get used to braking into the corners and not being able to drift, which is something that you really do expect to see featured in a kart racer. After spending some time with the game I still found it difficult to master cornering without drifting, and inevitably ended up bumping into the track edges which caused unnecessary damage to my car. Truth be told, I missed power sliding around the corners and earning that well-earned boost of speed.

Instead of drifting you’ll have to content yourself with slip-streaming, following the racing line, and earning extra boosts of speed from the special KERS corners. If you race over the specially marked blue corners you’ll notice a battery on the back of your car filling up, simply charge this KERS boost by releasing and then reapplying the accelerator. It’s a great way to slip past an opponent, and it’s much easier to master than drifting too, but somehow it lacks the excitement that drifting brings to a kart racing game.

F1 Race Stars Screenshot 4

While it’s great fun to jostle on the track, bumping into your racing buddies and the various obstacles dotted around the course, as well as being on the receiving end of power-ups, does cause damage to your car. You’ll soon notice sparks, broken bumpers and wonky wheels are slowing you down. No worries, keep an eye out for a yellow spanner sign and drive through the pit lane to restore your car to its pristine state. It’s another nice tip of the hat to the Formula One license, but over time being forced to pit when you just want to race can become a bit of a nuisance. Just lucky that you don’t have to stop, otherwise this could have become a real chore in the game.

F1 Race Stars also features four player split-screen racing, which can even be combined with the 12 player multiplayer mode. It’s always great to race against real opponents, and online racing will push your skills to the max. The match-making worked well and my online experience with the game was definitely above average. You’ll also be able to enjoy various other race modes and you’ll be able to jump into a quick race with free play or test your pace with Time Trial.

F1 Race Stars Screenshot 9

In a year which has been dominated by the release of many top-notch simulation racing games, F1 Race Stars is a welcome addition to the racing department. It’s been a while since I’ve sat behind the wheel of a car in this genre, and it made me remember just how fun it can be hurtling at break-neck speeds through loop-the-loops and zigzagging through obstacles creatively scattered around the imaginative tracks. Ultimately F1 Race Stars is a great choice for both Formula One fans and casual gamers, however, too few courses (there are just 11) and the fact that it’s not quite challenging enough will mean that you’ll probably begin to grow a tad weary of the formula all too soon and you may just find yourself looking to other kart racers to fill this gap in your gaming appetite.