Real World Racing Review: Suck, Squeeze, Bang, Blow

real-world-racing-headerThe four-stroke engine in your car goes through four phases in order to produce power. They’re colloquially referred to as suck, squeeze, bang and blow. Conveniently enough, you could say that each of the four strokes of the four-stroke engine accurately describes the recently released indie racing game Real World Racing. Unfortunately, I don’t say that because of how real the racing is.

Real World Racing is a top-down racing game sees you competing on real streets in various major European cities. You aren’t fighting traffic, though. You’re doing battle against up to 15 other cars to win races or to complete a lap inside the time limit.

real-world-racing-screenshot-01The crew at Playstos Entertainment did something pretty cool with the track design. They didn’t virtually recreate the cities and street circuits. They took high-quality aerial photos of the cities, added a 3D effect and shadows for buildings, trees and elevated roadways and lets you loose on real city streets. The cities, shadows, lighting and weather effects look amazing. Playstos did a really good job with the visuals of this game.

There is one major problem with the game’s graphics before I go on, though. There aren’t any real graphics options. You can turn off the dynamic racing line and select whether the top-down camera is fixed or rotates with the car. And that’s it. The game runs at 1280×720 and that can’t be changed. Shadows, lighting effects, weather effects and particles are always on whether you want them or not.

That wouldn’t be a problem if Playstos hasn’t completely missed the mark on their minimum specs. My laptop has a quad-core processor, 4 GB of RAM and an NVIDIA 230M graphics card. That’s fairly dated but the minimum specs say a dual-core processor, 1 GB of RAM and an NVIDIA 6000 series GPU. Ancient technology, right? Well, my laptop can’t run the game smoothly at all. That shouldn’t be an issue. I should be able to turn down lighting effects or shadows to compensate for that but I can’t. How can you call this game’s version 1.000 if it doesn’t even have a graphics menu?

The other big problem with the 3D roadside objects is that they often obscure the edges of the road. You often don’t see where the sides of the roads are unless there’s a tyre barrier or kerbing on the outside of the corners. You find yourself crashing into hidden invisible walls at the edge of the track because you can’t see where the road might end. For example, some sidewalks can be driven over but some aren’t and you don’t know until you’ve hit a solid wall. A white line outline the driving surface that’s visible at all times would take the annoying guess-work out of driving.

Anyway, you’re not buying a racing game solely for the graphics, though the graphics are nice. There is a lot of gameplay in RWR for your $15. The devs say that there’s over 50 tracks, 80 cars, 80 events in the career mode, achievements and online play (which looked to be completely deserted when I tried playing). You definitely can’t complain about the bang for your buck here.

real-world-racing-screenshot-03However, you can complain about some of the game modes that are in RWR. The single race and race streak (a series of races in which you must achieve a minimum finishing position to progress) are straight forward enough and, for the most part, well implemented. However, the time trial, slalom and checkpoint race events are painfully hard. Even with the fastest of cars, the tolerances are so tight on the time limits that even the smallest of mistakes will result in failure. I’m talking about powersliding through a turn (something that happens very frequently given the game’s physics but more on driving in a second) costing you the tenth of a second and resulting in failing the time trial. Given that you need to pass most events at a difficulty level to progress in the career mode, these timed events aren’t exactly what I’d call fun or even pleasantly challenging.

The worst game mode, by a wide margin, is called “Helicopter Chase.” In this game mode, you’re being filmed by a helicopter and your job is to stay in frame while it flies around at its own pace and doing its own thing completely independently of how you drive. As such, it’s very easy to fail this game mode as you drive off the screen because you’re too fast or get passed by the helicopter because you have to slow down to let it catch up. The seemingly random panning and rotating of the camera makes the driving nearly impossible when you come to a bend because you’re either not on the screen at the right point in time or horribly disoriented. Helicopter chases aren’t challenging, just frustrating. If this game was just Helicopter Chases, it would top out at 1 out of 10. They’re just that bad. Unfortunately, you need to complete them to carry on with the career mode.

Anyway, the driving itself isn’t too bad. It takes a bit of getting used to. Playstos insists that this is a properly physics driven driver and it certainly seems that way at times. If you overcook at turn, for example, your car gets all sorts of out of shape. Scraping the edge of the track or other cars will slow down your car. There’s certainly an emphasis on keeping momentum up to keep speed up. Contrarily, sometimes, your car will grip through turns when it probably shouldn’t. And I found a neat little physics bug where if you slide into a wall the right way in a turn, you don’t scrub off any speed. Overall, I didn’t mind the driving. To be honest, it reminded me of Gran Turismo 6’s physics a bit given how easy it is to spin your tyres and get the back-end to step out. Not bad for a game that’s a quarter of the price of GT6.

real-world-racing-screenshot-02The AI can be a pain at times. They’re very smart in that they’ll hold the middle of the often narrow roads and not let you by. That’s the start of the game’s biggest problem. Passing is very difficult because there’s little room to get by other cars under braking. And outbraking other cars is the only real way to pass. Unless you have a significantly more powerful car, the AI cars will always outdrag you on a straight even if you are faster than them into, though and immediately exiting a turn. The AI cars also seem to be a bit tanky in their weight. If  you hit an AI car, you’ll spin or crash into a barrier but they’ll be fine.

Catch-up logic is also non-existent. While catching the lead cars in a race is difficult as you have to start from last on the grid, once you get to the point, you take off into the distance. Unless you make a mistake and crash or spin, you’ll easily pull out leads by seconds at a time. I found that it wasn’t unusual to take a lead with half-a-lap to go and win by five seconds when the lap is 65 seconds long. Take the lead on the first lap and your margin of victory could stretch out to 30 seconds with no exertion on your part. It’s been 10 years since Papyrus’ NASCAR Racing 2003 Season came out with adaptive AI difficulty adjustments during a race. I don’t think I’ve played a game that’s come close to matching NR2003’s catchup logic in the decade since.

Conclusion

real-world-racing-screenshot-04While Real World Racing looks good and has a lot for you to sink your teeth into, the keenness to keep the “Real World” in this racing game also holds it back. There’s a reason why races aren’t held on two-lane city streets and those that are get maligned as parades. Passing is just impossible on some of these tracks. The first stage of the career mode ends with a one-on-one challenge on single-lane country roads where there is only one turn where you can go two-wide after the first twenty seconds of the race. Even better, to score a gold medal, you can’t make contact with the other car. Good luck making a clean move.

While I understand that they couldn’t use real tracks because of licensing and copyright reason, the streets they use for tracks may look good and provide some challenges in driving but they don’t make for good racing. At the end of the day, a racing game is about the racing and that seems to be the weak point of this game.

People who like old-school top-down racing games will find things to like. Just don’t be surprised if you get frustrated to the point where you question why you bought the game. I’m doing that and I got it for less than half price.

Rating: 6.0/10

Real World Racing is available for Windows PC. Your impressions of the game may differ based on system specs.

Cross-posted from et geekera.

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