One look at the gurning representations of motorsport’s biggest names tells you everything you need to know about F1 Race Stars. Like a co-worker with a spinning bow tie, it goes to great lengths not to be taken seriously. It may be splattered with the sponsor logos of prime formula racing, but it’s proud to be a kart racer – now kindly give us our biscuit for avoiding the ‘under the bonnet’ cliché.
F1 Race Stars PS3 review
On a purely mechanical level, this is one of PS3’s more enjoyable kartfests. It lacks the familiar charm of 2010’s Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, but F1 Race Stars nevertheless does a similarly spangled job of getting that base, immediate rush of karting right.
It’s mercifully faff-free, allowing you to jump straight in without the need for so much as a tutorial. It all feels deliciously natural: the weapons are bouncy facsimiles lifted straight from the Big Book Of Shells-To-Arses – more on them in a bit – and the handling is a pleasing mid-point between a floaty kart-’em-up and Race Stars’ spiritual big daddy, the full-fat F1 series.
There are notable areas where it detours from Norm Street, though. Firstly, it’s drift-free. It’s a tough one to reconcile at first, fighting against that natural karting instinct to throw your machine into corners and put your faith in Dusto, God Of Powerslides. Instead you play it like a ‘proper’ racing game, decreasing your speed before hitting bends. Odd at first, but in keeping with the origins of the title.
Related to this is another area trying something new: the integration of KERS. In real racing this is technical warlockery that enables energy to be stored by braking. Here it translates to cool blue corner sections where you accumulate boost by releasing and pressing accelerate: it’s the game saying, “Don’t try to slide, pickle – have some thrust instead.” It’s a sturdy alternative, but purists may miss the thrill of the drift. You also only get straight single races and a lengthy championship – there’s no battle mode on offer, for instance – but as the name suggests, this is about first place rather than fighting.
Speaking of fighting, F1 Race Stars almost gets the balance right with the weapons. Did you see the ‘almost’? Standard attacks echo the bubbly presentation, such as balloons that pop to cover your screen with infuriating confetti. Some rubber-banding is expected in a kart racer, since your position is often attributable to luck as well as skill, but occasionally the power-ups grate – swapping you with other drivers, or fast-forwarding laggers to the front.
The result is that first place feels like driving under a dangling Magic Tree Of Damocles (you can buy them in Halfords: they smell like tears). Second place is safer, but you still drive under the constant threat of something unpleasant being fired up your business entrance.
Race Stars makes sense when taken as a distilled caricature of everything F1 – rainstorms sweep in and temporarily change the landscape, safety cars slow down the leaders and bobble-headed heroes shout insults in vastly exaggerated (casually racist?) accents. It’s a chocolate pretzel of a racer that’s worth a spin for anyone looking to avoid the chin-stroking of F1 2012.
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