In their latest addition to their "games we've shamelessly ripped off from other companies" line of titles, developer Gameloft has released "GT Racing: Motor Academy Free+" to the marketplace. At its core, it is a bastardized version of Gran Turismo that has been stuffed with micropayments to specifically eliminate the charm of Gran Turismo.

I'm not going to even try and sugarcoat the fact that you're playing a completely ripped off concept: much like most of Gameloft's  other titles, there is nothing new or original here.

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GT Racing passes itself off as a "realistic" driving simulator in the same vein as the Gran Turismo or Forza series, which are known for their tight controls, realistic physics and the ability to actually have fun. However, in the process of bringing the concept to a mobile market, GT Racing has surprisingly lost all of those qualities.

For starters, the controls are abysmal. I say this having tried each variation of the available options, trying to find the right "fit" for my play style. For every time I thought I inched a bit closer to actually being able to finish a lap, I was thrust three steps back by some oversight that could have been avoided with a little more quality assurance. Instead of typing a big wall of text, I thought I might organize my complaints into a list:

  • Turning by tilting causes the camera to roll along with you, disorienting your view. This is especially horrible in first-person mode, which, coincidentally, is the most effective way of seeing the suggested racing line you take
  • Turning by invisible buttons does not work with multi-touch. If you need to brake during a turn, be prepared to tap both buttons back and forth, or have one not respond. Also, these buttons are "all or nothing" affairs; it would be nice if they eased you into a turn instead of jerking the wheel all the way to the side.
  • Turning by visual steering wheel is a nigh-impossible affair, as there's no indicator as to where you should put your finger. The radius as to where it takes input is ill-defined, and has trouble in recognizing fine movements.

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Get used to seeing this. A lot. I failed by leaving the road.

Coupling these problems with the camera issues (like I said, forget about seeing that racing line unless you're in first-person), the game is pretty damned frustrating to play. It's a pity, as Gameloft has somehow managed to secure the licenses for a number of real-life manufacturers, and have rendered the cars very beautifully.

If there's on thing I can commend the developer for doing right, it's making the things you're driving look accurate. Even the interiors are branded correctly, as I spent a lot of time wishing I could bang my head into the Toyota badge on my steering wheel in frustration.

"Oh, but how do you get these wondrous cars?", you might ask. "How would one as lowly as I drive a Bugatti Veyron? What happens if I don't feel like unlocking licenses or actually doing challenges?"

The answer, children, is micropayments. Unless you are prepared to grind out challenges for experience until the end of your days, the cheapest way to unlock cars is to pay for them, which is through the game's "cash" system. Again, it pains me to see a developer lure people in with the marketing that their game is "free," yet try to screw you over with "pay to win."

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The fact that the Veyron costs 450 "cash" and the in-game store goes up in weird increments (50, 135, 300, 1,000, 5,000) is downright insulting; that's right, you are unable to purchase the exact amount for the car without going over.

In order to buy that car, I would need to spend a whopping $16.97 in order to afford it. The micropayment system is so screwed up that I'd need to buy 50 ($1.99), then 135 ($4.99) and finally 300 ($9.99) to purchase it. This is specifically designed so that you cannot buy credits economically.

Now, let me ask you something: are you willing to spend almost twenty whole dollars in order to buy one virtual car in a game that controls horribly?

Are you willing to give your time and valuable SD card space to a game that needs over 700mb of extra download in order to play?

Are you willing to put your phone on "never sleep", because if your phone's screen shuts off, the download interrupts?

Are you wiling to reward a developer whose lack of creativity and failure to understand the value of virtual goods are setting a horrible standard for the price of microtransactions to come?

For your sake, I hope the answer is no.