The words "console quality" have been bandied about quite a bit recently in relation to games written for Apple's iOS-powered devices. One of the games that kicked it all off was Firemint's Real Racing, which originally pushed the envelope of what the iPhone was capable of.
Of course when the iPad launched, Real Racing HD was released to take advantage of the larger screen and increased horsepower. Fast forward to last December when Firemint released Real Racing 2, which also showed off what the iPhone 4 could do. Since then, Apple has released the iPad 2 and soon after Firemint unleashed Real Racing 2 HD, but how does the latest and greatest installment match up? Read on to find out.
Racing games on the iPad have always been hampered by the lack of any physical buttons. To get round that most racers use touchscreen button simulations or accelerometer control.
RR2HD gives you the choice of either side-screen touch controls, an on-screen virtual steering wheel or accelerometer steering, but what really sets it apart are the intelligent aids.
Auto-acceleration and braking are available, which just lets you get on with the serious job of keeping your car on the track. If you want a bit more manual control, you can opt for manual braking, or manual acceleration, or both. If you choose one only, then a simple tap on the middle of the screen invokes the required action, meaning you can just about stab anywhere that's not the side or top to brake or accelerate, which caters for almost all sizes of hands.
The smart aids don't end there however, as the typically difficult accelerometer controls have had a healthy dose of steering assist thrown in. On the face of it you might think that having auto-accelerate, auto-brake and steering assist means the car is going to drive itself, but you'd be surprised just how involved it still is. Firemint has done a fantastic job of knowing how much auto-assist is too much, but of course you can adjust how much help RR2HD gives you in the settings, or even turn it off completely.
With steering assist and auto-brake you can race around the track without having to worry about precise control. Of course if you don't point the car in the general direction of the track, then you've got no hope, but racing using the accelerometer with steering assist is both exhilarating and fun.
Unless you're looking for console-type controls with a virtual joystick, RR2HD has a control scheme to suit almost anyone.
Graphics and Sound
The original, iPhone-targeted Real Racing 2 pushed the limits of iOS gaming visuals. RR2HD takes that impressive, highly-polished starting position and turns everything up to 11. From inside the car you can see the rev counter strain as you push the speed dial to the max, watch the virtual-you work the gears like a champ and witness the almost one-to-one motion of the steering wheel as you turn your iPad.
Everything in the game is highly detailed, even more so on the iPad 2 as RR2HD takes advantage of the device's graphical prowess by adding enhanced graphics and full 1080p HDMI output support, as well as the upcoming AirPlay Mirroring.
The exteriors of the cars are also detailed and well animated, showing off the characteristic design cues that make each of the licenced cars unique. We're not talking photo realistic here -- RR2HD is no Gran Turismo 5, nor is the iPad a PS3 -- but compared to racing titles on other portable platforms, or even some lesser full sized-console titles, RR2HD either matches or surpasses them. Car damage is also included in a limited capacity in this outing, leaving your racing machine missing a front or rear bumper after impacts with other cars or the track barriers.
Even the tracks look good as you hurtle around them. OK, the audience in the grandstands won't fool anyone, but at least they're there, while the trackside buildings are well rendered. There's even a spinning Ferris wheel in the distant background, which is particularly impressive when you consider what else is on-screen at the same time. As your car slides off the edge of grip it leaves rubber streaks across the tarmac, which add to the visceral racing experience. The asphalt itself resembles a well-used race track with rubber laid down along the racing line through corners. Even lighting is well done with transitions from shade to light and lens flares rounding off the graphical set.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the sound effects. Considering the quality of the rest of the game, it's clear that not a lot of effort was put into using realistic sounds to accompany the action. For the most part the revving engines and screeches and squeals of tires sound OK played through the iPad's built-in speaker, but as soon as you attach a set of headphones it all sounds tinny and fake.
There's quite a lot of racing to be had in RR2HD. There aren't that many tracks to be fair, but there are enough that it doesn't feel like you're just going around the same one time after time. You get a nice varied mix of racing. From the traditional Grand Prix-type competitions, which include the ability to qualify for track position, to the four-lap elimination, head-to-heads and timed laps, the Career mode is varied enough to keep you coming back for more. Game Center achievements are included too, which increases longevity.
On the difficulty front you can make it almost as easy or as difficult as you want. With all the auto-assists turned on, RR2HD is about as pickup-and-play as you're likely to find. If it all feels a little easy you can turn down or turn off the auto-assists, something hardcore racers might want to do from the off. As you progress through the career mode, your competitors get more proficient, making podium finishes more difficult. Equally, the cars get more and more powerful, requiring tighter racing lines and better braking to stay on course.
With a good range of cars to choose from, and a suite of performance upgrades for most of them, there's a decent amount of progression. It also makes you come back after completing each racing series, as you can repeat races for more cash and experience. With certain tracks maintaining strict entry specifications, it's about the right car for the race, not about the biggest or fastest, with a couple of options to pick from in each class.
Online and local multiplayer are included too, which work really well over Wi-Fi giving you 16-player races against competitors from across the world all while maintaining the highly polished experience of the single player.
So, has Firemint got another winner on its hands with Real Racing 2 HD? Undoubtedly. The combination of great looking, detailed graphics, fluid frame-rate and solid racing gameplay combined with some of the best accelerometer-based controls I've ever experienced, brings RR2HD right up there with the best of them. It improves on the original Real Racing HD in almost every way and is both more challenging for experienced players and more accessible for novices. Is RR2HD "console-quality?" In a word, yes. Is it perfect? No. The sound effects used throughout the game are a disappointment. Considering how polished the rest of the game is, Firemint really needs to take a leaf out of its new parent company's iOS Dead Space team's book and invest some more time and money in sound design.
If you've ever wanted a decent out-and-out racing game on the iPad, forget the rest -- this is one to buy.
Real Racing 2 HD is available from the iOS App Store for US$9.99.