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PlayStation 3 Review: F1 Race Stars

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Do not bother with anything less than the 3000cc difficultly level in F1 Race Stars, even if the AI is a torturous mess. The 1000cc is nothing more than a leisurely stroll, the 2000cc feels restrictive, it is the 3000cc that brings out all of the intent within the design.

Despite a cutesy veneer–complete with hard-edged, shaded polygons and podium stunt performances–F1 Race Stars carries elements of the sport. Corners need navigated, not blown through. Charged boosts must be earned on deadly curves. Cars need repairs in the pit to keep their peak performance. Drafting is essential. It’s a shame there’s no tutorial to lay this out or a manual well designed enough to get this information across.

This title couldn’t be called “easy,” even if easy in the realm of kart racers is subjective. Either you can personally deal with being blasted by a deadly homing shot a few feet from the finish line or not. With friends, it’s in good fun. Against AI drivers, it’s all frustration. There’s no solid judgment curve for such an element.

Yes, the game takes a traditionalist approach with power-ups spawning on the tracks, drivers grabbing them, and shooting them off in a desperate bid for the pole position. At times, it’s painfully obvious what a carbon copy this is. The homing shot is red, as if it’s trying to remain familiar to Mario Kart aficionados in every way possible. F1 Race Stars has a few tricks, including inclement weather that takes a toll on each racer except for the one who launched it.  There is also a safety car that bursts onto the track ahead of the first place car to force a slower pace for everyone except the racer who launched it.

That stupid safety car turns an already droll race into a slog fest on anything less than the 3000cc, making the race into an arduous, overly long trek across courses that seem ample in design. It just doesn’t click until you become brave. Even at its speed peak, F1 Race Stars is a mundane racer punctuated by moments of high intensity.

Courses swerve or even turn horizontal, the laws of gravity ignored  Each track is laid out with a country in mind–a dozen in total–all representing the basic locations of F1 events. Perky, cheerful music is inviting and cheeky enough to not feel offensive to the stereotypes involved. Across the courses, you’ll find a few race types, nothing revolutionary (elimination; been there) except Refuel Racket. This gives each driver a gas gauge, and scatters refueling stations around the track. The less fuel you have on hand, the faster you go but run out and you’re done. The risk reward is a blast.

You can take all this online and, smartly, empty roster spots are filled with AI. Why is that smart? No one is playing. The record find was a lobby of four. If you’re more akin to local action, split-screen racing is optional (again, up to four) and even forgettable racing drones like F1 Race Stars work better with a crowd. The career mode is notably lengthy enough too (if entirely basic) to earn a pass if the lobbies officially fall of the face of the planet.

If there’s one more jab to be levied at F1 Race Stars, it’s the lack of customizable controls. Accessibility is there in selectable motion controls, and that’s fine. Charging up the KERS boost requires three tap/holds of the R2 button though, and over the course of a long session, that’s not comfortable. F1 Race Stars has those elements of a sim racer, and they’re digging into its heart, even down to the controls. Stuff like this feels more natural and arcadey with the face buttons pushing that kart forward.

F1 Race Stars is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB for comic mischief. This game can also be found on: Xbox 360

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.