Game Reviews

Real Racing 3

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| Real Racing 3
Real Racing 3
| Real Racing 3

This is a freemium game review, in which we give our impressions immediately after booting a game up, again after three days, and finally after seven days. That's what the strange sub-headings are all about.

It's fair to say that gamers have been less than enthusiastic about Real Racing 3's freemium payment model.

The hardcore was up in arms before the game was out, disgusted that the premiere iOS racer would be taking the FarmVille route, which was destined to suck the fun out of the game like a mirth-hating vacuum.

Were these concerns well-founded? I've been in Real Racing 3's cockpit for the last week, and now that I've crossed the finishing line I'm climbing onto my podium to deliver the definitive verdict.

First impressions

Let's get the other big talking point about Real Racing 3 out of the way first: it looks phenomenal. I'm playing it on my iPhone 4S and it runs incredibly quickly.

There's a little slowdown from time to time when the track is heaving with cars, and you're at full pelt, and you're viewing the action from the full cockpit camera, but otherwise it's slicker than an oil spill.

The fidelity of the vehicles is second-to-none, and the tracks are intricately detailed. There's a little of the clinical sterility that you find in the Gran Turismo series, but Laguna Seca looks like Laguna Seca, and that's what you want from a realistic driving game.

The menu design manages to cram in a lot of information without being overwhelming. Your jumping-off point displays all the series that are open to you, the car you last raced in and its status, along with your active friends, Driver Level, and finances.

You can do absolutely everything you would want to do in Real Racing 3 from here, and it's an elegant way in to a seemingly very deep game.

Getting into my first few races - taking all the assists off, naturally - it controls just as well as its predecessor, if not better, with a choice of touchscreen inputs, tilt control, or a combination of both. If you've never played an iOS racer then you may have a slight learning curve to conquer, but otherwise it feels responsive and precise.

Day 3: MultipLIEr

Firemonkeys has sort of fibbed about the Time Shifted Multiplayer. If you haven't kept up with our coverage, TSM was pitched as a halfway house between full online multiplayer with real opponents and time trials against ghosts. You're meant to feel as though you're racing against real-life opponents, who just might be your real-life mates.

Real Racing 3 doesn't do a good job of convincing you of this. I've made a powerful enemy in fellow journalist Jeff Scott. I like to talk trash about how I'm going to destroy his lap times, but he never makes a mistake on the track. Now I know Jeff's a good driver (he's better than I am, certainly), but he's not that good, and he also wouldn't avoid flooring it on a long straight.

What the game is doing is approximating a lap based simply on the time you clocked. It neglects to reproduce important details like how aggressively you took each corner.

TSM is a great social hook to encourage competition, then, but it's not the revolutionary multiplayer mode from a technical perspective that the developer would like you to believe it is, because your replicated human opponents still feel like, well, replicants.

Nevertheless, thanks to the names and times of my friends appearing as I race I don't think I've ever felt more more determined to win in a driving game. Ever.

Thanks to an increased level of difficulty over Real Racing 2 - largely owing to a more realistic driving model - each victory is hard won, amplifying the tension of each race. In other racing games, I'd be annoyed if I didn't finish first on a course. With Real Racing 3 I've quite literally jumped for joy at coming fifth.

Fifth gave me a load of currency to upgrade my vehicle, more experience to build my Driver Level, and I beat all of my other nemeses, including Mr Scott and PG's deputy editor Mark Brown. Whatever the game mode I'm playing, if I finish in a respectable position, I'm happy, and the fact that I don't always finish in the top spot creates a better sense of racing for real.

The aforementioned upgrades are numerous, but always appreciable in their effect on the vehicle. The next part you add will always be better than the last, visually demonstrated by bars showing your speed, acceleration, grip, and so on.

Day 7: Qualifying position

If you're complaining about Real Racing 3 going free to play, you really ought to experience it for yourself, but in the meantime hopefully I can address some of your concerns in this review.

The most significant gripe among gamers so far is that you have to wait for repairs and services to be made to your vehicle, or pay a fee to speed the process up.

If your car is being repaired you can't drive it, but the countdown timer only applies to that particular car. You can still drive the others. This means that you can sidestep the waiting issue in five easy steps:

Step 1: Open the game.
Step 2: Tap on the Store button.
Step 3: Go to Packs.
Step 4: Spend a total of £4.49 (50p less than Real Racing 2's full price) on Street Spec Booster Pack and Supercar Booster Pack, giving you two more cars.
Step 5: When one car is totally battered, put it in the shop for repairs and race with one of the other two.

Of course, in that case you're paying for a game in which it's necessary to tolerate the inconvenience of changing cars every so often, but in practice it won't affect your enjoyment significantly. If both racing in the same car and never having to wait between races are important to you, however, then it's probably time to accept that Real Racing 3's new freemium model just isn't for you - but you'll be missing out.

Real Racing 2 earned an insuperable Platinum Award from Pocket Gamer back in 2010, so you may be wondering why we haven't given this hotly awaited sequel the same score.

Real Racing 3 certainly pushes the racing genre forward on mobile significantly: it's technically astounding, each race feels like it matters, and the social hooks that are in here keep you playing for the long haul. Hell, even the soundtrack is great.

But the absence of true online multiplayer is too significant for Real Racing 3 to merit the mighty Platinum Award. I'm collecting cars, upgrading them, competing with my friends' times, becoming the best - and I want to be able to show all this off in direct competition.

Real Racing 2 had true multiplayer, and its absence here is impossible to ignore. A chunk of the Real Racing experience is missing.

In every other way, Real Racing 3 sets a new standard for what can be achieved in racing games on mobile. It's undoubtedly the most beautiful and realistic racer yet, it's captivating to play, and it's a remarkable achievement in game design.

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Real Racing 3

Expansive, gorgeous, hardcore, free: Real Racing 3 sets the new standard on mobile for racing games
Peter Willington
Peter Willington
Die hard Suda 51 fan and professed Cherry Coke addict, freelancer Peter Willington was initially set for a career in showbiz, training for half a decade to walk the boards. Realising that there's no money in acting, he decided instead to make his fortune in writing about video games. Peter never learns from his mistakes.