Here's the bottom line on this one, right away: Real Racing 3 is an amazing game, and EA has put it on the App Store for free. Go grab it and be awed, right now.
That said, I do have one issue with this game, and it's that I'm actually a terrible driver. I do fine on real roads at less-than-deadly speeds. But whenever I play a racing simulation game like this one, where real racing vehicles are modeled on real racing tracks, I always drive way too fast, brake way too late and I spin out on the track as the rest of the pack flies by me. It's a personal problem, I know, but personally I prefer arcade racers, or another genre completely.
I still enjoy playing Real Racing, though, just because it is such an excellent showcase of what's possible on iOS. This time around, Firemonkeys (who I'd really rather see making another Puzzle Quest, but whatever) has outdone itself, with some gorgeous graphics and some very impressive social features. Even in standard campaign races, you see your friends and their Game Center icons driving around you, and all of the standard social services are seamlessly integrated into the game. There's no shortage of racing to do here, and you could (and some people will) probably play for years trying to lock down all of the top spots in the various tracks and time trials.
One of the biggest controversies about this game pre-release has been its freemium mechanic, and it is sort of a pain: You need to pay for repairs to your vehicle, which presents a drain on your in-game currency (that you can of course fill with IAP if you choose), and when you choose to upgrade a vehicle, each upgrade is done on a timer, which means you don't get the fruits of your upgrade right away unless you spend some in-game gold, also available via real money.
In practice, it's somewhat annoying, but not unbearable at all. I don't necessarily like paying to repair after every race (especially since, as previously stated, I am not the most gentle driver), but in general, there seems to be enough money to go around without having to dive into IAP. You can also buy new cars and tracks with real money, and while those prices are relatively high, selling extra content in a freemium game isn't a new idea by any means.
The biggest wrinkle is that when your car needs a major system repair, you're forced to wait on racing with that car, or you can pay a real-money currency to complete it quickly. That can be a real pain, especially if you only have one or two cars to race (so save up and buy a few cars right away). And shame on Firemonkey for including a mechanic like that, meant to serve their publishers rather than their players. But for the most part, it looks like EA at least found a safe balance here: The freemium system isn't exceptionally heinous, and having the game released for free means those excellent social features will always be populated with plenty of players.
Real Racing 3 is a gorgeous game, a perfectly designed game (at least while racing), and probably the best example, at this moment, of what an iOS game can be. The freemium hooks do drag the experience down a bit, but that seems appropriate for this time and place, given how much of an effect the iOS platform has had on models like this. You should download this one, for free, without question, if only to experience that first race for yourself and see what Firemonkeys has done with Apple's devices. After that, whether you cough up more in-game currency or even real money is up to you. I plan to play a whole lot without spending a dime, and I'll be easy to spot: Just look for the beat-up car spinning out in the dirt.