Mobile devices have not only become highly popular gaming platform but also a breeding ground for new ideas in gaming. I argue that you can play some of the most innovative car racing games in recent years on smartphones and tablets instead of home computers or consoles.
Picture caption: Real Racing 3 – Racing for victory in Monza against group of Porsches (left), Need for Speed: No Limits – Hoonicorn drifting in pouring rain to gain nitro to stay ahead (right).
Car racing is one of the oldest and most popular genres of videogames. Traditionally racing games have also been one of the most advanced and innovative users of new technologies such as real-life based track & car modeling, physics simulation, force feedback controls, 3D graphics, and network play. I claim that car racing game releases for home gaming platforms in recent years have mostly meant small incremental advances in graphics, model complexity, physics and content while innovations or fresh ideas have been largely absent.
Real Racing 3 (RR3) and Need for Speed: No Limits (NFS:NL) are racing games for Apple and Android mobile devices. RR3 is a racing simulation with models are based on real-life race tracks, realistic cars, and simulated physics model while NFS:NL is an arcade style racer based on imaginary tuning cars, imaginary street tracks, exaggerated physics, high jumps, drifting and slow-motion crashes. Graphics, gameplay and depth of content in both games is comparable to current racing games on computers and consoles, but where they differentiate are fresh and innovative features not found in most home racing games.
Steering in both games uses device tilting to the direction where to turn. While modern consoles can provide controller tilting it feels more natural in mobile devices where the display tilts together with the controls significantly improving hand-eye coordination and steering accuracy. Innovation in touch screen controls include changing controls for different types of races in RR3 and using up and down swiping for drifting in NFS:NL. Natural, precise and easy to use controls make playing either game fun.
Both RR3 and NFS:NL support cross-system play that allows player to use multiple different mobile devices to play same game save across any mix of smartphones and tablets including both Apple and Android operating systems. Additionally network based multiplayer driving is available across different devices. This allows flexible game progress using e.g. tablet at home and mobile phone while waiting for the bus.
Both games use free-to-play business model. Downloading and playing the game is free but user can buy premium currency using real-currency. Free-to-play business model works nearly perfectly on racing. Driving same tracks and races over & over to find perfect race lines and breaking positions is anyway integral part of core game experience while buying premium currency can save some time. In either way players can make progress by just racing and racing more also leads to better driving skills. Additionally winning a racecar worth $100 in real-currency from a tough competition is very satisfying, more than just one additional in game car in a console racing game.
RR3 and NFS:NL run in real world time, two hour in-game car maintenance takes two hours in real world. This also means that in game special events are simultaneous for all players and synchronized to real world events. During Christmas Holidays snow was falling in every NFS:NL race. When Porsche introduced new Cayman GT4 model in Geneva Motor Show 2015 the car was simultaneously revealed in RR3 for a special event. Celebrities are also frequently featured in NFS:NL such as Snoop Dogg and Ken Block special events. Synchronizing game events to real world events and culture makes participating in events highly exciting and rewarding.
Both games are also link to social networks allowing creating of race teams with or racing against friends. Additionally the computer controlled race cars are modeled based races driven by other players. All races in both games are mostly against performance of other players emulated by the game engine. Competing with real players instead of soulless computer opponents makes gameplay more satisfying.
Fresh ideas such as controls, cross-system play, business model, world time, and social play makes mobile racing games the most interesting car racing games to play. Following development of mobile games probably also gives the best idea of the future direction of racing games.