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F1 Race Stars UK Review: Big Heads, Big Loops, Big Fun

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No one would ever make a cartoon featuring F1 world champion Sebastien Vettel as a character.

No one.

The same goes for basically every driver in the current F1 world championship - except for maybe Michael Schumacher (who would make an excellent villain, ideally based in a Germanic nightmare castle with a troop of monkey henchmen).

Oddly, that's almost exactly what F1 Race Stars (Xbox 360/PS3, out now) has done in its new take on F1 racing.

But even more odd is that the result is a fun, surprisingly deep and thoughtfully made karting game which channels Mario Kart via Disney's Epcot Center and in doing so delivers probably the most entertaining F1 video game experience this year.

(That is unless you own a full-size simulator and really, really like repetitive, highly complex cornering maneuverers - in which case stick to F1 2012.)

By contrast to Codemasters' flagship simulator, and the sport on which it's based, F1 Race Stars is a bold, silly, bright racing experience. It's set in 11 'real' locations from the F1 season, including iconic circuits like Monaco, Singapore and Belgium, complete with power-ups, jumps and loops that even purists surely admit would shake up the real sport no end.

The locations might be real, but in terms of the actual races, only a few key corners make it into the stages. Most of the tracks are basically a children's colouring book of national stereotypes.

You'll be travelling through castles in Germany, wild west towns in Texas and on top of bullet trains in Japan, diving into the mouth of a gaping shark in Australia and generally having a very weird time of it. In some cases the locations border on insensitive - such as the Aladdin-ified Abu Dhabi wonderland. They are beautifully designed, busily populated with movement and obstacles, and are all well judged. But they have almost nothing to do with the real F1 tracks - and while they're all long and varied, there aren't that many of them.

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In a few other ways, the game makes decent attempts to replicate elements of real F1. There is no drift or power sliding here - you have to take most corners with at least an eye to racing line, and occasionally you even have to break - something unheard of in most recent Mario Kart instalments. Safety cars, KERS boosts, rain and pit stops all make it in, to varying degrees, and the cars all look correct.

Similarly, the game features every driver from the real F1 championship (2012, so yes Lewis Hamilton's in silver and red), as well as a few extras, rendered as bobble-head miniatures with floating helmets.

The problem here is that none of the current drivers has a personality that justifies the cartoon treatment. There are only a few who in real life are even barely likeable.

As a result the game's attempts to liven up their cast of characters - having Alonso scream his name every time he passes somebody, for instance - ring hollow. And the inclusion of two new teams of female make-believe drivers in pink is also a bit shallow.

Like all karting games, F1 Race Stars is best when played on a sofa with your mates. There's a big range of multiplayer modes, and it's enough to keep things interesting for at least the first few hours. The only caveat is that the sheer length and depth of the tracks makes it hard for each to stand out. And after a while you'll wish the game was a little, well, faster - cornering can feel a bit sluggish at times, and for a sport that's all about speed you want a bit more bite at the top end of the difficulty scale.

So F1 Race Stars isn't a classic. But as a fresh, funny and friendly take on a sport that could do with a re-injection of charisma. And for kids and families, and those of us who don't want to become an F1 driver just to play an F1 video game, it's a lot more fun than you'd ever expect.