GDC 09: Preview: Firemint Real Racing (iPhone)

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We need a good iPhone racing game. There’s some fun games out there, but none of the ones I’ve played seem very fulfilling. Some feel silly. Some just feel like you’re flipping your phone around in your hands. I think with a few more solid platformers and a good racer or two, the gaming public may take the platform a bit more seriously.

I think I saw a good candidate for that racer today in Firemint’s Real Racing.

It may not have the most original name, but it looks good, plays solidly, and has some competetive racing features to boot. I’m glad that there’s a mobile racing game that’s not afraid to take itself seriously.

Today I got to see an early version of the game, a tilt-to-steer sim-style racing title. Without explanation, I was able to jump in and take a hatchback around one of the first tracks, a city circuit. It was totally natural to get started, and I was immediately able to apply basic racing strategy and get into it.  And you know, the steering control was pretty tight. I was impressed. This is fun.

Real Racing‘s default view is the in-car one, which is pretty rare for an iPhone racer. Visual cues, like a moving steering wheel in the car, give you some indication of what your left-to-right tilting is doing for you. It felt pretty natural, kind of like…well, steering. There are different control modes in the works. The one I played helped you along with acceleration; touching the screen initiated the brakes. Another has one half of the screen (held horizontally) set for acceleration and the other half braking. Firemint tells me that they’re also working on a new kind of touch-only control scheme, but they don’t have all the bugs worked out yet.

The game looks very good for an iPhone title. The opening cinematic was especially impressive, with its close-ups and sweeping camera views. I’m told that this cinematic is running on the game’s engine, which might would impress you if you saw it for yourself. This engine has been in the works for over a year, Firemint says. For this game, it’s enough to display the car, tracks, and five other on-screen opponents in full 3D. That’s pretty fancy for a game on a phone.

You’re racing against time as well as in-game opponents. The races are pretty evenly matched, with your opponents all around you at all times, putting the pressure on. This seems much more involved than your basic iPhone racer, not to mention all of the other silly timewasters you have installed.

There is a dozen tracks in all, and 36 cars to race with. There are three classes of cars: hatchback, sedan, and musclecar, most of which unlock as you progress through the game. Naturally, the better cars come later, but you’ll have to have your driving skill built up by then. The cars are licensed or anything, but they all look pretty slick, and I’m told that they’ve developed backstories for the car makes. 

I raced in deserts and cities in the few tracks I tried, with courses ranging from simple loops to ones with a few serious twists. Like I said before, the control was tight and polished, with nothing really holding me back from attempting to get my best time. Oversteer and you’re in the dirt. Play it cool with smart braking, and you’ll cross the finish line.

What’s cool is what you can do with those times. Real Racing’s sync features takes your times and sends them to a webpage where they can be compared. Even better is a feature that records your lap to video and sends that to YouTube. Your ranking will feature a little YouTube thumbnail that other racers can click and compare notes. Or see if you were cheaply cutting corners. Or, if you’re like me, copy someone else’s racing lines. On top of all of this, there’s a pretty robust racing league system where you’ll compete in divisions to move up a series of ongoing championships. The Real Racing website will feature events you can sign up for when it’s all said and done.

The game wasn’t finished yet, and I only played through a few tracks, but I think we have a pretty solid racer here. This seems like a real game on a moble device — something we can sink our teeth into. And it’s certainly one of the better looking ones we’ve seen. Look forward to our full review next month when we get our hands on the final version.

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