A comparison between the 2 main iPad racing games at launch has left me a little surprised. I only recently bought NFS Shift to see what it was like, seeing as it was getting lots of 5 star reviews, and must say I’m impressed by it!

They are both fundamentally ports of their iPhone compatriarts enhanced for the bigger screen and more processing power.

Both are excellent games in their own way so there’s definitely room for both in your collection depending on what you’re looking for.

Read on for a full and detailed comparison between Real Racing by Firemint and Need For Speed Shift by EA.

The presentation, menus & interface

Real Racing’s menus are a lot more attractive in most ways. They use the screen space better and the text is much neater with a much more ‘tech’ design to them. NFS is pure arcade console style menus but still easy to navigate, although there are a lot more steps to get to the action.

Both games have similar control options and view options. You can have driver asssists such as steering help, braking help, auto braking, auto accelerate and automatic gearbox – or turn any of those off for a more hardcore experience. Personally I drive with auto gearbox on but everything else off so that you can lift off the throttle without necessarily braking to help get around certain bends as smoothly as possible and losing minimal momentum.

You can drive the cars with external chase cams, bonnet cam or an in-cockpit view. I always like to drive in-car so can’t really comment on the other views. I find it much easier to gauge speed and position on the road from a cockpit view purely because it’s more realistic and I can put myself in the game more naturally. Both games have excellent views with this camera mode I’m pleased to say – they work really well.

One BIG gripe with Real Racing is that there is no rear view mirror on screen where NFS has both rear view and door mirrors with the in-car view. This is compounded by the fact that you have to press at the top middle of the screen to look behind which is pretty much impossible when you are holding the screen like a steering wheel! This seems like its just a direct port of the iPhone controls where it’s only a thumb distance away but this really doesn’t work on the iPad! Surely there is enough processing oomph to have an on-screen rear view mirror!?!

The cars, tracks & game structure

Both games have a quick race option and a career mode. Real Racing also has online leagues whereby you compete on time limited events to set your best result which is compared to other drivers registered for that league at the end of the timer, and championship results worked out from there. You can repeat each event as many times as you want within the timeframe until you are happy with your performance, then submit your times and move to the next event when the timer progresses. All this synchs up to their Cloudcell website where you can view stats, replays and league tables. This is a quality bit of depth that NFS lacks.

Real Racing is all circuit based venues, with racing kerbs, barriers, grandstands and gravel run-off areas. There is a good selection of fictional tracks which all look really nice. NFS on the other hand is all city based tracks. It has 4 famous cities with 7 variations of the same circuit in each. They all feel pretty similar to drive on so overall I prefer the RR tracks… But then I am a technical circuit racing fan over street racing! Having said that the tracks in NFS are well designed and fairly challenging so far.

Real Racing consists mainly of made up cars, with the only real-world car being a VW Golf GTi. There are 4 classes of car: hot hatches, saloons, muscle cars and GT sports cars – getting faster/harder to drive as you move up the ranks. Each class has a fair amount of cars within but they are basically all the same in each class, with different skins.

NFS has a good range of real cars with varying performance and drivability. You can also upgrade them with nitro, more power, better tyres and suspension. It would be a shame for this fact alone to be a decision maker for players but I can understand why it would be… It’s nice to pretend to drive your favourite make of car rather than some anonymous clones. However what it’s really about is the driving so lets move on!!

The driving & racing

Now the meat of any driving game is of course the driving!
This is where the games differ from each other the most, and where the root of my initial surprise stems from. When I first got my iPad, Real Racing was the 2nd app I downloaded (after Civ!) and I avoided NFS assuming it would be very arcadey on rails driving, but I’m happy to say that I was wrong!

Both games rely on picking your braking points and choosing a good racing line. Real Racing is more technical and strict on this in order to stay competitive once you get up to the higher levels of opponents, but that is largely because you are going so much faster around the laps that it’s so critical to get every turn in right and minimize the angles of the corners as much as possible.

Need for Speed feels much more under control with what I would say are more realistic travelling speeds, so it’s easier to pick your line and smoothly go around corners in a nice controlled arc. Even with steering help turned off there is some sort of influence there but I think its better for it… the driving is more FUN and less reliant on twitch reactions.

The AI give a good fight in both games. Again NFS is more under control… Cars stick to their lines more consistently so it’s easier to plan a pass on them. In Real Racing they drive a bit wild and seem to get pretty confused if you aren’t where they would expect you to be and doing simmilar speeds to them. It all moves too fast for you to really feel confident about placing your car next to them or outbraking them. It’s more a case of diving for the apex and hoping you can get on the power before them without running wide on the exit.

In terms of driving feel, RR is kind of seat of the pants driving, but very satisfying when you get a clean and fast lap in. It really does fly, especially with the faster cars. The downside is that it’s nigh on impossible to detect understeer or oversteer. In Need for Speed there is a nice transition into understeer, where you can almost FEEL the front end bouncing and scrabbling for grip. There’s a technique to recover the situation without clobbering the barriers, but you definitely lose momentum, so it is still satisfying when you get the slow-in fast-out approach right!

The BIG thing I don’t like in NFS is the fake way you force the car into a drift by turing the iPad quickly in the direction of the corner. It’s well overdone and very very arcadey. I don’t normally drive like that anyway but some events in the career are actual “drift” events, so you HAVE to do it to get enough points to pass. It just feels wrong. The drift angles are unnaturally severe and there is no skill in keeping it drifting, giving far too much leeway and pretty much sticking to the curvature of the bend on it’s own like Ridge Racer.

They are both aiming at different goals here but both are interesting to master.

The graphics & sounds

Graphically, they both look stunning in play. Real Racing has THE MOST AMAZING frame rate… seriously smooth (which is why I think they could easily implement an on-screen rear view mirror without impacting the performance at all) and really nice clear graphics. The bouncing effect when you jump over kerbs is very convincing and the pace really feels like playing on a current-gen console.

Need for Speed is a bit more jerky, which is distinctly noticeable coming straight from an RR session, but absolutely fine when playing. It would be nice if they could double the smoothness of frame rate but I think there is a bit more real-time shading going on here, so this probably will never happen, at least not in this version of the game, but I’m keen to see what future games can eek out of the iPad!

The audio in both games isn’t great compared to PC or current console games, but I think the sampled sounds in NFS are slightly more engrossing and appropriate to the vehicles than the analogue-digital-computer-generated-dynamic-on-the-fly technique used in Real Racing, where they sound a bit weak in comparison.

The verdict

I’m shocked to be saying this, because I’m a sim fan at heart and totally loved Real Racing on the iPhone, but Need for Speed is actually a better race experience in the most important ways for a driving game – namely the actual driving and battling with other cars!

I wish it had online leagues or even better, proper online racing. I wish it had more variety of tracks. I wish it ran smoother. I wish it had a longer career. But at the end of the day I’m having more fun with NFS Shift than Real Racing… sorry Firemint!!

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