GTS World Racing iPhone Version Review!
I don't usually write game reviews, as I'd rather play them than write about them. I have also thus far resisted the urge to write about or buy an iPhone. When I caught a video of this game on YouTube (running on an iPhone), I did a double-take. The player was controlling it by tilting the phone around, which is so friggin cool, it hurts! Since I don't own an iPhone, I had to figure out a way I could get a look at it up close without, ahem, completely going over to the dark side (at least not yet). Luckily my son Rudy has one, so I had him download it and bring it over so I could check it out. Since he's a true iPhone freak-a-deek, I had to include his thoughts as well.
I posted a really horrible-quality video (my YouTube skillz are laughable) of my son playing it, and not wanting to hand the unit over to the old man here. He really get's so touchy about the stupid thing! You can see a much better quality video of exactly this kind of comparison between the iPhone version and the WM version here by Matthew Miller at ZDNet Mobile Gadgeteer here. There are really amazing videos available on the Astraware site as well. Alison Barclay at Astraware did an excellent job using her handheld camera and iMovie running on her Mac.
Developing on the iPhone
I asked the vendor, Astraware, to give some insight into iPhone development in general and specifically in the case of GTS World Racing Challenge. The iPhone version of the game is quite large for a racing game (some 8MB in size). The WM version is a svelt 1M by comparison. I asked why so big for Apple's sleek new phone? The answer is due to additional music/features added to enrich the iPhone version of the game. Hmm, so you mean the iPhone version of a game could be better in some respects than the exact same game in Windows Mobile? Apparently so. Microsoft should be hearing alarm bells about now (if they didn't already when iPhone was first released). The iPhone has an adundance of on-board storage, so the developer was not miserly in adding some extra window dressing. This does not bode well for Microsoft, considering the tight memory and storage limitations suffered by most WM devices on the market.
I also wondered about coding for iPhone and how it compares to WM? The fact is that most C-based Windows Mobile games should quickly port to the Apple OS. Apple has only 2 such models of their wildly popular handheld--The iPhone, and the iPod Touch (essentially iPhone without the phone). Both operating environments are nearly identical, and share the same input methods. Windows Mobile, by contrast has 2 major OS versions, and a ton of varying vendor hardware to support. I'd say it's much easier to support iPhone... So...why would WM development shops continue to hit themselves in the head with a hammer, when they can ease their cumbersome support responsibilities considerably by jumping in droves to iPhone development? Hmm....I digress.
Okay enough grousing about Windows Mobile for this week. Let's get back to GTS, shall we? First Astraware sent me a download of the game (an actual zipped distro of it). Normally in WM, this will simply be a link to a cab. I download the file to my device, install it in like 3 seconds, and I'm done. Not the case with Apple, and here's something I can truly grouse about. The files had to be imported/installed via iTunes. Apple tied their mobile cart to iTunes going way back to the first iPods, and have not wavered in forcing everyone who is drinking the Apple kool-aid to use their app (which the Apple-crazed don't seem to mind doing). When MS included a web browser in their desktop OS, it was a violation of anti-trust laws...Huh? Anyway, the game package included a folder with a bunch of files, and at the top level a "provision" file. Evidently when I sent in the 40-digit UDID of the phone to Astraware (essentially a S/N), the final character in the long string of characters was incorrect. The download would not install because of this problem. iTunes has to practically sign off on everything you load on their precious iPhone, and I couldn't simply pull a cab off the Internet, so I had to wait for the right file to be re-sent. I never liked iTunes from back in the day of my first iPod. Mostly because of it's obnoxious behavior, which is why I use the excellent, free YamiPod (yet another iPod manager...). I'm not surprised to see Apple hasn't changed the control-freak manner in which iTunes behaves. Again, I digress...sheesh, if I ain't beating up MS, then it's Apple. It's been a bad week, so forgive me. Don't get me started on Linux, though... I almost threw a laptop out the window over a wireless USB driver that...nevermind.
This game is very cool on the iPhone, period! The darn iPhone is cool all by itself, but that would be another post enitrely. The game sounds coming out of the phone are frankly astonishing (clear, loud and un-distorted). More a credit to the hardware, I know, but still. The graphics initially take a little longer to load up than WM, but are impressive by comparison. The startup and trailing animations are sweet. The first main difference between this and my iPAQ version: uh, well, a QVGA 320 X 240, 16-bit screen looks more than a little shabby next to the iPhone's 480-by-320-pixel resolution at 163 ppi...(sigh). Oh and my iPAQ runs only in portrait mode. My son reported that he had some issues with the game loading up slowly once in a while. He also said it started without sound sometimes. He only let me keep his phone for a night (darn him), and I didn't see those issues myself. The control of the car is the most amazing standpoint. You have to get used to it as first, but after awhile, it becomes more intuitive. You simply lean the iPhone forward to accelerate, and back to brake. Leaning left will turn the car left, and right, right. You can adjust the iPhone's sensitivity level to suit your touch. If you lean the car/phone too far forward, you red-line the engine, and a warning appears that says "too flat".
The smooth 3-D graphics are very good, and the scenery and opponent cars are really well-rendered. If you stare at the road (instead of your car), you feel like you are indeed racing. The car physics are so-so, I would say. I like a game where a crash feels or reacts like a crash . For example, bumping a car should produce a realistic bump/crunch like it might in a real race (see this video of Raging Thunder for an example), or say, running off the road should give you a case of the screen shakes or something. GTS treats these aspects almost like bumper cars at the carnival, and a bit cartoonish for my taste. These few detractors might bother an arcade-racing purist. My son did report of course that it will eat up your battery in a hurry. Disabling the game sounds will probably negate that effect to some degree, but you might want to keep it on the charger.
The formula racer...getting screenshots while playing was a bigger challenge.
Since I didn't get to play it as long as I would have liked, I didn't try out all the racing modes, but did try the various cars, and really liked the formula car (3 cars to choose from). There are 4 modes: Single Race, Challenge Cup, Grand Tour, and Championship mode. I mostly ran the single race mode, which allows you to race on various tracks before truly competing in a tournament. The Challenge Cup and Grand Tour are sort of similar (except in scope) as basically a tourney of the various geographic locales, and require you to finish/place at a certain level oto continue. In Championship Mode, you race the full, 16-race season and whoever scores the most points will win the overall contest. If you want a more in-depth review of GTS for WM, check out Allen Gall's excellent review here.
Peru...the beginning of the easy circuit in Grand Tour mode.
Conclusion: So, I posted a kind of cross-platform comparison, and one that favors the non-WM device. On a decidely pro Windows Mobile blog!! What was I thinking? The answer is simple: The WM platform is past dead meat (with rigor mortis setting in) if Redmond doesn't quickly play some catch-up! Game controls are only the tip of the iceberg. Still, I won't further critique WM's woes here (save it for another time). I did have another reason. I like Astraware games. I still play Hellfire: Apache Vs. Hind (a 3-D helicopter shoot em up). Yes, I like their sometimes quirky graphics, and their graphical style in general. Video games from my era (the 80s) had a bit of a cartoon look and feel. If I were a developer (which I'm decidely not), I might add some finesse to this already good title. I would lose the semi-stationary car, and replace it with a representation of looking out over a car hood (or at least include a couple of view options). It might make the dynamics of the race more realistic from the driver's perspective. The second thing would be to add a "garage". Give the player a shop whereby he/she can upgrade tires, engine, etc. Maybe even add a pitstop feature during the race, though I'm sure this would make game logic quite a bit more complicated. Spruce up the game physics a tad, and this is an excellent title that quickly becomes outstanding. A head-to-head or network server mode so that multiple players could compete against each other might also be popular. GTS is an amazing first effort by any standard--though the game was ported from already existing code--the control aspect, graphics/sound all captilize well on the iPhone's strengths. My son definitely gave it a thumbs up! I look forward to trying out other future titles from Astraware, especially the successor to GTS, and maybe I'll get an iPhone someday (awww shuks..), though I'll likely not become a total Apple zealot like him. I do give my recommendation for this game. It is, in a word, well, like I said...very cool! Now if that boy would just loan me his darn iPhone again!
Update!! A new version is just around the corner, and should be released within the next week or so. It will have a few graphic tweaks and bug fixes, so you might want to wait until then to purchase it. GTS is $8 (U.S.) for iPhone and $19.95 for all other OS versions. Palm, and Windows Mobile Touchscreen and Standard device types are supported (check to make sure it will work properly on your particular unit using the trial first). iPhone users will need to use the Apple iTunes App Store.
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