Feb 28, 2013
Real Racing 3 is a the rare kind of stand-out title that just isn’t frequently seen on mobile. It’s the third in a long-running series from a prominent developer, EA’s Firemonkeys, born from the merger of the creators of Real Racing, Flight Control, and Spy Mouse with the studio that made Dead Space and Mass Effect Infiltrator for mobile. It’s got production values that are rarely seen on mobile, and a hype cycle that’s out of this world by comparison. The constant release schedule on mobile platforms means that it’s always game in, game out. Done, done, on to the next one. For a mobile game to attract pre-release attention, it has to be something truly special. Real Racing 3 is just that kind of game. It’s visually-stunning, and its business model, depending on its success, could have a massive impact on how mobile gaming works in the future. But as a game? Well, it has its fun moments, but it falls short of greatness, of being truly compelling as a game.
Here’s a spoiler alert: Real Racing 3 is a racing game, meaning vroom vroom, cars go fast, try to cross finish line and all that jazz. The game’s progression is set up to be somewhat open-ended. Players start by buying either a Nissan Silvia (S15) or Ford Focus GT, and racing in a series of events, from traditional first-to-the-finish-line races to top speed competitions and even drag races that have a different gameplay style focusing on gear shift timing. Each event offers cash prizes for doing well, and getting trophies for top performances in events is key to advancing. Each set of events requires one of four listed cars, so buying multiple cars is necessary to experience the breadth of what the game has to offer. Most cars can take part in multiple event sets, and some cars may be low-end for a set, and high-end for another.
Races support up to 22 cars on the track at once, which is just an absurd amount for a mobile game. The controls by default are tilt steering with auto-acceleration, manual braking, and a series of assists for steering, traction, and braking enabled. I recommend slowly starting to disable as much of the automation as possible over time as things start to feel comfortable and the desire for increased performance hits. Going to manual gas helps with taking some corners, where just ceasing acceleration may work better for maintaining speed instead of actually applying the brakes. Brake assist can help prevent skidding and spin outs, but it also will have a pronounced effect on race times because the braking is very conservative. Learn to brake early, and lower or disable the assist entirely. Touch steering is also available.
The one control qualm I have is that it’s very difficult to look in the rear view mirror by tapping the top center of the screen in the middle of a race. I understand that quickly checking the mirror like in real life is something that probably would be difficult to implement well in a game, especially on such small screens, but there’s got to be a better way.
This is definitely more attuned to the simulation side of things, so yes, braking is very important, and learning how to take corners properly without skidding or sliding through turns will take time. But it is extremely rewarding when they are handled well. The tilt controls, when properly calibrated, handle the steering extremely well so I never felt like I was fighting the controls, I was fighting the game. The only problem with trying to master the physics is that a phone just does not have the kind of weight and steering resistance that a car has, so that ‘feel’ of going through turns is something that must be acquired. Subtle moves help.
The graphics look incredible, and the game runs perfectly on the Nexus 7. With simultaneous iOS/Android launches, I’m generally skeptical of how well they will perform, but Firemonkeys absolutely nailed it. The game runs smooth like butter, and on par with the iOS versions I’ve spent the majority of my game time with. Granted, it’s not as detailed playing on the Nexus 7 as playing on the iPhone 5, but it still looks really, really good. The visual look of the game can be rather monotonous with all the blue skies, but the tracks can provide a nice look. Scenic courses like Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps or Mt. Panorama provide views of wide expanses, while Southbank renders the city streets of Melbourne in great detail. Still, maybe a little bit of cloudy weather to mix things up visually would be nice.
Speaking of the courses, there’s a good variety of them here, all based on real tracks, or at least real-world locations. The aforementioned Southbank is actually not a real track, but is based on the actual city streets of Melbourne that Firemonkeys decided to turn into a real race track. Indianapolis Motor Speedway is here, and while its loop layout isn’t the most complex track, it allows for some fast speeds. The stars is probably Mt. Panorama, in large part because it has the rollercoaster quality of a long ascent up a winding mountain path, then there’s the impressive long downhill straightaway where top speeds can and will be reached. It’s a dramatic course that’s fun to play, provides a great challenge, and is absolutely beautiful. The best part is that the tracks are all faithful to their real-world analogues. After playing the game for a while, watch a video of a drive on one of the tracks in-game and see if it’s recognizable.
The most controversial aspect of Real Racing 3 is undoubtedly its free to play nature. Look, it’s apparent why EA decided to go this direction. The industry is making a sharp turn in this direction. The Android sales were not that great for EA standards (less than 100k copies if Google Play sales data is to be believed). It just makes sense to make this move. So how does it work in a racing game? Well, there’s R$ that is spent on new cars, upgrades, and repairs. As well, there are coins to earn that are spent mostly on speeding up repairs, and occasionally on new cars.
Yes, repairs are an important part of this game. Bumping into other cars or the wall leads to cars taking damage, which is impressively actually reflected on the vehicles. Considering that the vehicles are all licensed, it’s kind of surprising that it actually made it in. However, after every race, players get an assessment of the damage done to their vehicles, and they must pay to repair it. This used to be timed, but this was removed in the run-up to the initial release. However, tune-ups like oil replacement and engine repair require waiting, which can be eliminated by spending coins.
The thing about the coins is that they actually are a part of the game itself: several coins are awarded upon leveling up, and since their main function is to just be impatient, they’re not entirely necessary, though some upgrades cost money. Still, smart players can at least, for a little while, be earning coins faster than they are spent. Waiting can also be intelligently handled once multiple cars are bought. Once a player gets three cars or so, it’s easy to race a car for a while, schedule some lengthy tune-ups, then race with another car (in another class, preferably), and rarely ever need to spend coins to get on the track again. This is an issue early on though, so it’s kind of an odd ‘paywall’, almost an inversion of the concept.
The game does at least encourage free play. Yes, over time, spending money for R$, coins, or one of the game’s car packs does seem necessary, in part because buying some of the cars just with in-game earnings seems like it might be impossible with the amounts given out by the game alone. But getting to that point will take so long that it’s probably justifiable to spend money at some point. I put in several hours with the game before it was available in the US and I couldn’t even spend money on the game even if I wanted to, and I felt like the game was perfectly playable without spending money. At least for a little while. Certainly, some of the cooler cars will require cash, like anything from Koenigsegg. But overall, it’s a fairer game than many other free-to-play titles out there. Still, there is a car that requires a $99.99 purchase of coins in order to unlock.
The Time Shifted Multiplayer is an incredibly innovative feature. By getting to race the actual performances of other racers (tweaked for their spots on race grids and to react to other racers), it gives the game a sense of humanity that could otherwise be lost if players were just racing against AI opponents. This is especially the case when racing against friends – getting to beat actual times by physically defeating the friend’s performance is just far more satisfying, because it’s possible to see that overtake on the final straightaway, and feel the satisfaction of it actually happening.
Sadly, the Android version suffers a bit thanks to the lack of a Game Center equivalent. The iOS version supports getting friends via either Facebook or Game Center, and that means that even pre-official-release, I had plenty of people to take on. With just Facebook friends on Android, that meant that I could actually race the same people that I raced on iOS, but only if they were friends on Facebook. This needs to be the wakeup call to Google: it’s time to make Android’s Game Center.
The other disappointing thing is that Time Shifted Multiplayer serves solely as a replacement for AI players. There’s no interesting challenge system or other way to do asynchronous challenges than otherwise through the standard gameplay and event competition. It’d be fun to break up the monotony by having actual challenges to get friends to do.
The thing about Real Racing 3 for me is that it’s a solid package overall. A lot of work went into this, and it shows. It’s an incredibly deep and lengthy game, one whose full depths won’t be revealed for quite some time for the players who do dive in. Taking on friends in Time Shifted Multiplayer is fun, and the game doesn’t stop looking great. I can sit down and play this game for a while, presuming I don’t get all my cars in the shop. I am a renowned ram-raider. I have become a vehicular menace, mowing down all in my path. But at the end of the day, I think I was more fascinated by the game itself and its stature than I was having fun with it. I never felt like I hit that magic moment where I completely loved it despite being prone to sink time into it. It’s addictive, but is it truly compelling? I don’t know. I will say that unlike Real Racing 2, which failed to hook me thanks to a terrible beginning, I was not disappointed by this.
In fact, Real Racing 3 is just overall an incredibly strong game. Few other games can match what this game has as the total package, and especially at a free price that provides more free gameplay than it probably ought to. So, for anyone remotely curious about the game, or anyone who likes racing games, free up 1.7 GB on your device and download this. Just getting to see it in motion is worth the download alone, and this is the kind of major title that any mobile gamer worth their salt ought to at least try, especially when it’s free to play.