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Real Racing 3 review: Racing at its finest, but with freemium hitch

Real Racing 3 is finally here and it definitely lives up to the hype. But in going with a freemium model, EA has put in time delays that make this otherwise excellent racer less than perfect.

Jason Parker Senior Editor / Reviews - Software
Jason Parker has been at CNET for nearly 15 years. He is the senior editor in charge of iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.
Jason Parker
3 min read

Real Racing 3 (iOS | Android) is the best in the popular auto racing series so far, with real-world cars, tight controls, and amazing graphics, but some people still may be turned off by the game's somewhat intrusive freemium model. In fact, this game would have been a CNET Editors' Choice if EA had stuck with the one-time purchase model of the first two games in the series.

Real Racing 3

Real Racing 3

The Good

<b>Real Racing 3</b> improves upon a great racing-game franchise, with beautiful graphics, lifelike physics, upgradable cars, and real-world tracks.

The Bad

The freemium model prevents you from racing while your car is upgraded or going through maintenance.

The Bottom Line

Even with the freemium model, Real Racing 3 still holds the crown as best racing game on a touch screen.

Real Racing 3 delivers the most realistic racing experience available on a touch-screen device. Everything from the car models and textures to the lifelike physics as you speed around real-world tracks fully immerses you in the racing experience. You have a number of different control options, including tilting your device to steer or using an onscreen steering wheel.

Real Racing 3 looks and plays beautifully (pictures)

See all photos

There are also Driver Assists that help you with steering, traction, and braking into turns if you're worried about the difficulty of the game early on. But as you get used to speeding around the track, you can turn off the assists and rely on your own driving skill.

In Real Racing 3, you need to win races to make in-game cash and earn fame points. The in-game cash (R$) lets you upgrade your current car or buy new cars to qualify for different racing series. Fame points help you gain levels, with cash and gold coin bonuses at each acquired level. With your first car you'll be qualified for the Pure Stock Challenge and the Road Car International, both of which have a series of races you can compete in that include cups, elimination rounds, head-to-head challenges, and even drag races. But to race in the game's many other racing series, you'll need to buy one of the cars featured in the series to unlock it.

Once you've earned enough money, you'll definitely want to upgrade your car, too, because in the later races of each series, your opponents' cars will get faster. Choose from Engine, Drivetrain, Brakes, and Tire upgrades, each of which will give you an edge in your next race.

Real Racing 3
You'll need to jockey for position in your quest for the lead. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

But here's where the freemium model comes into play. Every time you initiate an upgrade or maintenance task for your car, there's a wait time associated with each service. Changing your oil takes only 15 minutes, but more-complex upgrades can take hours to complete. Until the upgrade is complete, you cannot race with that car. You can choose to turn the game off for a little while to wait it out, or take the quick route of using your gold coins for immediate gratification. You only get a limited number of gold coins to start with, but you earn more as you move up in levels. Real Racing 3 lets you use real money to buy both in-game cash with which to buy new cars, and gold coins to speed up upgrades and repairs. I've found that using gold coins for some updates while waiting others out is not too painful, but your mileage may vary.

Real Racing 3
Repairs can take a long time to complete, but you always have the option to use some of your limited gold coins to speed up the process. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

I have played and reviewed each Real Racing game since the first version came out in 2009, and it's the type of game that always has a place on my iOS devices. Before Electronic Arts bought Firemint, the game had a one-time-only purchase price, instead of the freemium model that you see with Real Racing 3.

I'm not sure why the company went with the freemium model, but I think it certainly detracts from the gameplay. While it's definitely more than a little frustrating to battle the time delays, I noticed it gets much easier when you've made enough money to buy more than one car. That way, when one car goes down for service, you can just switch to another car and complete races from a different series while you wait. The thing I don't like is that I have to come up with workarounds like this one just to keep playing -- a problem that a one-time purchase price would have eliminated.

Still, even with the freemium model, Real Racing 3 manages to continue holding the crown as the best racing game on a touch screen. Anyone who liked the earlier versions of the game or just likes speeding around a racetrack should download this game immediately.

Real Racing 3

Real Racing 3

Score Breakdown

Setup 7Features 9Interface 10Performance 9