GDC 2009: Real Racing Hands-On

Our Real Racing Preview video is up! Enjoy.

We met up with Firemint’s Robert Murray and Alex Peters earlier today to go hands-on with the Aussie developer’s hotly anticipated Real Racing, which we’ve covered extensively on the site. Let us say this right off the bat: this superlative racer is going to set some new benchmarks for the genre when it comes out later in April.

When we met with Murray and Peters, they were fresh off a big win for “Best Technical Achievement” at the IGF Mobile awards. It was richly deserved. Real Racing has been in development for a full year, and the level of technical prowess on display in this game is off the charts, from the core racing itself to its many connected features.

There are four major game modes on offer in Real Racing. The Career mode is a standard one-player game where you race through nine championships across 12 tracks, over three car classes: hatchbacks, sedans, and muscle cars. There are also three racing divisions on top of that (A, B, and C). Murray explained that the car classes act as a difficulty gradient for the game’s controls, while the AI racers become more skilled as you move up in the divisions.

After the Quick Race, there is also a Time Challenge mode, where you can compete for times on a global leaderboard, and can spit out your best laps directly to your YouTube account.

Then there’s Connected mode, which introduces asynchronous league play. It works something like this. First, players join a Firemint-created online league. They are then required to race a certain number of laps within a deadline–say, four laps within 48 hours. They earn points depending on their performance, and their totals dictate whether they move up or down in the online divisional structure; it’s not unlike the European sports leagues that shuffle teams between upper and lower competitive tiers.

Sounds cool, yeah? We haven’t even gotten to the racing yet. There are 36 unlockable cars in Real Racing, and although we only got to drive a single turbocharged hatchback during our preview, it was enough to see that the game has great physics.

You can switch brake and acceleration assistance on and off to your liking; we had fun just steering the car around corners, as the AI smoothly braked to keep us on the right racing line. There’s plenty of visual feedback from the cockpit view, where the driver turns the wheel and shifts up and down. The camera also bobs slightly in the direction of the turn to heighten the sense of realistic motion.

And man, is this game pretty. The frame rate’s great. The car models look fantastic, with a semi-reflective sheen in the paint jobs. There are neat lighting effects, like when you drive through a forest and light filters through the trees. And the sound is a huge asset. These engines give off a visceral roar–sweet music to the ears of car freaks–and the background is peppered with little noises, like the wind whistling across the hood and the clunk of the gearbox.

There’s more we could say about Real Racing. We could go on about the multiple camera views, or the built-in Facebook functionality… but we’re just going to let our video do the talking, after we’re through editing it. Suffice it to say that Real Racing made a big impression on us, and we can’t wait to play the full game in about a month.