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TUAW Review: Real Racing HD rocks the iPad

Update: Want to see a spiffy video of Real Racing HD? Here you go.

I fell in love with racing games thanks to Ridge Racer for the original Sony Playstation. I played the whole franchise, beat every track and learned the intricacies of every car. Even today I'll pull out the Playstation Portable for a run around Ridge City. Could another racer grab me the way RR had?

Thanks to Firemint, the answer is yes. Real Racing HD (RRHD) looks great, sounds great, features well-conceived depth of play, effective use of the accelerometer, customization and more. In fact, it's one of the apps I use to show off the iPad.

When the game is first launched, you're presented with a cinematic* and then the welcome screen. Before you go tapping around, take a moment to enjoy it. The camera gently sways back and forth. Your current car can be seen in a bay (more on that later). Light plays across the car in the foreground.

All right, enough of that. Let's get behind the wheel.





The welcome screen offers several options. I suggest visiting the Settings first. RRHD uses the accelerometer and touch screen to control your cars, and you've got a lot of say on just how. There are five overall combinations to choose from:
  • Method A - Accelerometer steering, auto accelerate, manual brake
  • Method B - Accelerometer steering, manual accelerate, manual brake
  • Method C - Touch to steer (tap either side of the screen), auto accelerate, manual brake
  • Method D - Touch to steer (slide as if using a steering wheel), auto accelerate, manual brake
  • Method E - Touch to steer (slide as if using a steering wheel), manual accelerate, manual brake
I'll suggest starting with Method A as it lets you focus on the tracks and the intricacies of how the cars handle, take a corner, pass, etc. Other options include brake assist (with varying sensitivity) and accelerometer sensitivity. It's a bit odd to let the game brake for you, so I turn that down.

Finally, you can adjust the volume level of sound effects and music, manage your data, calibrate the accelerometer and so forth. Once that's all set, it's time to have fun.

Initially, there are three options for hitting the track: time trial, quick race and career. Quick race offers just that: pick a car, pick a track and go. Time trial lets you compete against your best time across tracks and publish bragging rights online. Finally there's the career option.

There are twelve championships to win, each with its own set of cars and tracks. As you progress you unlock additional tracks and cars. There's no surprise there, but the depth of the experience in RRHD is super. You begin the first championship, the Hatch Qualifier, in Level C. Let's say you finish in 3rd overall. You can go back and shoot for 2nd or 1st. Once you beat the level C races, you re-enter as Level B with more speed, etc. In short, there's a LOT of racing to be had.

Let's talk about the racing. First of all, it sounds fantastic. You can hear the downshifting, and it sounds right; not just a descending whine, but you actually get the clutch disengaging and catching, the car's slight rev and other noises. Plus, not all cars sound the same. The tiny hatch you start with doesn't sound like the beefier VW's you eventually unlock. The folks at Firemint must love driving (am I right, folks?).

My only complaint about the sound is that the crowd noise is on too short a loop. You hear this same whistle over and over. It's distracting.

It looks just as good. Before the race begins, the camera hovers above the course as the racers arrive, swerving back and forth. The cockpit of each car is unique, as it should be. Your perspective is that of the gloved driver behind the wheel. Stats like speed, lap count and position are displayed on the car's instrument panel.

Apple's A4 processor is more than up to the task of running this game. Everything is as smooth as glass. The scenery whizzes by (as do your opponents if you spend too much time looking around), your driver reaches for the shifter and lens flares flash as you pass the sun. There's a noticeable difference between the fast cars and your first hatch, but not to the point where the speed demons are hard to control.

I've got a minor quibble here, too. Occasionally you'll bump into another driver. When that happens, chunks of both vehicles fly into the air. They're pixel-y and momentarily detract from the immersive experience.

There's much more to this game, like customization (apply your own patterns to a car), leagues (collaborative teams who compete online like guilds in MMOs) and online synchronization of your stats via Cloudcell.

I'm a few weeks in and have only scratched the surface (or pavement) of what RRHD has to offer. It's a great racer, a fun use of the accelerometer and an effective way to show off the iPad. Don't let the US$9.99 sticker price fool you; you'll want to take Real Racing HD off the showroom floor.

*As the cinematic ran, I prepared myself for disappointment. "Another beautiful cinematic that makes gameplay look dull by comparison." Not the case. The game looks just as good as that sequence. Plus, you can disable it after watching it once.

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