Real Racing 3 – Potentially Fun But Lacking Technical Expertise
Pure driving excellence. That is the feeling that Real Racing 3 wanted to create with its latest sequel to the popular Real Racing franchise. It’s a good feeling to capture, that moment when you step into a brand new Ford GT 500 and put the pedal to the floor… a feeling of unbridled joy when you slide it around the corner at 120 mph and overtake another equally impressive vehicle. Developer Firemonkeys came incredibly close to reaching this point, but at some point a rock in the road tripped them up and caused them to simply fall flat on their face.
A lot of the problems with the game come straight from the publisher. EA’s recent desire to catch up with the market and tackle free to play has left them pushing a little too hard on their developers to include a new facet to their overall design… and this has left developers sacrificing game design principles for potential game profits. The microtransactions in Real Racing 3 are not just poorly placed, but they are poorly designed, and show a studio who has little knowledge of what to do with the freemium model. If the only problem the game had was with these transactions, it could potentially be overlooked… but the problems with Real Racing 3 are deeper and much more insidious than that.
What Real Racing 3 does right, it does extremely well. Everything about the games visuals reek of polish, and show off that we don’t have to settle for games with graphics from the mid 90′s on our mobile devices. The game has an extremely tight control experience, with users being able to choose which controls they are most comfortable with… this is the first game I have ever actually enjoyed accelerometer controls in, which make the game feel more like I’m racing than any console experience has ever provided. There is a huge amount of content in the game to sift through, and it would take well over a hundred hours to successfully complete. They have also thrown in a few lesser known tracks into the game, including Mount Panorama Circuit, a huge race up and down the side of a mountain, and one of the most exhilarating drives I’ve ever had the pleasure of mastering.
For every thing a game does great, there is something on the flip side that it does horrendously. It offers a huge number of upgrade options for your vehicles, but on closer inspection you find that each vehicle can be upgraded precisely the same as the last. To make things even nicer, the more expensive the car is, the more costly the upgrades, the more of them there are, the longer they take to install, and the less they individually improve the car. For instance, a fully upgraded drivetrain on a Nissan Silvia might set you back R$40,000 over 3 upgrades and provide a total 10% improvement to acceleration when finished – Conversely, your McLaren MP4 might set you back R$200,000 and 13 gold over 5 upgrades, to provide the exact same total boost as your Silvia received. Did we mention that the Silvia’s 3 upgrades will take 45 minutes total to install, but the McLaren will take closer to 5 hours?
This method of punishing the player for success is something that continues throughout the game. While prices for your vehicles (and their upgrades) rise dramatically, the earnings for races stay relatively static, causing you to complete a much larger amount of races if you ever hope of attaining some of the games top vehicles, or, as EA would prefer, spending money on the game to get them as soon as you can. Your higher end vehicles will cost more to repair, take longer to service, and be all around less profitable to drive. If you spend gold (the games premium currency) to purchase some of the gold only vehicles, they still require upgrading and are frequently more expensive to service than their R$ purchased counterparts. This is the opposite of what someone spending money on your game wants to see, and is a serious oversight on the developers side.
Speaking of oversights, Real Racing 3 commits the number one sin of all freemium games: It has a relatively inaccessible start, that breeds resentment for its model nice and early, only to open up later on, and then close back up towards the final stages of the game. You start with enough funding for one vehicle, and you can play 2-3 races with it before you have to wait to repair it, only to be able to play 1-2 more races and have to repair another aspect of it. This cycle continues for quite a while, until you have saved up enough money for two more vehicles so you can swap them around while they are being repaired. The most successful freemium games have learnt that you make the beginning of the game as easy and fun as you possibly can, and then gradually reveal what you need to spend money on. Here instead they shove these aspects at you nice and early with no real explanation as to why.
The game is full of lazy game design and missed opportunities. It frustrates players by changing the discounts on the ‘vehicle of the week’ (Initially started at 50%, then 30%, now 20%). Braking lights on vehicles only show if you are very close to them, causing a lot of easily avoidable accidents. It’s big feature, Time Shifted Multiplayer, essentially grabs the times from your friends and puts it into the AI pathfinding, which follows one of two set paths through the entire game… which causes a lot of crashes with the AI, especially on speedway levels. TSM offers another problem especially prevalent in Endurance levels, with offline mode giving you 6.4 miles, playing online will see you having to beat 18 miles to reach first, or in one case, over 30 miles… while still rewarding you with a relatively small amount of R$ (usually not enough to cover your service costs, which by 30 miles will all be in the red). Once you learn the AI pathfinding, the game becomes less a racing game, and more a game about braking and steering. There is no satisfaction to be taken in overtaking a vehicle once this underlying layer has been discovered, and winning races becomes less of a ‘I’m an awesome driver’ feeling and more of a ‘Well at least the AI was easy to beat’ feeling.
For all the complaints I’ve made (and these just scratch the surface of the issues involved), Real Racing 3 does have a lot going for it. It is professionally made, and one of the most enjoyable racing titles available on the Google Play store. It’s brilliant to look at on a tablet or a phone, incredibly responsive, and if you can overlook the myriad of technical failures the game has it can provide an immensely joyful experience. The biggest frustration of the game is simply how close it comes to achieving the goal of capturing the feelings of an amazing driving experience before it screws everything up with simple oversights. In the right light, requiring time to change the oil in your car or service your engine is actually endearing, but that all becomes undone with how frequently you have to do it, and how often Firemonkeys change how long it takes. That is the game in a nutshell… so close, and yet so far.