The Real Racing series on iOS has set the benchmark for the platform, and consequently the third installment is the most hotly anticipated iOS titles to date. We first got a glimpse at the iPhone 5 unveiling, and finally the realistic racing simulation has returned to the App Store bringing with it all new goodies. Real Racing 3 is feature rich to say the least with 45 licensed vehicles, photo realistic real world tracks, over 900 events, a 22 car grid, and Time Shifted multiplayer.
Real Racing 3’s most noticeable feature is the graphics engine, which builds upon Real Racing 2, which was still one of the best looking games in the App Store. The graphics in number three are quite simply the best available on iOS beginning with the amount of detail packed into every pixel on every authentic car. The game multiplies this amazing feat 22 times with jam packed race courses of highly detailed automobiles. Then there are the gorgeous tracks, and the ultimate takeaway is that all of the finely crafted assets flow effortlessly at such high speeds. The game also features authentic and persistent car damage, live reflected rearview mirrors, and amazing lighting effects as the sun sheen reflects accurate angles off of each car.
The game is an absolutely beauty to behold in the palm of your hand, and the design really helps immerse you in the racing action. It takes more than a great graphics engine to make a great game, and the 900 events are another highlight. The events are split up into multiple sections and tiers, and there are various race modes including cops, elimination, speed challenges, endurance races, autocross, and even drag races. The variation keeps the racing action fresh, and there’s always a unique challenge around the bend.
In each individual race there can be some intense action when you’re banging up against 10 cars as they all try to maneuver a switchback. On the flip side, there can be times where you’re sitting in 10th, and there just isn’t much chance to move up leaving you going through the motions for the next couple of laps. The gameplay is geared towards realism as the name suggests, but the races then lend themselves to be run of the mill without much unknown. It never really gets that hectic, and as the races continue, the main challenge becomes contending with the curves of the road rather than opponents because of the spacing between cars. The biggest problem with the gameplay is the overall balance as skill plays less and less of a role, and instead success is dependent upon car upgrades. No racing game should value upgrades above all else, but that’s exactly what Real Racing 3 does.
The Time Shifted multiplayer is a brand new feature that ties all of the events together. Rather than a stand-alone multiplayer mode, every race is actually a Time Shifted multiplayer race with your opponents filled with other players times from across the globe. When you race, you get to see your friends or random players previous best times in the form of fully interactive time shifted doubles. You race against other’s best times, and the game takes into account their individual performance and skill. The best part is that their double is meant to achieve the same race time under identical conditions, but the conditions are never identical making each race unique.
The backend is so superb that although you’re racing against real players’ times, there’s never any latency or anything to indicate you’re not simply racing against local computer players. The only problem with multiplayer is that the developers were hinting at a different experience of letting you go head to head against a friend with both players racing on their own time. For instance, you could challenge a friend to a race at 6PM, and they could play you the next day at 8AM, and it would be the same experience as if both were racing the day before at 6PM. That’s not the case in Real Racing 3, and it leaves the feature relatively shallow, and unnoticed.
Ultimately, Real Racing 3 comes down to the freemium payment structure despite the plethora of features. The game has been designed from the ground-up for the in-game currencies and IAP, and it definitely shows. Since it is Real Racing, your car degrades through each race leaving it in need of repairs. Those repairs cost money, and you also have to perform maintenance on your vehicles. Damage to your car can slow you down, but luckily the repairs are relatively inexpensive, and don’t really get in the way. Repairs do happen often though, as it’s almost impossible to win a 22 car cup without being knocked into. Maintenance on the other hand takes time, in addition to the in-game currency, and the timers can bog down the whole experience. When you’re on a roll winning a few races, that enjoyment can come to a complete halt if you need to replace brake pads, change oil, get new tires, and other services.
The timers can be sped up with coins, which are the premium currency, and earned infrequently compared to the in-game bucks. You can choose to wait or spend coins, and it’s frustrating either way. The biggest problem though, is the 45 cars to unlock as it’s a super grind to try to unlock them just from racing. You will almost have to use actual money to get new cars, and a second car becomes essential, so you can use it while the other one is receiving maintenance. You earn relatively little bucks for winning races in comparison to the cost of new cars, and this is only exasperated on better cars. Just like the upgrades, newer cars are a necessity to do well in later events, and both unlocking cars, and servicing them really pull towards the IAP. There may be 900 events in Real Racing 3, but it would likely take at least $100 or an eternity playing for free to play through all of them.
Real Racing 3 (Free, Universal) is the most technologically advanced game in the App Store that is worth experiencing for that reason alone. It’s free for everyone to try, but as soon as you get into the flow of things at about 15-20 races in, you’ll run up against the choice of heading down the slippery slope of spending much more than $6.99, or deleting the game. Even without the restrictive freemium structure, the gameplay leaves quite a bit to be desired as the racing balance just doesn’t seem to be there, and the time shifted multiplayer doesn’t stand out.
Real Racing 3 is a spectacle on iOS, but this is a case where the developers over promised, and under delivered.