Loop-the-loops, boost pads, and red "seeker" missiles are not the kinds of fodder you expect from a game boasting the official Formula One license and featuring the likes of Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, and Lewis Hamilton on its cover. Seeing these motor racing superstars inhabit a cartoon world that staunchly defies the rules of physics and fair play is, initially, equal parts bizarre and enticing.
Catching out Kimi Raikkonen on the last corner with a well-timed boost, taking the shortcut over the top of a castle to get past Jensen Button, positioning a rain cloud over Mark Webber's head--there's a novelty to all of this that is undoubtedly charming. Unfortunately, the charm doesn't last long.A few hours in and you realise this the technical world of F1 and the crazy realm of karting don't mix well together here, and that if it weren't for the F1 license, you would struggle to find reasons to play this over any of the many other similar racers already out there.
The game's 12 tracks are composed of the most famous destinations on the F1 calendar, including Monaco, Great Britain, Abu Dhabi, and Brazil. Many of the tracks feature famous sections from their real world counterparts, such as the Curva Grande in Monza, and the crazy chicanes of Monaco. But there are some significant differences too. The British Grand Prix, for example, is known for its sweeping corners and unpredictable weather. In F1 Race Stars, the British Grand Prix is known for conveyor belts that throw you off course and Harrier jets that you must dodge to prevent yourself from being burnt by their exhaust fumes. Other tracks register as equally outlandish--Brazil sees you navigating through a jungle, Abu Dhabi has you racing along a roller coaster, and Monaco features an impossible jump from sea level to mountain top.
While there's no lack of whimsy and variety in the track design, there are no standout moments either. Yes, racing with traffic on the autobahn on the Germany track is a fun idea, but it's a familiar trope within the kart racing community, and F1 Race Stars doesn't do anything to set its version apart from the competition. After you race all of the tracks in F1 Race Stars, none of them emerge as being any better than the others, and none of them are any more than simply sufficient for the job. Competent is an apt description.
Weapons fare somewhat better where memorable events are concerned. Aside from the generic inclusion of homing bubbles (read: homing missiles), boosts, and trap bubbles that act as banana skins, there are some neat perversions of more familiar Formula One traits, such as DRS, safety car, and wet weather. If you're lucky enough to pick up a safety car, it races to the front of the pack and slows everyone down in a bid to help you catch up. DRS increases your speed and makes you invulnerable for a limited time, and rainy weather opens the heavens but also gives you a pair of deep-tread wet tyres.
Race Stars also features an approximation of the KERS boost system from the sport. Corners feature sections where you can receive a boost on exit by pumping the right trigger, which fills a battery attached to the rear of your kart. The more you charge the battery, the bigger the boost you receive. So, just like in the real world sport, you're rewarded for slowing down into corners and using the racing line, which adds a gratifying layer of strategy to races.