After yesterday’s surprising announcement that Real Racing 3 has moved to a freemium model, we were curious about how this would change the feel of the landmark racing series. Now that we’ve spent some time playing the final version of the game, and had our questions answered by the developers from Fire Monkeys, we’re confident that Real Racing 3 will live up to its predecessors, with just a few annoying pay-gates– especially if you’re a reckless driver.
Real Racing 3′s full suite of racing challenges will be available by playing through the game and unlocking cars at a normal rate. There are two types of currency: Real Bucks, which are awarded in the thousands for completing races, and can be used to buy and upgrade cars. Then there’s Gold, which is earned slowly by leveling up, and can be used to hurry along the timers that will prevent you from using a broken car on the track.
In a first for the series, Real Racing 3 introduces vehicle damage, and ties it to the game’s optional payment system. Cars will crumple a bit if you treat them roughly, but they’ll never be completely destroyed. Whether you’re replacing the engine, repairing a damaged bumper, or just changing the oil, every tweak to your vehicle will start a countdown timer. You can hurry through this timer with the premium currency, or wait for it to finish while you do something else, but you can’t bring a car onto the track while it’s being repaired. The more expensive cars will also require more time for even minor adjustments.
While the countdown clock feels arbitrary, it’s the price you ultimately pay for downloading Real Racing 3 for free. EA is looking for a massive number of downloads, partly to fill out their Time Shifted Multiplayer, a feature that was previewed at an event over the summer. Instead of requiring other players to be online at the same time as you, Real Racing 3 will pull racing times from your Facebook or Game Center friends who are also playing the game, and will automatically put them in other cars on the grid. Their real race times will be incorporated into the AI’s performance, which does a very effective job of adding new incentives to finishing first.
Imagine you’re loading up the game for the first time, but a dozen of your online friends have already played the first track. They’ll be your opponents from the very start, and there’s no need to fire up a separate multiplayer mode. As you drive by them in the game, you’ll see their profile pic and name, whether you’re zooming past them or “accidentally” knocking them off the road. And these aren’t ghost cars that you can drive through– their performance in your game will be affected by your actions, so you can overtake them or knock them out by driving aggressively.
Graphically, Real Racing 3 looks outstanding. The other reason we’re happy to see this game go freemium is that it means more people will be able to marvel at these advanced graphics. Up to 22 cars can crowd each track. Reflections of the surrounding environments bounce off of your car’s shiny coat of paint, and from the accurate in-vehicle camera view, you can even keep one eye on the rear view or side mirrors. We were told Real Racing 3 uses the same amount of art assets as current Xbox 360 and PS3 games, and it shows. The downside is that the game won’t run on an iPad 1, or any iPhone older than the iPhone 4.
Real Racing 3 seems to be doing everything right so far, and we’re sure people will rush to download it when it launches on February 28. As a free download with cutting-edge graphics and a seamless multiplayer integration, we can’t think of a better package. The only remaining question is whether lengthy countdown timers or high in-game currency prices will wreck the fun.