App Reviewed on: iPhone 5
Graphics / Sound Rating:
Replay Value Rating:
The only thing more daunting than reviewing a game from a significant iOS series is doing so when it’s surrounded by both hype and controversy. It’s probably fairly common knowledge at this point that Real Racing 3 has gone free-to-play, which is where the bulk of the controversy comes from as lots of fans are understandably worried about what such a change could mean for their beloved franchise. It’s also been widely publicized that Firemonkeys has incorporated what they call “Time Shifted Multiplayer” into their new baby, which is something that they feel could change multiplayer mobile games forever. These are both complex issues that warrant some discussion but the important thing to note is that Real Racing 3 is very, very awesome no matter how people might feel about it going free to play.
As the name (and the two previous releases) implies, this is a game about racing. Many of the features found in earlier releases are still around and will feel instantly familiar to veterans and fans: Tilt steering, tapping the screen to brake, automatic driving, tons (46 to start) of licensed vehicles, and showpiece visuals are all present and accounted for. However, even if someone doesn’t like the simplified auto-drive control system there is a wealth of customization options to suit their needs. Steering can be set to a virtual wheel rather than tilting, acceleration can be set to tap-and-hold, and every single assist (steering, braking, etc) can be turned on or off. There are also a wealth of race types available in the 961 included events ranging from cups to eliminations to drag racing to speed records and more. So there’s essentially something for everybody.
Real Racing 3’s spectacular visuals are without a doubt some of the (if not the) most impressive I’ve ever seen in an iOS game. Heck, they rival some console games I’ve played. Cars display damage, paint jobs actually reflect the environment around them including other cars, real world tracks have been painstakingly recreated, and each vehicle's interior has been lovingly reproduced with impressive detail. It’s a shame that the replay feature from the second game hasn’t made its way into this release since everything is so pretty and warrants showing off. However, more than the graphics it’s the sheer volume of content that really impresses me. That initial circuit I mentioned is massive. There are four different cars available to use for most of the events and a myriad of race types to keep things interesting. I’ve unlocked 24 individual events and I’m only 50% done. And it’s only one circuit out of over 25 that are available right now. All told there are 961 races included in this initial release. Running out of stuff to do will be incredibly difficult to say the least.
And that’s without factoring in the Time Shifted Multiplayer (or TSM) that allows players to compete with their friends whenever/wherever by racing against their AI-controlled time shifted double. Sadly the feature isn’t quite as robust as I’d hoped. After some experimentation and discussion both Jeff Scott and I came to the realization that Real Racing 3 uses race times to generate AI controlled doubles that follow almost perfect paths for each race rather than mirroring their human creators’ abilities, race lines, and skill. This means it’s not really like racing against friends at all as the cars don’t do anything other than follow a path at an algorithmically determined speed based on the recorded time and cars used by friends.
The system for notifications and match ups itself is also a little underwhelming at the moment. Knowing my time was beaten in a drag race is nice, but I should be able to jump right to said drag race without digging through menus trying to find it in the first place. I also feel like there should be an option to tap on a friend’s name on the main screen and see what races they’re currently leading in, rather than sifting through menu after menu looking for microscopic avatars. Not having such a feature seems like a huge oversight. With all that said it’s still a lot of fun to jump into a game and beat someone’s time knowing that they’re about to receive a notification that they’ve just been “served.”
Another hot button issue, as I’ve previously mentioned, is the freemium model. Rather than create a paywall or punish frugal iOS gamers, Firemonkeys has created a much friendlier model in theory that ties all real time waiting and premium currency to maintenance and repairs. Well, with the exception of custom paint jobs, final part upgrades, and two cars, anyway. The way it all works is that cars suffer wear and tear as they race, along with occasional body damage when things get rough. Replacing a bumper or windshield costs a little in app currency (referred to as “R$”), but it’s never so much as to offset anything earned from the race that caused the damage in the first place.
Maintenance, on the other hand, takes time. Replacing the oil - which is probably the most common task - takes five minutes, working on the engine takes about 30, and so on. Gold coins (premium currency) can be spent to speed up the process but it’s best to simply wait it out and save those coins for upgrades or new cars. Of course once players have two or more vehicles in their garage the wait for repairs is practically negligible since they can simply hop in the Challenger while the Shelby is in the shop. Once 4 or so are in the garage there will likely always be a race to run as one car should always be repaired and ready. Just be careful when starting an event because cars currently undergoing repairs will still appear in their respective challenges with the "Race" button replaced with a "Repair" button that will automatically use gold coins to instantly finish the work. I've wasted a good many gold coins this way and really wish there was at least a secondary confirmation screen (like there is for everything else) that popped up before I inadvertently wasted my precious premium currency.
In a strange way, both of Real Racing 3’s major talking points didn’t quite pan out as expected or feared. The Time Shifted Multiplayer isn’t quite as ground-breaking as I was hoping it would be and still needs some work when it comes to the social elements, but it’s still decent fun and a good way to fan the flames of competition. Conversely the free-to-play model I’d been fearing would completely ruin the experience or even stonewall my enjoyment after a certain point turned out to be surprisingly unobtrusive and easy to work around. But ultimately neither of those things is important. What is important is that Real Racing 3 is just really darn fun to play and spectacularly gorgeous. Which is all I ever really wanted from it in the first place.