When I heard that Gameloft was making a new racer, I wondered what they’d get up to after the incredibly fun Asphalt 8. As it turns out, their latest title, GT Racing 2 is a production of epic proportions, with plenty of locations and licensed cars to play with, and — unfortunately — IAPs to deal with too. However, I wasn’t immediately disheartened: after all, Madfinger Games’ recent release Dead Trigger 2 managed to do the microtransaction dance without stepping on budget-conscious players’ toes. DT2 actually allowed players to dig deep into the game without having to reach for their wallet with every new round, and instead made purchases feel like a fun bonus.
GT Racing 2 sadly isn’t as graceful in this department, but makes another strong case for IAP-driven games: if you can package high production values and plenty of content to enjoy, releasing a game for free helps create a large player base that makes for a better multiplayer experience, and for many, that’s worth spending on, mid-game or otherwise. I took GTR2 for a spin over the past few days to see what Gameloft managed to get right — and boy, did they get a lot right — and what they didn’t.
Bringing out the big guns
GTR2 is an ambitious attempt to claim the title of definitive all-encompassing multiplayer racer in the world of mobile games, and it’s up against strong competition in the form of EA’s Real Racing 3. To this end, Gameloft has licensed 67 vehicles that you can drive on 13 tracks from around the world in over 1,400 events (permutations and combinations of race types and configurations). While the very mention of such variety might get your engine a-running, bear in mind that most of these are locked and will require you to either spend many hours grinding towards their glorious emancipation, or shelling out a very pretty penny indeed to get your hands on them.
Don’t blame yourself if you’re overwhlemed by the game’s menus: there’s a lot going on here from the very beginning. Remember when I said there are 67 cars? That’s right, you’ll find all kinds of great rides in GTR2, including the Mini Cooper Coupe, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X GSR, Tesla Model S, Chevrolet Camaro, Aston Martin Vanquish, Mercedes Benz SLS AMG, McLaren MP4-12C, Audi R18, Mazda Furai, Bentley Speed 8, Lamborghini Sesto Elemento and Bugatti Veyron. You can choose from several events for your car and difficulty level, and even pick from a range of boosts available before each race. As if that weren’t enough, you’ll also have to upgrade your vehicle early and often if you want to get through races without hurling your device across the room in frustration over a 0.2 second loss — and you’ll need to select a mechanic from a pool of them to do so.
Once you get through all this and finally strap in for a ride, it’s smooth sailing from there on out: the tracks and surrounding areas — ranging from the Côte d’Azur in France to Tokyo, Barcelona and Montreal, and even the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in California — are nicely detailed, with lots of variation in locales as you drive through city centers, narrow alleys, freeways and canyon roads. The cars are well modelled too and you can check them out from every angle, thanks to GTR2’s four available camera options and a DIY screenshot mode that lets you pan 360 degrees to snap the perfect moment of victory to gloat about. Plus, the high-energy soundtrack featuring the likes of Mutemath, The Qemists and Netsky does a fine job keeping you company while you race your way to the top.
It’s about race
GTR2 features a few different race types in campaign mode, including classic races, knockouts, qualifications (best track times), eliminations, one-on-ones and King Of The Hill — but they’re all pretty similar in that they require you to place first or finish fastest. Most events pit your car against opponents driving the same model, except for tier-based challenges and special Platinum Series events that can earn you bigger prizes. You’ll be allowed to participate in races of different difficulties, depending on you car and how many upgrades you’ve got for it. There are also multiplayer events that you can take on real players with, but remember that they’ll cost you to enter. You can create and join teams, and earn points for them by winning challenges.
Like the aforementioned Dead Trigger 2, GTR2 features controls that are easy enough for novices to get used to in a flash, while still allowing seasoned players to have fun pushing the pedal to the metal. There’s steering and brake assist for those who need it, as well as a prominent ‘perfect line’ displayed on the asphalt for racers to follow. Naturally, you can turn these off, and play your own way with a variety of control schemes. The game gets points for including controller support, but it actually is perfectly playable without it. While it’s not exactly an arcade-style racer, it does a bit smoother than more realistic titles — and I’m not complaining because I like driving fast without worrying about crashing into the next corner.
That being said, GTR2 offers quite a challenge from early on in the game — once you begin taking on Amateur events, you’ll need to begin paying attention to your driving tactics and shave as many milliseconds off your laps as possible with sharp turns and smooth overtakes. Things only get hairier after that, but you needn’t worry if you’ve got money to spend on upgrades and better vehicles. Which reminds me…
Such a horrible little acronym. Upgrades are very necessary, almost immediately after you begin racing — especially since you’re usually being paired up with similar/same cars for events and you can’t do them much damage by taking them down. GTR2 has all the annoyances we’ve seen in various freemium games, including dual currencies, delayed pay-to-complete upgrades and exorbitantly priced vehicles. When you want to play with a new car, you’ll need to first unlock it by winning stars (you can win 3 per race, and cars cost a few hundred to unlock), and then pay for it with in-game currency (which you’ve already had to spend on upgrades to maintain your sanity). I really wish developers/publishers wouldn’t play so fast and loose with the whole IAP thing, but I guess they’re just going with what works — and there are indeed players who are happy to pay to get ahead quickly.
GTR2: Yay or nay?
This game weighs in at nearly 1GB, so you better have your expectations straight before you take the plunge. GTR2 is very well crafted and includes about as much content as one would expect from a AAA console/PC title, and that’s saying a lot. It’s a solid racer that’s plenty fun to play on a touchscreen device, but needs a sizeable investment of time and money before it gets really engrossing. Forget about the fact that the game is initially free: you could have a blast for $10 worth of IAPs. At that price point, it’s certainly expensive, and if you’re looking for something cheaper I’d highly recommend Asphalt 8. If you’re genuinely in the market for a racer with authentic vehicles and quality execution, this is what you spend your hard-earned money on.