Real Racing 3 hands-on preview: Taking mobile racing to a new level
A weight of expectation rests on the shoulders of Real Racing 3, the latest instalment of the popular mobile racing game from EA.
It was developed by the newly formed Firemonkeys studio in Australia, and Pocket-lint sat down with Michael De Graaf, its associate producer, for some hands-on time with the new game before its release on 28 February.
The build we were playing was the final release, the very same that will be rolling out to iTunes and Google Play in simultaneous launch across iPhone, iPad and Android. We played mostly on the iPad, but we also saw it in iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S III.
They say that first impressions last, and that's very apt when talking about Real Racing 3, because this game is breathtakingly good looking. When we say nearing console quality, we really mean it. We were blown away by the trailer back in August 2012, but in the flesh it's a wonder to behold.
De Graaf told us that, in fact, there were as many polygons in a wheel of a car in RR3 as there were for the entire vehicle in RR2. That shows, as the game looks fantastic in all areas, from the rich design of the menus, through the customisation and upgrade sections and into the game itself.
But Real Racing 3 isn't called "real" for no reason: it's filled with real cars, real tracks and real people, which is the three-pronged message Firemonkeys is pushing.
There are 46 cars available at launch from 12 manufacturers and there are enough to get you excited, with cars at various levels to suit the different races on offer.
You start with just one car and, as the game progresses, you add cars to your garage. If you have the right car, then a range of races for that class of car opens up. Of course you'll have to win the cash to buy those cars as you go (more or less).
The cars look absolutely stunning and they sound fantastic too, along with the licensed tracks that sit in the background. We picked out the awesome Rusko track Everyday, also used on the trailer, and with headphones connected, RR3 is hugely immersive.
Since we've mentioned cash, let's talk about one thing: Real Racing 3 will be free. It's a move that's drawn some debate from the gaming community, but for many gamers this will be appealing. It's a great quality game and you can get it for nothing.
Of course, real cash comes into Real Racing 3 if you want to get to something without putting in the time to race and progress that far. Using in-app payments, you'll be able to buy game cash so that you can have that car you want, or you'll be able to buy a package, for example, to open up parts of the game you haven't yet reached.
This means that gaming time and success isn't a barrier to progress: casual gamers can buy what they want. You can play the game for free if you wish, but without having played it beyond the afternoon gaming session, we can't judge whether it'll feel like you need to be buying more cars or not.
As for the tracks, they're realistic too. With nine licensed tracks - including Brands Hatch, Silverstone, Sedona Raceway, etc - we found that we quickly remembered the turns from either real life or from Forza Motorsport 4.
Real Racing 3 was referred to as nearing "console quality" and part of our demo time today was spent watching gameplay on a 65-inch Samsung TV, just output from the iPhone 5 via an HDMI adapter. It looked stunning, which is a real testament to Firemonkeys' achievement.
Diving into the game itself and we were lucky enough to be playing unlocked games, so we could access all of the cars. Our game time wasn't long enough to really gauge how different the cars feel, but it was long enough to appreciate the controls, which are very much as they were in previous RR games.
The assist system in still in place to help those just getting started, or who don't fancy such a challenging game, but the real rewards come once you switch those assists off. On the iPad the accuracy is impressive when it comes to steering, and you need to take care with the brakes or you'll be skidding sideways off the track.
As Real Racing 3 is a racing sim rather than a straight arcade driving game, it's more about taking the racing line, controlling the speed into the corners and trying to keep things tidy. Those techniques you might have perfected in a console title work here too: sticking to sound principles of braking before turning, trying to keep the car flat and hitting the apex of the corner spot on.
Yes, there are shortcuts you can take, like bouncing off the inside of cornering cars to slip past, but there's an impressive damage system to contend with too. Damage, ultimately, will degrade the performance of your car and this is neatly displayed so you can judge whether you need to repair your car or not.
That decision is up to you, as you can happily race a damaged car. Repairs cost you both time and money and in some cases that might mean you have to wait until a repair is completed before you can race a particular car again.
Part of the thinking here is to encourage you into different cars as well as trying to drive clean and not spend your time smashing other drivers off the road.
We found that the racing was fast and addictive, but not too difficult with all the assists on, so we quickly switched them off. It helps once you get familiar with the tracks, as nailing the corners is really what the game is all about.
So far we haven't mentioned the real people. Those people you are racing are real. No, it's not real-time racing, but they're real timeshifted gamers. The idea is that the game saves all the data to its servers so that real gamers' times come into your game. Your opponents are matched on skill and the name and nationality are indicated in the game. Yes, that's Brioche from USA in the picture below.
This extends to your friends too, so - as in Forza Horizon for example - you can race your friend to beat their time, with them receiving a notification that they need to step up their game.
De Graaf told us that Firemonkeys would be listening to the community, with the intention of developing the features of the game in the future, which could potentially include more cars and more tracks.
Real Racing 3 is due to hit the iTunes App Store and Google Play on 28 February, although we've heard that it's already available in some international iTunes stores. We'll be bringing you a deeper gameplay review once the game has launched.