App Reviews: Real Racing 3, TMN GO, BBC Earth Wonders

Real Racing 3
iPhone/iPad/Android
Free

With Real Racing 3 the much-despised Free-To-Play pricing system hits the world of hardcore games. This is when an app advertises itself as free, but the moment you start using it introduces a system of delays and wait times that can only be avoided with money. These pay-or-delay moments happen with such regular frequency that those who give into the instant-gratification ransom will often pay out far more money than had they paid a regular price for the game outright.

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It’s a controversial system that for many parents has been nightmarishly successful in casual games such as Smurfs Village or The Simpsons: Tapped Out. It’s easy for kids to rack up huge iTunes charges in a nuanced arrangement that even parents easily misunderstand.

Real Racing is a much-loved franchise, offering bleeding-edge graphics and an enjoyable variety of racing modes while managing to include sophisticated gameplay and controls that simply involve steering and touching the brake pedal. Fans have spotted the shakedown right away and are outraged by it. You can race for free, but each time you repair or upgrade your car you’ll be hit by a five to fifteen minute wait. Paying between $1.99 to $99.99 for “Gold” tokens will allow you to skip these delays, but it all adds up.

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You could argue that such delays are manageable with patience, but once you reach the top cars and upgrades, you’ll find they can only be bought, not earned. This creates races where players who have paid out enjoy an unfair advantage and after investing much time into the game, it’s a realization that has some sting to it.

If, like the earlier Real Racing titles, you could buy the game outright for $4.99 or $6.99 it would be easy to recommend. The technology of Time Shifted Multiplayer makes it easy to for you to race against friends even when you’re not connected, and convincingly too. There are few high-end racing games you can share so easily with friends, it’s a shame this one comes with a catch.

TMN GO
iPhone/iPad/Web
Free

Reviewed at greater length last week, cable or satellite subscribers can now access The Movie Network as an online streaming service, watching Hollywood movies and HBO shows for free. The streaming technology works quite well with settings to allow for monthly data caps. A splashy, visual menu system makes it very easy to browse a healthy catalog of Hollywood titles and a watchlist and personal account system makes it easy to keep track of titles you want to watch or go back to even after you’ve signed out and returned to the service.

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Currently it’s limited to Bell and Cogeco subscribers using a web browser, iPhone, or iPad, but Rogers and other providers will be added mid-March and an app for Android as well as BlackBerry and Windows Phone will follow.

BBC Earth Wonders
iPhone/iPad
$3.99

A simple tie-in to their much-loved series of nature programs, the BBC’s Earth Wonders app takes very short clips from Planet Earth, Frozen Planet, and Life and maps them to an interactive 3D globe. Now after you watch stunning High Definition sequences involving the “bubble netting” practices of Humpback whales or the antics of snow monkeys bathing in volcanic springs, you can see just where in the world it’s taking place.

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The lack of narration to the clips along with the encyclopedic text entries makes this a learning experience aimed at kids of a reading age. You can explore the collection by spinning the globe with your fingers or going through lists divided by themes, places, or environment. I like that it includes a download manager so you can add or delete video clips to suit your memory storage or internet data needs.

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Each day the app is updated with new images and facts to augment the 50 HD video clips included, and while that seems like a good value for $3.99, I’m still left wondering if more couldn’t be done with the material to go beyond simply viewing clips and reading short entries. This is an app the BBC can build on with future updates, and should.

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