Friday, June 14, 2013

Game Review: Real Racing 3 for Android

As much as I love driving and racing in real life, it is not always practical to do so, especially with the cost of gasoline and maintaining a track ready vehicle so high. The simple alternative is to find a good simulator to mollify those needs, and the more portable that experience is, the easier it is for me to get my fix when I need it most. You can therefore imagine that had high hopes when seeing the screenshots for Real Racing 3 in the Google Play Store. The visuals were absolutely impressive for a mobile device and the promise of realistic game play added to the appeal. Throw in a rather impressive and ever growing set of cars to choose from, and it seemed possible that my dreams for the perfect portable racing fix were about to be answered.

Boy was I ever in for a reality check...

Cinematics during the game feel rather life-like, but game
play very much does not.
To start, the game does indeed live up to its screenshots in every possible way in terms of graphics. The visuals are truly not far off of what fast consumer computers were delivering merely months ago. Images are crisp, the tracks extremely well detailed, and the cars are modeled exquisitely, with any of the minor details easily distinguishable at a glance. Visually, this game is very impressive and a joy to look at. In game graphics are smooth, even with the phone set in the lower power energy saving mode. If this were just a recording, I could watch it all day. Unfortunately, it is a game and it simply is not able to deliver on what could be a very promising experience.

Getting attacked by a swarm of AI bots is not unusual, as
demonstrated here getting run off the road in the infamous
Corkscrew at Mazda Laguna Seca raceway.
The problems start with the first race. When the light turns green and you find yourself catching up to the first AI bot, you start to experience what will be the most frustrating part of the game play. As you approach the opponents, they actively make the effort to not only block you, but even go so far as to try to run you off the road. Even if you are significantly faster, the AI bots still make a pass at you every time you get close. By itself, this behavior is irritating, but does not make the game unplayable. However, combined with the fact that you start out in last place in every single race, it quickly becomes an exercise in anger management, especially in the later stages of any racing series.

Of course, the controls are actually quite good, with a huge range of tunability for each type of control interface, allowing the user to fine tune the sensitivity to their liking. The range of game play options is also fairly broad, with many competition types and a steadily escalating level of difficulty. The number of cars is also very impressive with vehicles ranging from the affordable to the outrageous. As the developers continue to update the game, it appears that more cars can, and do become available. However, this quickly brings up another frustrating area of the game, the currency management.

This game employs two forms of money: credits and gold. The credits are the primary form of currency and are used to pay for everything from cars to repairs to upgrades. You can buy many cars, most upgrades, and all repairs using credits and credits are handed out rather generously if you do even reasonably well in a race. However, many of the higher end cars and many, if not all, of the highest level upgrades can only be purchased with gold, which the game is really rather stingy with. This means that one can spend many hours playing the game, and never fully upgrade a car or buy some of the more high end cars because they simply cannot afford it.

To further the frustration, the cars sustain damage, some of it justified, but a lot of it somewhat arbitrarily. and all damage costs credits to repair. Additionally, the cars also require periodic maintenance, which also cost money and can take a car out of commission for hours. You can utilize your scarcely available gold to accelerate the maintenance process, but it almost seems unnecessary since you almost always have cars to race once you spend a little time with the game. And while I am pleased with the idea of taking cars out of commission, forcing users to periodically take a break from play, the fact that much of the damage and maintenance can be attributable directly to the frustratingly aggressive AI bots that take every opportunity to plow into you makes the whole thing sting that much more.

And all of this would still be acceptable if there was any kind of consistency with the interpretation of the controls and handling of the cars. Running laps of the same circuit can be infuriating when you utilize the exact same braking markers, in the exact same car, running the exact same setup, and the outcome has a maybe 1 in 5 chance of not responding the way you expect. This means that sometimes you will completely overshoot a braking zone, the car will oversteer a bit resulting in loss of speed, or you will occasionally experience a total loss of control. Once again, this becomes frustrating when you are trying to run consistently quick laps to catch an AI bot that started in front of you and has already pushed you into the gravel three times that round.

So Real Racing 3 seems like a potentially terrible waste of time, right? Well, actually, if you are willing to suspend your disbelief for a moment and accept that this is more of an arcade style game in the vein of Ridge Racer, than it is a pocket version of a simulator, like Gran Turismo, it is actually quite enjoyable. The physics are not perfect, the number of tracks are limits (though track layout variations can be quite plentiful), and the AI is frustrating as hell. But if you can overlook these shortcomings and accept this mis-named game for what it is, you can really open yourself up to endless hours of fun. Just be sure to warm those around you that random outbursts of anger and frustration are to be expected.