The Real Racing franchise has been a tentpole fixture on iOS since the platform’s inception. With a bounty of licensed cars shredding up the most realistic tracks and vistas, we have always come away extremely satisfied with the end product. Real Racing 3 is the latest edition, and it’s published by Electronic Arts for the first time. With EA’s strong performance with their free-to-play model across games like The Simpsons Tapped Out and The Sims FreePlay, we’re not shocked Real Racing 3 is following suit. With a feature set that promises to be the biggest simulation racer to date on iOS, we anxiously checked under the hood of Real Racing 3.
The amount of content in Real Racing 3 is simply staggering. By our count, there are over 960 events to race in, spanning cup races, eliminator races, speed runs, drag races, endurance races, head-to-head matchups, and more. The events are organized in various racing series based on the specified eligible cars. Speaking of cars, there are 46 of them to collect and add to your garage. This year’s version features the most exotic options out there like the Lamborghini Gallado, Bugattti Veyron, McLauren F1, and Audi R8. These mechanical titans are fierce, showcasing a flagrant sense of speed from any camera angle. New to the franchise are some of the elite racing tracks around the world. You’ll get to test your mettle on the famed courses of Silverstone, Hockenheimring, and most notably Laguna Seca. The number of races to complete in Real Racing 3 is daunting; it’ll take you dozens of hours to see everything.
Real Racing 3 sets a new bar for visual excellence on iOS. The game shines brightly with rich and sharp visuals, fully taking advantage of the Retina displays on the iPhone 5 and new iPad. There are fully modeled car interiors, real-time environmental reflections, lens flare effects, convincing dust-up transparencies, and countless other details that create a realistic world to race in. We streamed the game to a large 60” HDTV using Airplay on an Apple TV, and it can almost pass for an Xbox 360 or PS3 game. Big kudos to the team at Firemonkeys– all we can do is praise the meticulous work they’ve done on the entire visual package.
As expected, the actual racing feels superb. The cars feel substantial, the response to braking is satisfying, and the sense of speed is always there. Real Racing 3 encourages simulation-style racing, as playing this game like it’s Need for Speed will leave your car severely damaged and underperforming. For the first time, a major emphasis is being put on repairing your cars after races. You have to pour virtual cash and gold coins into fixing damaged bumpers, shattered windshields, and broken taillights, to name a few repairs. Additionally, you have to micromanage elements like changing engine oil, tuning transmissions, and replacing tires. With races featuring upwards of 22 cars, it is a guarantee that you’ll be spending lots of time and virtual cash on repairs and tuning.
On the topic of virtual cash, it is important to look closely at the free-to-play model of Real Racing 3. Built from the ground up as a free-to-play game, Real Racing 3 implicitly and explicitly asks for your money, frequently. We do not doubt it’s entirely possible to experience everything in the game for free, but you’ll pay a heavy price with your time to get there. Whether it’s purchasing vehicles, repairing your cars, or earning access to a new series to race in, the game always has its proverbial handout.
The cash and gold coins you earn from victories are not nearly enough to fund the purchase of new cars in a reasonable time period. In fact, the victory purses you earn are barely enough to upgrade your current car’s specs and fix repairs. The aspect we suspect will really annoy players is the mandatory wait time you have to endure while your car is getting repaired. For example, if you want to repair your engine, you must wait 15 minutes or cough up 4 gold coins to expedite the repair. If you think that’s bad, try tuning your suspension and waiting 45 minutes before you can race again. We understand that developers need to include hooks to encourage in-app purchases, but the structure here is outrageous.
Real Racing 3 touts what it is called “Time-Shifted Multiplayer,” their spin on asynchronous multiplayer action with your friends and the larger Real Racing community. In playing series events, the AI field is populated by the avatars and comparable racing skills of others also playing the game. The execution is solid, as you can see Facebook profile pictures hovering over each car. When you earn a gold trophy for finishing first, you can compete against people on your friend list by replaying the event. You earn extra cash bonuses for beating your friends, which is great considering how expensive the cars are.
This is all well and good, but it doesn’t come close to replicating real-time online multiplayer. Perhaps the team at Firemonkeys has data and metrics from prior games suggesting resources should shift towards asynchronous play instead of real-time online gaming. In any case, we’re not particularly thrilled with this model, especially since it does not capture any head-to-head statistics or online records.
Deciding on a recommendation for Real Racing 3 was one of the toughest calls we’ve had to make in a long time. Our heads tell us this is unquestionably the biggest version of Real Racing ever. It features next-level stunning visuals, dozens of cars, hundreds of events, and authentic tracks backed by its signature refined racing action.
But our hearts tell us that the business decisions made to suck iTunes accounts dry from purchasing in-game currency and wait-busting gold coins should never be advocated. To put in perspective how ridiculous Real Racing 3’s economics are, there is a $99.99 option to buy five million dollars of in-game currency. Even with that much virtual cash, you could not buy all the cars in the game, much less bypass all the mandatory waiting. All things considered, we’re going to side with our hearts on this, as the perceived value does play a big role in a recommendation. The reality is that Real Racing 3 is a high-profile business experiment gone wrong.