App Review: Real Racing 3 Is A Beautiful Game Strangled By Freemium Nonsense

App Review: Real Racing 3 Is A Beautiful Game Strangled By Freemium Nonsense

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.

Real Racing 3

Genre: racing, really
Developer: Firemonkeys
Platform: Android, iOS
Price: free
Get Real Racing 3 on Google Play
Get Real Racing 3 on the iTunes App Store


  • I generally avoid any game that looks like it was high production but free. Nothing is free in this world, I’d just like to get the unpleasantries out of the way in the beginning.

  • As soon as you said ‘acquired by EA’ the rest to of the article basically wrote itself. God I hate how EA buys great developer and then forces them to churn out shit.

  • God I hope nobody gives them a cent but I know people will.

    I’m happy to spend $15 up front for something like this. If you give it to me for free and then try to screw me with “Freemium” shit then I’m never handing over a cent.

    The worst part is you can never relax and enjoy a game like this, you always feel like you’re bleeding cash out your ass or that you’re fighting the clock even when you’re in a menu. It’s horrible and takes the fun out of playing ANY game.
    It gets even worse when they start making elements of the game un-acquirable without handing over cash. Like the cars in this game being stupidly overpriced, the new Angry Birds levels being much harder since they added purchasable power-ups and even the cars in Forza 3 being HEAPS more expensive than previous games now you can buy them with MS points.

    • I feel the same, I’ll pay to unlock the real experience but nickel and diming is a real turnoff. In some freemium games when you do buy in game currency you just breeze through everything with zero effort. You then realise it’s not even a game, there is no balance or challenge. The only challenge in these games is to try to finish them without paying a cent. I’ve added Freemium to the black list along with always online DRM.

  • wah wah wah. Reviewer didn’t even bother to actually check out the alternative to the “spend gold for instant gratification” mechanic.

    • Yes he did. It is the wait and wait mechanic.

      Seriously, freemium sucks the fun out of games. It’s not the expense, its the unnecessary waiting and hassle of payment.

        • From a poster below:

          “Coming back to microtransactions, my next biggest gripe is how long it takes to get a new car. You have to play too many races to get enough money for one unless you want to pay for gold.”

  • downloaded the game over an hour ago and it is still downloading crap yet to actually see the main menu or anything kind of annoying.

  • I’ve played it for a little while (without spending a cent), and if we can get away from the topic of microtransactions for a minute I’ll share my biggest problem.

    The races are way too short. I lost all interest because of the 1-2 minute races. I know this is a mobile game, but I got so sick of it. You just get going and it’s over.

    Coming back to microtransactions, my next biggest gripe is how long it takes to get a new car. You have to play too many races to get enough money for one unless you want to pay for gold. That means repeating 1-2 minute races. It’s more of a grind than going round the oval 100 times to get the Dodge Viper in Gran Turismo 3 was 😛 (That may have just been me)

    I haven’t gotten to the point where I’ve had to buy any currency for oil changes and the like, but I’m sure if I kept playing that would become an issue. Like I said when it first became available here, I’d be happy to spend $10 and just have the game with no microtransaction stuff, but because of what they’ve done, I’m giving them nothing.

    • Yes, you can. But sometimes the AI drivers are harder to beat than the online ‘time shifted’ opponents

  • I seem to be in a minority who finds the game to be good.
    I haven’t spent anything to play it, I’ve bought 5 cars, earnt at least 50 gold and have a whole lot of events and tracks open to race on.
    Real Racing 3 is a game I wouldn’t even think of buying, but because it’s free I decided to give it a go, and found an enjoyable portable game.

    People complain about the timers (it can slow progress, especially at the start), but you don’t even need to repair. You can win races (you only need do be 3rd or better to unlock more races), or at least earn some cash (large amounts in some, which are pretty easy) . It is possible to even place first with 9 ‘required’ repairs and 2 (in the red) unserviced parts.
    Servicing your car earlier doesn’t make it cheaper, so it’s better to run it as long as it can, and even beyond.
    And if you need to repair, then start making progress with your other cars, or set them all to repair when you go to bed.

    Also, I went about only purchasing one car from each event, and usually waiting for the one that unlocks a little more or is higher classed in later events. So not only do I have more cars, but more varied events.

    The game itself is quite beautiful, and I really got a kick out of the Mt. Panorama track. I like that you can customise your control options, although I still keep traction control on, but at least have manual breaking.

    I can understand the hate for timers, but it hasn’t effected my play of it. I’m not the type of person to sit down and want to play it to completion as fast as possible. And the ipod I’ve got is not a system that really lends to that anyway.
    One thing I wish it had was a Free choice event section. Any car you have, on any course you’ve unlocked in different modes.
    I also wish there was some different music, not even sure if you can play from my own music. What they have, is fitting, but gets repetitive.

  • Freemium is really starting to become damaging to gaming.

    The other day I wanted to find a premium farming game for iPad.. just something I could pay $5 to $10 for that I could have the same experience (minus the social aspect) of Farmville that I could play casually. Sure, the freemium model is not going away any time soon but surely there are developers out there that can see the value in reproducing games that do well for people willing to pay for the content upfront rather than in ongoing and annoying microtransactions? However, a lot of searching ended up with nothing, nothing at all, close to what I wanted.. and the more I looked, the more and more freemium games I found in various genres..

    I don’t want to play a farming game to completion in a day.. but if I have 30 to 60 mins of downtime to spare, I want to be able to play for that entire 30 to 60 mins and not be brought up short because of some forced timer thing that serves no other purpose than to get me to pay on an ongoing basis to remove those timers. It’s not like you pay once and all the timers are removed.. that would be fine to me.. like having a Lite Version and a Premium Version with a single download.. but no.. it’s an ongoing cost.

  • I really don’t know what the big deal is… So you have to wait a little while for your car to be repaired and/or delivered etc, its a pretty good game as far as mobile games go and heaven forbid it takes time to earn enough $ for the car you want/need, I’ve only played casually for a few days and I’m already at skill level 11 and have 3 cars, and have no desire whatsoever to spend any real money on it, have a little patience kids.

    • This is exactly why they shouldn’t have gone freemium. They are scraping the bottom of the user barrel and getting people who don’t buy apps to download the game. The majority of free users continue to not pay a cent and users who prefer to pay upfront for the game aren’t paying because they are pissed and feel alienated by changes. This game is shit, back to RR2.

    • the big deal is i can buy a ps3 and gt5 or a xbox 330 and forza, plus a tv for the price it cot to buy all the ingame cars and upgrade, and i dont have to wait 7 hours for repairs or to upgrade an engine

  • This game is a fine example of execs dictating game design. Firemint guys, I hope you are ashamed of yourselves for this tripe.

  • I am quite enjoying it so far now that it is actually playing and not downloading using a nexus 7 so im not sure if the graphics are the best on this but it looks really good to me. Probably even easy enough for my son to play which is a bonus

  • This is the same problem I have with Hawken. Personally I’ve got nothing against freemium or free-to-play as a concept but put simply: For these business models to work they have to provide something worth buying, to provide something worth buying they must be an important component of the game. Thus the business of games are now mixed into the playing of the game. I HATE THAT

    I’m happy to buy a game upfront and then the business is OVER. After that the game experience may begin uninterrupted. Everything the designers have created to make the game a complete enjoyable experience has been carefully considered and placed to make game great.

    In F2P – most of the design is for a complete enjoyable game and the rest is to CONVINCE YOU TO SPEND MORE MONEY.

  • I’m pretty sure complaining about the business model they used isn’t going to change anything so I just play and enjoy it. But, like some others have said I refuse to pay anything in a game like this. While I’m waiting for repairs and whatnot, ill go play some forza on my 360. Btw, just recently picked up a used copy of Forza 2 for 2.99. Now That’s the way to game! Oh and I kinda like the shorter races. If I have a lot of time to play, see my mention of Forza.

  • Reviewer is 100% accurate. Great game with lousy game flow. It’s pathetic and if you put up with it then you are just encouraging this stupid model. Play if you want, but don’t spend any real money on it. I miss the old Real Racing game — it was much, much better in terms of game flow. I’d gladly put up with the glitches and have control of game flow back and pay a one-time fee of $4.99 or maybe even $9.99… but this model is just greedy and will eventually fail.

  • I really do not get the complaint about having to wait for repairs and upgrades. That’s just ridiculous. The game is called REAL Racing, not fantasy racing. It’s modeled after real world racing on professional tracks. Since when have any racing teams ever been able to drive a car into a shop and have the car repaired or upgraded in the blink of an eye.

    I’ve been playing for about a year and a half now, haven’t spent one thin dime, and am now about halfway through the Expert series.

    The is only one thing the grippers are right about. Nothing is free. But that DOESN’T man you have to spend money. It means you have to WORK to get what you want if you don’t want to spend money. Just like the real world. Just remember, it’s called REAL for more reasons than just the very well done dynamics. It’s called real because you have to run your garage like a business.

    Never spend gold unless you absolutely have to. Don’t hire your crew except on races with big payouts. So far I’ve found three Mount Panorama races (one each in the Pro/Am, Pro, and Expert series, they each pay out significantly more than the other races in the same series, and each pays out, I think, roughly double what the last high stakes Mount Panorama race does. The final MP race in Pro pays roughly 35,000 dollars and 6,600 fame points (which levels you up faster, which equates to more gold).

    The beauty of those particular races is that, once you learn how to get out front early, it’s really easy to win every one of them nearly every time. Yeah, you have to race them repeatedly, but before you complain that would be boring, remember it’s called REAL Racing, and in the real world of racing, that’s life. Besides, what the heck did you get the game for. Because you like to race, right? Okay, so what’s the problem? RACE! Race a lot! Bite the bullet and get to work. Improve your skills.

    Oh! And just to put some perspective into it: I race every race (with the ONLY exceptions being the challenge races that force you to shut them off), with ALL assists on maximum.

    Real world racing is fun, but it’s also work. So is Real Racing 3.

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