This year Codemasters has treated racing fans to two games based on F1 - two games which are very different from each other.
The first was F1 2012, the third instalment in Codemasters' sim series that provides a very serious and realistic experience.
As I said in my earlier review this one is an authentic simulation which is very demanding and tough to master, but is the pinnacle of motorsport games.
The second game is F1 Race Stars, a madcap Mario Kart-esque game that provides a twisted, over-the-top option for a younger and more casual audience.
This latter game is for people who like their F1 but don’t want to be bogged down by aerodynamics and tyre choices, Race Stars is much more simplistic than the main F1 game, providing a fairly standard kart racer in which you zip around crazy tracks using various boosts and weapons.
As a kart racer it mostly works and as a lighter version of F1 racing it mostly works. However, the overall package feels more like a novelty than a game people will want to keep coming back to. It's a nice game where there isn't really anything to dislike, it's just not a great game.
The action takes place on tracks which are set in some of the same worldwide locations that the real F1 stops at, such as the USA, Italy and Singapore. However, the circuits are very different from anything you'll see on the genuine F1 circus - they are full of wild ups and down, loops, jumps and shortcuts.
They also all feature a selection of geographically stereotypical features linked to each country. Abu Dhabi has rollercoasters, hotels and desert sections, Japan has bullet trains and giant sumo wrestlers, Germany has a Bowser-like castle setting, Brazil has you racing through a jungle and in Australia you get to drive into a shark's mouth.
The tracks are like really exaggerated fantasy fairytale versions of the real-world locations. The layouts are clever and creative, with vibrant colourful landscapes and scenery abound.
You can ride around these courses in your choice of quick races, Mario Kart-style championships or online and offline multiplayer.
Teams share their names and colours with the actual teams in F1, while drivers are cute and cartoony versions of their real selves. The drivers also come with mildly racially stereotypical voices - for instance, Jenson Button is a posh English gent and Australian Mark Webber says "ripper" a lot.
Several other features also remind players this is an F1 game and distinguish it from other karting games.
For example, you can't drift and skid around corners like you can in other karting games. Instead you'll need to follow the F1 procedure for slowing down at bends, taking them carefully and picking the right line.
The KERS system makes an appearance in the form of short sections of track, usually at corners, which provide a brief speed boost after you drive over them.
Bad weather, the safety car and pit stops are also woven into the play.
Along the way bubble-shaped power-ups and weapons can be picked up and used to either improve your own performance or hinder your opponents.
These are all very similar to what's been seen in karting games before - the different coloured bubbles correspond to the Mario Kart homing missiles, unguided missiles, banana skins, mushrooms and so on.
Unfortunately the weapons don't look very good and don't feel as if they have much impact when used. Part of the fun in Mario Kart is sending a rival spiralling through the air with the timely use of a red bomb, but the Race Stars' weapons are pretty tame in comparison.
Perhaps it's a restriction of using the F1 licence that the developers couldn't be too silly, but I would have liked there to be more humour and inventiveness used in this area of the game. Race Stars certainly doesn't take itself very seriously but also isn't quite wacky enough.
Another problem with the weapons is that they don't come along at opportune moments to help out if you are lagging behind the rest of the field. If you're running in last place in Mario Kart with one lap to go you're fairly well guaranteed to get a lightning bolt or a blue shell with which to cause havoc up ahead and gain some ground, but that's not the case in Race Stars where the weapons are more randomised.
Speaking of gaining ground, there doesn't seem to be a particularly great sense of speed in Race Stars. The feeling of going really fast is one of the strengths of Codemasters' main F1 game, but that hasn’t been transported over to Race Stars, where the karts seem to lack a certain amount of va va voom.
The phrase 'on the podium' pops up during F1 Race Stars and this is perfect to describe the game’s position in the karting genre. It's a good game but lacks that special spark to really trouble the frontrunner that remains Mario Kart.
Despite shortcomings, F1 Race Stars is still a fun, cutesy and very likeable version of F1 racing which will tick most of the right boxes for its target market - namely people who want something with an F1 theme but who don't have the stamina for Codemasters' full-on simulation.
7 out of 10
Available now for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 – PS3 version played
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