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F1 Race Stars

Formula 1

Is there any clearer sign of a generation’s twilight than the return of spoof and parody? Codemasters Racing’s Formula 1 titles have been one of the undisputed successes of recent years, injecting a sense of speed that only arcade racers have been able to capture. Given theirs and the sport’s success since 2010, stepping sideways and reaching out to a new audience was somewhat inevitable. F1 Race Stars is a demonstration that parody and charm alone cannot validate a mechanically shallow game.

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The most unblemished way to experience Race Stars is by watching videos online. It’s a visually striking game that flatters itself enough to entice even the most casual of Formula 1 fans. Car and driver models have been reanimated memorably; there are few more surreal sights to be found in digital entertainment than a grinning Subbuteo-esque Michel Schumacher striking a pose on the podium. The circuit designs and environments take influence from their real-life counterparts, from Spa’s sweeping Eau Rouge to Monte Carlo’s casino hairpin; the Abu Dhabi track even extends into the iconic trackside rollercoaster. Despite the charismatic presentation of these eleven tracks, there’s little excuse for omitting F1‘s remaining nine which aren’t included in the boxed release (it’s possible they’ll feature as downloadable content); it immediately cheapens the product. A flash-flood of colour, this is a visually absorbing game that appears completely juxtaposed to the uptight nature of the HD era. Only when you pick up the controller do the cracks make themselves felt.

Race Stars fundamentally plays like any kart racers released in recent years, barring the notable (if understandable) lack of drifting. F1 cars are designed around aerodynamic design and tyre management, so the notion to hop and/or slide around corners would clearly be a betrayal of the sport’s modern guise. The principle is admirable but this is not a racing simulation. A far greater attention to detail would be required to successfully incorporate elements of the sport’s complexities. Given the time and financial resources available to the development team, finding this balance was highly ambitious. By striving to be more than just an F1 skin, Race Stars gambles away the safety net of mediocrity for a miscalculated attempt at greatness.

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This premise also places too much focus on the implemented imbalanced weaponry; if a driver is able to break away from the main pack then catching up becomes near impossible, as these power-ups are only designed for use in close proximity. This lack of depth and autonomy of the weapons undermines any need for player skill. Environments throw up few challenges themselves and braking is virtually unnecessary. The most disheartening aspect is that circuits are imaginatively designed and translate well online, which only puts the tedium of the developer’s failings into context. Given the effortless presentation, responsive controls and relative lack of any major design blemishes, it’s clear we’ve been needlessly denied a solid and addictive reinterpretation of our beloved sport.

All twenty four drivers from the 2012 season feature, with the addition of four fictional female drivers (split over two teams). Whilst this is done with all the best intentions of promoting diversity, it destroys the illusion of an animated F1 world, whilst constructing its own needless gender barriers that motorsport is so heavily combating. It is not a feminist stance to claim that both men and women should equally participate or feature in any given activity, gender equality is entirely removing any significance of gender. Whether the twenty four current race drivers are entirely male or female should not be a consideration. A logical compromise would be to include the most prominent females racing in single-seaters, rather than the Barbie-esque Ruby Power.

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Such flaws resemble the level of identity crisis throughout the whole F1 Race Stars experience – every aspect of the game is caught between reimagining the sport’s complexities whilst promoting accessibility to all audiences. What it’s reduced to is neither a creative interpretation or a mediocre kart racer, but a charming and hollow racer whose only real demographics are pre-teen F1 fans with a casual interest in gaming, or the most stubborn of enthusiasts. More experienced gamers will quickly complete the ninty single player events whilst becoming increasingly frustrated by the multiplayer’s imbalance and wafer-thin online community. The latter doesn’t feature any leaderboards, additional modes or level progression. There’s comfortably enough content to justify a larger Arcade release, but as a boxed retail release is desperately lacking.

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As a passionate F1 fan who is disillusioned with console gaming’s current state, it pains me to see Codemasters fumble such potential. With strong competition from Sonic and LittleBigPlanet this Christmas, it’s hard to recommend Race Stars even for festive local multiplayer. F1 Race Stars provides small doses of enjoyment alongside larger doses of frustration and injustice, thanks to its stubborn insistence of remaining both an F1 and karting game.

The ideal game for Pastor Maldonado fans, then.

4 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in November 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @StuartEdwards.

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