Real Racing 3 represents a significant leap in the world of smartphone gaming. Some apps, such as Horn and Modern Combat, all manage near console-like graphics but under closer scrutiny, give themselves away.

Real Racing 3 is closer to an Xbox 360 game or PS3 title than we have ever seen, not only in graphics, but - and here is the crucial bit - also in gameplay. Given it is free, get the thing downloaded and give it a go yourself. Still need persuading? Read on to find out why.

Real Racing 3

iPhone, iPad, Android
Free (in app purchases)
iTunes, Google Play

First, a word on RR3's freemium gameplay model. When announced, plenty were quick to point the finger at it, suggesting it would be a crafty way for EA to line its pockets even further and would be littered with all sorts of money traps. It isn't.

In fact, we have been playing Real Racing 3 plenty for this review and haven't spent a single penny, yet it is hands down one of the best games we have on our iPad and certainly better than a lot of the £5 and up apps on offer.

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The only time cash is required is simply when you aren't patient. Certain actions in-game - namely buying a new car or carrying out repairs - require you to wait for them to occur. Spending gold coins will skip the wait times. You start the game with 20 of the coins and are given more each time you level up. 

Really though, never do you hit a wall where you absolutely have to spend your own money. Towards the higher end of things, when cars are a touch faster, you might need to wait longer. By this point, however, you will likely have an alternative vehicle you can race in. So then it all comes down to how much you mind waiting.

As for the game itself, Real Racing 3 consists of different single-player modes, more than 40 vehicles with fully mapped interiors and a clever time-shifted multiplayer we will come to later. 

Upon opening the app, RR3 shows a sort of newsfeed of everything you can play. On the left is a list of repairs, upgrades and cars that you own. On the right is each of the leagues and racing series you can get involved in.

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There's a lot to get stuck into and all different types of races in each league. Some are standard lap-based affairs, others are drag races and some are an enjoyable elimination mode, which tasks you with staying out of last place which is knocked out every 20 seconds.

Even at the lowest end of the vehicle scale races are exciting. AI is smart and doesn't commit too many racing faux pas. In fact, hooking the app up to your television, you could easily mistake it for a proper console racing game, decent AI opposition and all.

That AI however can go one step further. You can replace it with real people using the app's very clever time-shifted multiplayer. When active, any friends you race against will set ghosts on each track on which they play. When you play the same race, those ghosts will automatically be embedded into the race and you will end up having to beat them.

It means you can, in theory, play multiplayer without any data connection, provided the app has had a connection in the first place to download friends' lap times.

Real Racing 3 really does have all the boxes ticked. If there was ever an app that should make the likes of Sony and Microsoft think about doing things differently, it would be this. Graphically stunning and with a non-intrusive freemium payment system, it has reminded us just how exciting our smartphones and tablets really can be.