If you’re a casual gamer with only a passing interest in the world of F1, chances are that Codemasters Racing's annual F1 releases seem terribly incremental. Enter F1 Racing Stars, a decidedly different take on the F1 license that brings vibrant visuals, exaggerated tracks and cutesy caricatures of the famous drivers.
If you thought DiRT Showdown was a drastic diversion from the flagship series, then take a look at the brief teaser trailer for the new arcade spin-off F1 Racing Stars, which features cartoonised versions of Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel in diddy F1 cars blasting along a circuit approaching what looks like a scene from Inception:
The emphasis is therefore on accessible, OTT gameplay for a family-friendly audience in contrast to the serious, authentic racing for hardcore F1 fans we’ve grown accustomed to. But while the F1 license is in place, Race Stars seems more like a traditional karting game that happens to feature F1 drivers.
Tracks are completely fantastical, for example – while they do take influence from 2012’s official circuits, fantasy elements will provide an altogether different experience. The press release describes the tracks as a “fantasy racing theme park featuring jumps, multiple-routes, shortcuts and more,” whereby you’ll face loop-the-loops in Belgium, race across speeding bullet trains in japan, and jump over a swimming pool in Monaco.
Power-ups will play a significant role in races, too. Examples include the ability to collect KERS for a speed boost, utilising the Safety Car to slow down rival racers, calling in rain to slow them down as well as a Rain Cloud designed to specifically take out the leader. Racing Line zones can also be driven through, which will “slingshot drivers ahead and slipstream behind other racers to close the gap on their rivals.”
RaceNet, i.e. Codemasters' answer to Criterion's Autolog, will also be supported for online races featuring up to 12 players, along with 4 player split screen and an offline global career mode.
Senior Producer of F1 Racing Stars from Codemasters Racing’s Birmingham studio commented: “We’re really excited to bring the whole cast of FORMULA ONE into a fun new world of racing. We’ve really let our Art and Design teams off the leash to bring F1 stars’ personalities alive in a new way and create a game where racing fans of all ages can jump into all-action solo, split-screen and online multiplayer races. It’s the game we’ve wanted to create for a long time and, building on our strong relationship with Formula One Management Limited, we’re now able to bring Codemasters’ long-standing expertise in track design and AI to create a FORMULA ONE racing experience quite unlike any other.”
F1 Race Stars is scheduled to blast off the line this November on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC, but we would be very surprised if it doesn’t make it onto the Wii U. A light-hearted take on F1 sounds tailor-made for Nintendo’s new-born console so it would be a plausible launch title, plus there’s no escaping the fact that the cartoon drivers heavily resemble Nintendo’s Mii characters.
With Codemasters now focusing exclusively on developing racing titles, it’s clear that they are trying to diversify by branching out into other avenues within the racing genre.
Competing against the karting genre is a brave move however, especially when you consider this year’s surprisingly strong lineup – Sonic & SEGA All Stars Racing Transformed is feeling confident under the leadership of former Bizarre Creations man Gareth Wilson thanks to its unique transformation mechanic, whereas LittleBigPlanet Karting’s ludicrously comprehensive customisation will surely put it in a class of its own. Whether the Race Stars' F1 license will help to differentiate it from the pack remains to be seen, but it will be an interesting race to spectate nonetheless.