In 2009, Aussie developer Firemint released Real Racing for the iPhone, stunning mobile gamers with amazing visuals and setting the standard for realistic mobile racing games. In 2010 the studio released Real Racing 2, adding licensed cars from major manufacturers and online play for up to 16 players.
In May of 2011, EA acquired Firemint, merging it with fellow Australian studio Iron Monkey to form Firemonkeys, and now we have Real Racing 3, the prettiest mobile racing game you'll ever sit around waiting for.
When EA first announced that Real Racing 3 would be the first free-to-play entry in the franchise, I was foolishly hopeful. I'd played and enjoyed the first two games and could not imagine how the change could possibly take away from the greatness Firemint had already established.
I mean sure, there's no longer any real online multiplayer, replaced by "Time-Shifted" multiplayer in which players race against AI clones of friends and stranger, but I convinced myself that this was a much more convenient way to encourage social play among the community.
Now I'm not so sure that was the reasoning behind the switch. Now it occurs to me that regular standard online play would have gotten in the way of crap like this:
I imagine it would be hard to maintain a party of friends racing online simultaneously when at any given time one of them might have to stop and wait 15 minutes for his or her car to finish being repaired.
The developer diaries leading up to the game's release describe "Time-Shifted" multiplayer as something revolutionary. It's certainly a revolutionary way to avoid having actual online multiplayer. Seeing a friend's icon flash above a car is supposed to inspire me to beat them, but really it just makes me miss them.
The technology isn't just about your friends — all racers in Real Racing 3 are generated using data from real players. You are always racing against the AI-equivalent of people. People who are either so inept there's no hope of them ever catching up to you once you pass them, or people who are so good you never get close enough to see them.
Perhaps these results will change once more of my North American friends are playing the game. Maybe they'll find themselves racing against Fahey, an incredibly aggressive driver unafraid to trade a little paint if it means getting ahead. I am hoping my AI driver is a complete arsehole on the track, but I doubt it will translate. More likely they'll pass me and never see me again.
There is a lot of content in Real Racing 3. There are more than 900 events, from head-to-head battles to standard circuits featuring a massive 22-car grid; elimination races to CSR Racing-style drags. Participating in all the events available only requires you have the right car class for the job. As of right now there are 26 race series available, and with the two cars I've purchased so far I have access to three of these.
There's a featured event this week — the Audi R8 LMS Ultra Showcase — but it requires a car that costs roughly 20 times the cash I currently have on hand. This makes me sad.
There are 46 licensed vehicles to collect, most of which can be purchased with cash earned from completing in-game events, while others require copious amounts of gold, the game's premium purchasable currency. For instance, the Koenigsegg Agera R costs 800 gold. 1000 gold costs $100 in the in-app store. You might be able to accumulate that much through normal play, but no... you won't.
Unattainable vehicles aside, the real frustration of Real Racing 3 comes from a constant barrage of completely arbitrary timers. It starts with maintenance. Over the course of normal racing a car's oil, engine, brakes, suspension and tyres will wear down. If they drop below a certain point their performance will drop. This is fixed by performing maintenance, which costs in-game cash and takes time to complete, unless you spend gold to finish instantly.
Then there are repairs. Dangerous driving will damage your vehicle, impairing performance. This is fixed by initiating repairs, which costs in-game cash and takes time to complete, unless you spend gold to finish.
Upgrades take time to install, unless you spend gold to finish. When you purchase a new car you have to wait for it to be delivered, unless you spend gold to finish.
This is bullshit.
It's unavoidable bullshit. While I can pay $2.99 to $20.99 on vehicle packs to unlock events more quickly, there is no lump sum that gets rid of the damn timers. I would gladly pay if there were.
Look at that damn Dodge right there. Ignore my video capture stuttering and just look at it. That's a thing of beauty right there. The attention to detail on the cars and the tracks is pure Firemint — this is what they do, even if they have merged with another developer and had their name changed. Underneath all the annoying freemium BS there's a true Real Racing game screaming to get out. If you wait long enough you just might hear it.