- Developer - Firemonkey
- Publisher - EA
- Platforms - iOS (tested on iPad), Android
- Release date - Out now
- Price - Free, plus in-game content
Real Racing 3
The Real Racing franchise has been with us for nearly four years now, and in that time it has grown from a basic racing game with a small number of fictional cars and tracks, to a blockbuster hit with dozens of licensed cars and almost 1,000 different races.
New for the third installment is backing from Electronic Arts. Famous for its Need for Speed franchise, EA saw potential in the first two Real Racing games, created by Australian developer Firemint, and took the development team under its wing to create Real Racing 3.
Aside from hugely improved graphics, impressive physics and a collection of 46 licensed cars to race in almost 1,000 different challenges, the feature getting most attention is its 'freemium' pricing structure.
Whereas the first two games cost £5 each - considered expensive for an iOS game - RR3 is free, but comes with its own store where you can buy in-game cash, gold coins and cars.
To be clear: you can play and complete Real Racing 3 without spending a penny, but it may take you a considerable amount of time, and much of that won't be spent racing.
Cars pick up damage when you crash (affecting their performance) and making repairs costs in-game money, which you earn from winning races. Have a particularly enthusiastic race and you may well win, but some of that cash will be spent on making repairs.
Secondly, your cars need to be serviced and maintained. This means new tyres, brakes and oil every few races, and an engine rebuild less often. Each of these steps eats into your winnings, but they also take time to complete. An oil change, for example, takes five minutes, but for an engine rebuild you're looking at a whole hour of being unable to use that car, and at the start of the game you may not have a spare to use.
Upgrades to increase performance also take time (and cost in-game money), as does taking delivery of a new car.
All of these tasks can be sped up and completed instantly if you spend your gold coins, which are collected for levelling up your driver as you progress through the game, but it soon becomes obvious that you never earn enough to keep the waiting times down - and even after saving up the cash, having to wait 20 minutes to receive a newly-bought car is infuriating.
In-game cash and gold coins can be bought from the Real Racing 3 store, embedded in the game.
Cash starts at £1.49 for 50,000 credits, rising to £6.99 for 300,000 credits and topping out at five million credits for the slightly insane sum of £69.99 - for some context, the most expensive cars cost upwards of two million credits, which is more than buying Gran Turismo 5 for the PS3.
Gold coins start at ten for £1.49, rising to £6.99 for 65 coins and £69.99 for 1,000 coins, but when removing the 20 minute wait for a new car costs eight coins and some cars cost 800, you soon realise that your gold won't go far. Alternatively, there are ways of getting free gold by engaging in a number of advertisements and free trials for other apps.
For example, signing up to a free 30-day trial of LoveFilm gets you 170 gold coins for use in RR3 - it's an easy way to get gold, but makes you feel used and handing over payments details is a pain, even if it ultimately won't cost you anything.
The freemium model was never going to go down well with gamers, but then neither would charging £40 for an iOS game - the price a fully-featured game like this would cost on a console. So to claw back the undoubtedly large investment EA has pumped into RR3 the freemium option was chosen over charging a flat fee for downloading the game.
Gameplay and graphics
Less of the freemium model, what is Real Racing 3 actually like to play?
With 46 licensed cars, 12 tracks and almost 1,000 different races to take part in, this is a huge game, feeling closer to Gran Turismo than Need for Speed and certainly more grown up than any portable rivals.
Making a good loking racing game is often said to be easy, but no credit should be taken away from EA - Real Racing 3 looks incredible. The amount of detail on offer is something I haven't seen from an iOS game before; the lighting, textures and even sounds are all excellent.
Firemonkey says 600 polygons were used for each car in the original game, now three generations later those 600 polygons make just one wheel.
There's a healthy catalogue of cars from 12 manufacturers, ranging from the humble Ford Focus and BMW 1 Series, up to Lamborghinis and Porsches, and topped off with a few dedicated racing cars and million-pound machinery from the likes of McLaren and Bugatti.
As for circuits, Real Racing 3 includes some of the world's most famous racetracks, such as Brands Hatch, Silverstone, Hockenheim, Laguna Seca and Spa. There are also a number of fictional tracks which are all well designed and remain realistic, something that is often missing from games with fictional race tracks.
By default the controls are set up with accelerating automatic, while steering is controlled by tilting the iPhone or iPad and braking is done by pressing anywhere on the screen. The driving assists are also all turned on by default: these include a braking assist (off, low or high), steering assist (on or off) and traction control (on or off), and can be adjusted at the start of each race.
I turned all of these off and adjusted the controls so that the accelerator is also a press of the screen instead of being automatc: brake on the left, accelerator on the right, tilt to steer.
For anyone coming to RR3 from the static world of console racing games, tilting the device to steer feels alien and a lot more sensitive than you'd imagine, but stick with it and, thanks to the camera tilting in sync with your movements to keep everything level, it soon becomes natural.
Real Racing 3's physics are such that when traction is lost every car reacts in pretty much the same way - a huge slew of oversteer followed by understeer as you try to catch it. There's very little indication of when the car is going to let go and catching the slide is often more a case of luck than skill, but it still provides for a fun experience that is quick to learn and rarely frustrating.
There are more than 900 different races to compete in and they are split up into various championships that each have specific entry restrictions (rear-wheel-drive or American cars only, for example).
Challenges come in various forms, ranging from regular races of two or three laps with a 22-car grid, one-on-one races, drag racing where the focus is on perfectly timed gear changes, top speed challenges, and eliminator races, where last place is knocked out every 20 seconds until there is just the winner remaining.
There's enough variation here to keep you interested and eager to find out what's next, it's just a shame that sometimes the next race will be an hour and an engine rebuild away...
Instead of offering two specific sections of the game for offline single player and online multiplayer, Real Racing 3 combines the two by populating every race with the replays of fellow racers.
It's not entirely clear how the game does this - and why I've never seen a rival fly into a wall at every corner, as I'm sure many have - but it's a clever way to combine the sense of playing against real people and the convenience of playing against your friends whether they are online or not.
There's a problem though, and that is the lack of artificial intelligence, which is something previous RR games excelled at. Because the cars are following a route already driven by a player and logged into EA's servers, they mostly follow a single line, resulting in cars constantly ramming into you if you dare drive alongside them.
There doesn't seem to be any avoidance on their behalf whatsoever so if you pressure a rival into taking a wide line you'll simply be driven off the road, rather than them concede the place and try to get you back at the next corner.
While the damage system and cost of repairs promotes clean, thoughtful racing on one hand, rivals' dumb, robotic, will-not-deviate-at-any-cost driving means half of your winnings could well be spent on repairs.
Having said that, if you're careful and anticipate the action ahead you'll soon start to enjoy the close racing.
Forgetting the freemium model, Real Racing 3 is a truly brilliant game with superb graphics, addictive gameplay and a depth of content that puts it on par with many console racers.
EA could have charged £5, £7, maybe even £10 for Real Racing 3. The game oozes quality, has enough different races to put the mighty Gran Turismo 5 to shame, and it successfully treads the fine line between being a pick-up-and-play game and one you can invest some serious time into.
But EA chose to go down the freemium route, one which probably made perfect sense in a boardroom pitch, in a world where the stupid customer will surely cough up for cash and coins to get the best cars quickly.
And in doing so, EA has kicked dirt in the face of Real Racing's true fans, the ones who don't want to buy success or shortcuts, but who want to pay a reasonable amount for a game they can invest time into and just race, not sit around waiting for an oil change.
- Gameplay: 8/10 - Forget about the freemium costs and waiting times, and RR3 is the best portable racing game, with impressive physics and enough customisation of driver assists, controls and cameras to suit any gamer.
- Sound: 8/10 - Use headphones and RR3 is truly immersive. Each car sounds different, turbos and dump valves are clearly heard and driving over rumble strips sounds exactly as it should - don't forget to turn the music off.
- Graphics: 9/10 - The best graphics I have ever seen on a mobile game, with levels of detail that easily match console games from just a few years ago. Truly impressive.
- Replay value: 6/10 - Avoid crashing and learn to time your lengthy engine services well - leave them to take place over night - and the game rewards you with hundreds of different races, but forget to keep on top of repairs and you'll find yourself waiting around before each race and soon moving on to something else.
- Overall: 7/10 - Real Racing 3 is a brilliant game with everything you would want from a portable racer, but it is crippled by the freemium model which makes owning the best cars seem completely impossible.