In 2010, Melbourne based game developer Firemint created one of the most technically advanced iOS games to date, Real Racing 2. Unlike the first iteration of Real Racing, which was released a year before, Real Racing 2 featured 30 licensed cars from well-known manufacturers. My fondest memories of the title include playing for hours on end with the charging cable connected just to keep my iPod from dying. While it debuted for over $10, a very steep price for an App Store title, Real Racing 2 kept players enticed for hours upon hours.
Fast forward to 2013. Firemint has merged with studio Ironmonkeys to form Firemonkeys, and Electronic Arts has purchased the studio. Real Racing 3 has finally been released (in Australia and New Zealand) after numerous delays, and gamers have finally gotten their hands on the most anticipated iOS title in recent past. However, there is one major issue that has sparked uproar from the gaming community, Real Racing 3 operates on a freemium model, meaning that the app is free to download, but in-app purchases need to be made to unlock many items within the game. This freemium move has been attributed to EA, who are exercising their ownership of Firemonkeys through moving Real Racing 3 towards their idea of how purchases on the App Store should operate.
Mount Panorama is quite a challenging track
This choice has massive ramifications on the game, which takes cues from many other freemium titles in its implementation of in-game currency and the like. Most notably, this greatly restricts players’ ability to progress through the game at a fast rate. In fact, progression is hindered massively through this new business model, which focuses on extracting money from players for in-game objects.
Most freemium games stop at this point, where investing in money in the game will speed up progression. However, Real Racing 3 persists to a new level through the implementation of a new system, one that penalises players for damaging their car. This comes in the form of repairs. If your car is damaged during the course of a race, you will be offered the opportunity to repair it for a small fee. It’s not the cost of these repairs that is annoying, but the fact that you have to wait a set amount of time for the repairs to happen. Therefore, it seems pointless to complete these repairs, however, any damage you car is subjected to has a direct influence on its performance. If you have a particularly dirty race, then be prepared to wait a good 5 minutes to race again.
If you have this many repairs, be prepared to wait
Now a sensible solution to this would be to race carefully, and while this is a possibility, the waiting periods do not stop there. All cars require maintenance at some point, for a variety of factors such as new tyres, new brakes and oil changes. This waiting period applies of many other situations as well, such as installing new upgrades on your car, and even having a new car “shipped.” However, all this can be skipped through heavy handed use of the “deliver now” button, which will draw funds from your stash of in game “gold.” This “gold” is Real Racing 3’s secondary currency. While your “R$” acts as the main way to purchase new cars and upgrades, this gold helps skip waiting periods. As is to be expected with a freemium title, this gold is offered to players in small chunks, usually as a reward for levelling up. If players do run out of gold, then it’s off to the “Store” to buy some, where $5.49 will only buy you 30 gold.
This same method is used for the R$, which is given out to players in such small portions that you’ll be wondering if that $200,000 Lamborghini will forever be a dream. However, there is a way out of this misery, simply buy more money. All the cars in the game can easily be obtained, that is, if you’re willing to shell out hundreds of dollars on an iOS game. This excessive use of the freemium model hinders the entire experience. When players should be racing for hours on end, they are waiting for the oil on their car to be changed.
Real Racing 3 has some of the best visuals on iOS
Fortunately, the freemium model is where the negatives stop. Get on the road in Real Racing 3, and you’ll remember why this is seen as the Gran Turismo of iOS. All 45 cars are a joy to drive, with different handling characteristics really showcasing the effort put into this title by Firemonkeys. Jumping straight into an extremely fast car will put you out of your depth, which is one of the wonderful things about this game. There is an aspect of learning that comes with Real Racing 3. Getting to know the tracks is key, learning how much you can push on the straight before braking is the difference between winning or losing.
Firemonkey’s bragged about their car models endlessly at the iPhone 5 keynote last year, and it turns out that they weren’t lying in the slightest. The quality of the exteriors and interiors of these cars is second best only to car models seen on current generation consoles.
Another highlight of the game is the tracks. There is a full lineup of real world tracks, from Silverstone and Laguna Seca, to the infamous Mount Panorama in New South Wales, Australia. These tracks are packed with detail, and they only get better when a full 22 car grid is storming around them.
The car models are incredibly detailed
Real Racing 3 can be a sim or arcade title, the choice is yours. Turn on all the assists and have great fun drifting around corners and smashing into other cars. Turn off all these assists, and the cars can be a massive handful, sure to test the most experienced of players.
A hallmark feature of Real Racing 3 is Time Shifted Multiplayer, or TSM for short. It allows players to race the ghost their friends have set in any race. However, unlike the traditional ghost mechanic, TSM allows for real life players’ cars to be fully participating in a race. If you crash into another person’s car during the race, their time will be effected. It’s all about the competition between friends, and as soon as a mate beats your time, Real Racing 3 will give you the opportunity to jump right into that race and set them straight. This all operates through Game Center, which is a massive relief, considering that EA’s own online service, Origin, may have been used, and it is horrible.
22 car grids make racing intense
With such a plethora of tracks and cars to race, there is no doubt that Real Racing 3 is the best racing title on iOS. However, its excellence is held back massively by the freemium model EA are pushing so hard for. Many players would have been glad to shell out $10 for the entire game, without the horrid waiting element. In using this wait to play system, Real Racing 3 will lose many players who simply want to race, but are being held back by this new business model. Real Racing 3 should be a game that can be played for hours on end, that allows for massive progression if the hard yards are put in, however, it is exactly the opposite. To get the most out of Real Racing 3, players will have to part with a large deal of money, which for the majority of people, just isn’t worth it. Time and commitment will ultimately see players reach the end of the game, but the extremely high standard Real Racing 3 aspires to is cut short through the freemium model, which is a shame, since all the other elements are so spot on.
Update: Firemonkeys has reportedly begun reducing waiting times since the writing of this review, however, it may not be permanent.