It was a stroke of genius, adding an antagonist to the Real Racing series. Racing games don’t traditionally have bad guys but, from all the comments I’ve read about Real Racing 3, people really hate the big boss that is EA and their seemingly endless ‘pay wall’ goons.
OK, maybe I’m reaching a little, but there’s no doubt that it has been an agonising balancing act on the part of EA and Fire Monkeys to manage the free-to-play system for RR3. After a week of playing the game, I actually think they’ve done a pretty good job.
In fact, I feel that the final product has come out quite a lot like Gran Turismo 5. The AI does the same kind of dumb driving where it brakes early and goes slowly through corners, you’re not punished for clattering into your opponents, and you have to painstakingly earn money to get your virtual car collection going.
The key difference is between a cold open and a cold call. The former is a technique used to grab your attention at the start of a TV show, dropping you into a story already underway to pull you in ahead of the title card, the latter’s a way of interrupting you whilst cooking a lovely lasagna to try and get you to buy some double glazing. Early on in Real Racing it far too often feels like the game simply doesn’t want you to play it, unless you use in game resources or spend real world money to dodge around a timed wait for your car.
After each race you will invariably have some damage, most of this is quick and cheap to fix. It might be R$35 to replace dinged up wing mirrors on the Focus RS, my recommended first car, but for more expensive vehicles like a McLaren MP4-12C, the cost spirals. Then it multiplies across many components, because damage is almost never from an isolated incident.
At least these repairs are instant, unlike the car servicing system to replace oil and tyres, or overhaul your engine, suspension and brakes. Each event accumulates wear and tear on these, dependent on the length, how you drove, and so on. So after a couple of events you’ll find yourself needing to change the oil, otherwise it dips into the red and starts to impact on your performance. Except that whilst oil might cost you next to nothing to replace, it does take time, and this is cumulative with other repairs. You could easily be out of a car for an hour if it all hits at once.
Except that it never does, and so you’re in an endless loop of waiting for an engine overhaul followed by racing, then waiting for fresh tyres to be put on, then an oil change and the suspension together. It’s particularly jarring when you have just a single car, early on, and want to keep on playing. At least with the car upgrades you can continue to race while waiting for them to be delivered and installed.
That’s how they get you, though. In-game currency is split between dollars to buy things with and gold coins to grease the palms of the digital mechanics and get stuff to happen immediately. You can earn these by racing and levelling up your profile, or you can splash a bit of real world cash on digital coins to get a boost.
Quite cleverly, EA have also added the option to purchase booster packs including cars. The Street Spec Booster gives you a faster BMW Z4, which in turn opens up more events to race, and throws in a couple of gold coins for £1.49. That’s not so horrible, and neither is £2.99 for a speedy Ford GT and 30 gold coins, but when you see £6.99 for a racing Dodge Viper SRT10 or Dodge Challenger, Audi R8 and Porsche GT3, it gives me pause.
Yes they’ll unlock new events, but all of these cars will so very quickly find themselves outclassed by others, and you then have to upgrade, wait and save up money regardless. We meet again, pay wall…
Maybe it’s not so bad, though. Everything has been so clearly geared to putting you one or two steps behind, so that you’re always playing catch up and putting a few quid into the machine. Yet it’s also designed so that even without spending real money and tapping away all those reminders as they pop up, there’s plenty of variety to keep you occupied.
There are over 900 events stuffed into this game, all falling into a handful of types from drag races all the way up to four lap races against 21 AI drivers. It’s also helped out by the variety of real world tracks, with Spa-Francorchamps and Indianapolis joined by the rarer sights of Brands Hatch, Silverstone (with a pre-2010 variant to boot) and Bathurst.
So there’s a lot to like in that track list and variety of events, but it’s also tied together with a clever asymmetrical multiplayer feature called Time Shifted Multiplayer (TSM). Every event you do uploads your lap time to the servers so that, when you race, you’re going up against AI which is set to match the lap times of real people… while still driving like AI and battling with you on track.
You’ll also be going up against people from your Game Centre and Facebook friends lists, and with notifications on (I turned mine off), it will keep dragging you back in to beat their times. It also gives you a little extra in-game monetary reward, so that there’s more appeal to going back to completed events, beyond merely grinding away for cash.
Beyond that, there are a few other tricks to getting more cars quickly. Each racing series unlocks new events as you earn trophies, with every third tier consisting of a single car specific event. As you unlock that tier, that particular car is offered up to you with a 20% discount, so if you’re cunning and analyse what events you grind and get podiums on, you can quickly build up a garage of cars which unlock further racing series.
Additionally, those very gold coins which are used to speed things up can also be used to buy a small selection of cars. My advice would be to save up those coins you earn from levelling up and grab a McLaren MP4-12C as soon as you can. It’s a scarily fast vehicle after playing with the Focus RS and Skyline GT-R for around 5 hours of game time, and the events it unlocks will earn you more money, even as the maintenance costs are raised.
Thankfully this isn’t really a review, because all I’ve really done is talk about how there’s a lot of variety stuffed into this game, but that it’s all hidden behind attempts to gradually drain money out of your wallet. My game says that I’ve spent around 13 hours in the game so far, and I’ve collected 8 of the 46 cars in that time, playing 102 of the 900 events. By comparison, I spent just 16 hours in Real Racing 2 to win gold trophies for all 57 events and have 24 of the 30 vehicles.
As a whole I feel that I was able to see all of what RR2 has to offer in that time, but with RR3 I’m probably hundreds of hours away from unlocking most of the faster vehicles and experiencing the game at its best. At least, now that I have a few more cars to my name, I can play the game without being interrupted, and instead hop from one car and event to another, as I need to. That’s actually what I’ve done for the last hour, to unlock my 8th car.
For all the annoyances, all I can suggest is to go and download RR3, and see what it’s about for yourself. See if you can stomach the grinding, and if you like the way the game handles during races. Maybe put in a few quid to demonstrate a little support for the talented guys at Fire Monkeys. Though you might disagree with the F2P business model, developing games costs a pretty penny.
Then go and buy Real Racing 2 too, because I don’t think any of us on TSA want to live in a world where every game has microtransactions coming out the exhaust pipes, even if you can ostensibly play them for free.
– Real Racing 3 is available for both iOS and Android via their respective online stores, iTunes and Google Play. For free.