Firemonkeys has created far and away the best sim racer released on a mobile phone or tablet. And they’re letting you play it for free.
I’m a casual racing fan, used to big drifts and nitro boosts. Despite its no-risk freemium pricing model, Real Racing 3’s much more realistic sim-racing style initially frustrated me. It’s a big adjustment realizing you need to slow to a crawl to thread through S-curves. Even after the fundamentals are down, RR3’s AI racers will eat you alive until you learn to brake into a curve in order to accelerate out of it. The game isn’t afraid to severely punish anyone that doesn’t brake early enough, or gamers that don’t learn their racing lines.Elimination GameplayshareShareAutoplay setting: On3:39
Switching between early game clunkers and late-game sportscars clearly illustrates the great attention to detail in the feel of the car line-up. The vehicles differ not just in top speed, but also in their ability to grip the road, accelerate off the line and rapidly decelerate when necessary. The experience isn’t as technical or detailed as Gran Turismo (I didn’t notice a massive difference between FWD and RWD vehicles for example), but it’s still the most accurate, most satisfying racing sim I’ve played on a phone or tablet.
Thankfully a variety of assist and control options are available to ease players into the experience. With brake assist, steering assist and traction control on, players just have to vaguely tilt their device in the right direction to succeed. As gamers get more comfortable it’s possible to post better times via manual control. I ended up using a virtual steering wheel and brake with all assists off.
Real Racing 3’s extensive use of real-world cars and tracks adds to the quality of the sim experience. There’s nothing quite like blasting down Laguna Seca’s straightaways at 150 MPH in a Porsche 911 before mashing the brake at the final moment to narrowly thread through the track’s famed corkscrew. At launch 46 cars from 12 manufacturers are available for purchase, from the humble Ford Focus to supercars like the Bugatti Veyron.
It helps that the car models are absolutely gorgeous. My rational mind knows that every mobile game will eventually look this good, but Firemonkeys’ visual effort still feels a full generation ahead of the competition. The tracks themselves can occasionally feature embarrassing elements like 2D human sprites in the stands, but it’s hard to complain when they’re flying by at 200 MPH.
Anyone worried about EA eschewing Real Racing 1 & 2’s $10 up-front asking price in favor of a nickel-and-dime freemium strategy can put his or her mind at ease. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve spent 34 hours in Real Racing 3, with 21 hours spent on the actual racetrack. I’ve medaled in 247 events and competed in a total of 476 races. I own seven cars, five of which are fully upgraded.
And I haven’t spent a cent.“
I haven’t spent a cent
Real Racing 3 makes its money primarily by tempting impatient gamers. After a few races you have to send your car in for repairs and routine maintenance that ranges from a (realtime) minute to several hours. You can pay up in the form of paid gold coins to skip these wait times. Gold coins are also used to purchase the final upgrade or two for many higher-end vehicles. Patient gamers can spend the coins earned through normal play to upgrade their vehicles without any grinding.Developer Diary 3: Real PeopleshareShareAutoplay setting: On2:14
I won’t deny it – it’s incredibly frustrating when you’re doing great in a lengthy race only to have the AI shunt you into the wall on lap 4. Suddenly you’re not only stuck in 10th place but you slapped with an hour-long repair afterwards.
In a happy twist, the more time you spend with Real Racing 3 the less odious its freemium model becomes. Car repairs happen on a per-car basis. So at first, when your starter vehicle goes in for repair… you’re done. You have no choice but to pay up or close the game and wait. But once you earn more vehicles you’re able to swap between them when one needs repairs and keep racing for as long as you like.
Real Racing 3’s deep social integration also helps balance out the freemium pricing. This is not a game with a traditional beginning and end. Instead this is a game you’re meant to come back to day after day to reclaim titles your friends have taken from you. In lieu of a traditional head-to-head multiplayer, Real Racing 3 makes extensive use of a new “time shifted multiplayer” system. The game remembers every race players complete, tracking data like car damage and lap times. When you enter an event, the AI’s performance is powered by this human data. You’re essentially racing against a field of 21 other human players who completed that event days or even weeks ago. Clever. After connecting the game with your Facebook or Game Center friends, every race becomes a competition. Your friends begin popping up everywhere The passively social nature of every single event in the game is extremely well done and very compelling.Drag Race GameplayshareShareAutoplay setting: On3:32
This system is not without its issues, though. Rarely, the AI exhibits strange behavior like slamming on the brakes at a random moment (presumably to adjust to a lower lap time), or swerving wildly into my side (presumably to generate more car damage). I’ve also started one-on-one races only to see the AI immediately zoom hundreds of yards ahead, leaving me zero chance to catch up. Most of my hundreds of events were tense and balanced, thankfully.