Version Reviewed: 1.0.0
Device Reviewed On: iPad
Graphics / Sound Rating:
Game Controls Rating:
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It's a very good thing that I don't drive in real life anything like the way I drive in Gameloft's new GT Racing: Motor Academy HD game for the iPad. If I did, well, let's just keep it simple and say that you wouldn't want to be on the road with me. GT Racing Academy is the latest attempt at bringing a console-style racing game to the iPad, and while it's full of features it still packs a mean learning curve.
GT Racing: Motor Academy HD allows you to start playing immediately, if you wish, via the Arcade Mode, but if you're new to playing this type of racing game, it's probably best to start in the Career Mode. Similar to console games such as Sony's Gran Turismo, you must first get a lower-level license, then buy a car before attempting to win races and money. The beginning license trials serve as an excellent tutorial for the driving mechanics in the game, as you are required to accelerate fully, then stop in a predetermined area, or make a sharp turn without going off of the track. Given the control scheme of the game, these simple tasks are not particularly easy at first, so it's good to get quite a bit of practice in before tackling an entire race. As you add licenses, you unlock other races and cars, so there's a good motivation for playing the career mode for quite a long while.
And there's a strong selection of cars available throughout the game. Fortunately, these are licensed cars, so there are no lookalikes or knock-offs present. Everything from Bugatti and Ferrari to Ford and Plymouth is available, providing drivers with over 100 unlockable cars throughout the game. Once you own cars, you can tweak them to your heart's content by visiting the aftermarket store in Career Mode.
Once you've gotten comfortable with the game and have advanced considerably in your racing career, you can use your Gameloft Live account to test your skills online versus multiple opponents. While it may be tempting to jump right into the online mode from the outset, I recommend against it. Unless you enjoy having your hat handed to you repeatedly, you need to get some considerable experience offline before taking on actual humans. Once you're ready for it, however, you'll find that online multiplayer works very smoothly, and plays just as well as its offline counterpart.
GT Racing: Motor Academy looks good, though not quite as good as its nearest competition - Firemint's Real Racing HD. While the car models are generally well done, don't expect hyper-realism by any stretch - collisions won't change the look or feel of your car. Also, while the graphics themselves aren't sluggish, there isn't much of a sense of speed when racing. True to the earlier Gran Turismo comparison, GT Racing is more of a sim-style racing game than an arcade racer, so the rush and sensation of speed in the game is not as prevalent as it might be in a more arcade-focused offering. The focus here is more on the subtle driving variables that can influence the outcome of a race.
The controls are similar to other touch-screen driving games. In the default mode, you can control your car by tilting the iPad left or right, while manipulating acceleration and braking via buttons on the right and left hand sides of the screen, respectively, but there are many possible ways to configure the controls beyond the simple default. First time players will have a heck of a time just keeping their car on the road when learning how to drive. As for me, all I needed was to have my Dad yelling at me from the passenger seat and it would have felt like being sixteen again. Fortunately, the developers have included a variety of driving aids to help those of us with less than polished skills. These include traction control, braking assistance and best lines to follow when driving. All of these help tremendously with the basic feat of keeping your car on the road. If accelerating and braking prove problematic, those can be set on automatic as well. My only concern is that I'm not sure how many races you could actually win while using these aids. Still, their inclusion is appreciated.
The in-game sound effects are workmanlike, but if you don't like the music provided within the game, you can always pull up your in-car stereo (nicely represented as an Alpine system) and play playlists from your iTunes collection. So if racing while listening to the likes of Pavoratti is your thing, GT Racing has you covered.
Ultimately, it's the developers' choice to create a sim-style racing game that impacts whether or not you're going to enjoy the game. Those who are looking for an arcade-style game that they can jump right into will be sorely disappointed, if not altogether frustrated. Unlike many iPhone/iPad games, GT Racing: Motor Academy HD is not a game you play in quick sessions. True to its roots, it's a long-form game that requires patience and a fairly deep and abiding interest in auto racing. Sim racing fans will be comfortable with what they find in the game, and will be glad to see a wealth of options and customizations available for many of their favorite cars, right from the comfort of their iPads.