Preview: GT Racing: Motor Academy

Racing titles are big on gaming consoles. It has always been that way, pretty much. And now that the iPhone and iPod Touch have pushed their way into the game space, racers have made their way to this portable platform as well. Kind of.

What do you really get in an iPhone racing game, though? For the longest time we saw small and (sometimes) fun games that were perfect for some casual action while waiting in line somewhere. They were arcade racers at best, with cheap, fast, and fun being the development goal. Nothing serious, usually.  But, if the iPhone is going to continue to push to be a solid option for gaming, shouldn’t there be a deeper racing experience?

Gameloft has set out to create that with GT Racing. Forget carts and power-ups and holding the gas pedal from start to finish, though. GT Racing is actually a full racing sim experience, with licensed cars and tracks, and real racing physics. You know, kind of like a console game, only smaller.

GT Racing: Motor Academy (iPhone)
Developer: Gameloft
Publisher: Gameloft
To be released: early 2010

GT Racing: Motor Academy is your full-on racing sim, and is a large game in a portable package. Forget the generic cars in most iPhone racers. This one has about 100 real cars, fully licensed from over 20 manufacturers. They’ve lined up everything from iconic racing cars to everyday street models. Hell, there’s even old classics, like Ford’s Model T. I saw the Ford GT500, a Viper GT5, Lotus Esprit, and more. They even had the brand new Ferrari F458 Italia in the lineup, looking all lovely and shiny. Seeing the models in the car select screen was impressive. Each car could be moved, scaled or repositioned with finger slides, much like you’d expect in console games. Each glimmers with showroom shine, with surprising graphical performance for a phone game.

There’s also licensed tracks. In a phone game. So far (the game is not gold yet) there are 11 tracks and a few more test tracks. When I played the game, I was able to cruise the famous Laguna Seca race track. It looked nice, and I remember thinking that the iPhone is really going somewhere if someone is pushing to have licensed race tracks in its games.

GT Racing has three game modes. A career mode has you racing different cars and circuits to earn money to buy more cars. You’ll have to complete your license tests first. This is exactly on par with other console racing sims. Those in for a quick fix can jump into the arcade mode. Multiplayer lets you race 6 players online, facilitated by the Gameloft Live service. There is worldwide leaderboards for each track, too.

Laguna Seca Raceway does not look like this in-game, but it still looks nice.

What I played was really solid. I lost my races (they are still working on the A.I. balance), but was impressed nonetheless. Slick looks and tight control had me comparing it to Gran Turismo PSP. And GT Racing compared favorably. This is not a game where you’ll be holding the gas pedal down the entire time. You’ll have to actually mind your racing lines and braking, which is refreshing to see. I was told that the race will even be taken off-road, rally style, complete with weather effects like snow and rain on windshields.

I tried a control mode that had you tilting the unit to use the accelerometer to steer, while pushing gas and brake pedals on the screen. It worked beautifully. If you’re really into racers, you can play with many of the helps off, using your racing skill to complete each cup. Those less experienced can turn on assists that help out with things like oversteer and breaking. This makes GT Racing accessible to everyone.

GT Racing also looks and sounds great. The cars and tracks have a lot of nice detail, making it stand out above many of the iPhone racers I’ve played. Swiping up and down on your car in a race changes the view, which ranges from a over head view to a in-car cockpit view. They were serious enough about this game to give the cars manufacturer-specific cockpit views! Likewise, car sounds aren’t just generic revving — they worked to have appropriate engine recordings for each engine type in the game. Replays are worth showing off, and you can with GT’s features. Swipe to change shots or edit clips, and then uplaod them to YouTube to share and show off.

GT Racing isn’t quite done yet, but from what we’ve seen so far, it’s looking to be the most complete racing game for the iPhone. Simply put, no one else has taken the time to make such a robust offering for the iPhone. Even beyond that, other portable game systems’ racers might be jealous of GT Racing’s feature set. It’s nice to see a developer taking the iPhone so seriously.

No release date is set for GT Racing: Motor Academy, but Gameloft is shooting for an early 2010 release.

Dale North