Real Racing 3 is a new iOS release from EA and Firemonkeys, a studio born from the merging of original Real Racing developer Firemint and IronMonkey Studios, the latter of which was responsible for some of EA’s better mobile offerings. The new game, unlike its premium-price predecessors, is a free-to-play title with additional in-app purchases of in-game currency. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store, weighing in at just under 2GB in size once installed.
Like its predecessors, Real Racing 3 is a racing simulation with an eye on realism, particularly on the graphical front. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this is one of the best-looking games on iOS, even on slightly older hardware such as the iPad 2. Car models (including some impressively-rendered interiors) look very much true to life, and the various circuits are recognizable as their real-world counterparts. There is a degree of draw distance pop-in on some objects (at least on iPad 2, the device used to test the game) but in practice during races things are moving around so much that this is barely noticeable.
The game features some 900+ events in which players may compete, which will keep even the most dedicated racers busy for a long time. Not all of these events are straight races, either. Some are “elimination” races, some are one-on-one head-to-head battles against a single other car, while others still are drag races that require manual gear changes — an obvious nod to CSR Racing’s popularity. All races feature the game’s new “Time-Shifted Multiplayer” system, in which the AI drivers in a player’s game are influenced by the performance of their friends on Game Center and, optionally, Facebook. Connecting to Facebook also allows the player to send requests to friends who are not yet playing the game, inviting them to download it. The Time-Shifted Multiplayer system completely replaces the full online play of the original, allowing for asynchronous competition with push notifications when friends have beaten your time. It’s a pity the option for live online multiplayer is no longer present at all, however, and the push notifications can become extremely obtrusive if you have a lot of friends playing.
The move from premium paid app to free-to-play title has meant some significant changes to Real Racing, and it’s not particularly a change for the better from a consumer-friendliness point of view. The game requires players to maintain their cars after races — not only do they get damaged through collisions and off-road driving, but various elements endure wear and tear and must be serviced every so often. Careful driving can put this off to a certain degree, but there is no way to avoid the inexorable usage of oil or wear on various components. Once items reach a certain threshold of usage or damage, they start to affect the car’s performance and must be fixed — a process which costs both in-game soft currency and a period of real time to complete. The wait time may be bypassed by expending hard currency, a small amount of which is provided to the player upon starting the game for the first time and an even smaller amount is awarded on each level up.
Repairs aren’t the only place where timers rear their heads though. Upgrading car components to improve their performance takes time, as does having new cars delivered. All of these timers may be bypassed using hard currency and whether or not they are a big inconvenience to players depends on the way in which they consume their mobile games, but they do feel a little excessive at times — particularly early in the game, when the player doesn’t have other cars to switch to while one is in for repairs or servicing. Not only that, but some cars may only be purchased by expending hard currency. One of the most notorious examples is the Koenigsegg Agera R, which costs 800 “Gold” to buy — to put that in context, it costs $99.99 to purchase a pack of 1,000 Gold, or two $49.99 in-app purchases of 400 Gold each. There is no option to purchase the Agera R using soft currency, and hard currency is earned at such a slow rate through simply playing the game that players who want this car have little option but to open their wallet and take the hit — even the rewards available on the “Free Gold” offer wall don’t total up to enough to afford this vehicle, which is only usable in certain events anyway.
The strong focus on the game’s freemium aspect mars the overall enjoyment of the experience somewhat, and both players and critics from around the world are commenting on it. The game is perfectly playable without spending a cent, of course, but it will involve both significant wait times and the knowledge that you will likely never be able to access all of the available content. It would have perhaps been preferable to some players to have the option for a single one-off in-app purchase to unlock access to everything and/or remove the timers, but such an option is not presently available. Consequently, it’s difficult to recommend Real Racing 3 without some reservations. While it is undoubtedly a solid game with a mass of content — and clearly several cuts above the usual free-to-play fare on iOS in terms of production values and depth — it remains to be seen whether the player community at large is receptive or resistant to the significant changes that the shift to freemium has wrought on the Real Racing franchise. This is a game whose performance will definitely be interesting to watch in the coming months.
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One of the best-looking games, most content-packed games on iOS, but only time will tell if the community is receptive enough to the new freemium business model to make it a success.