This is an interesting prospect. A free-roaming city in your pocket, full of nearly-licensed cars that can be tuned and upgraded. Just like Need for Speed Underground 2, in fact, only you don’t have to spend anything to play this.
Indeed, you can play for several hours before feeling like maybe you should spend anything at all.
Welcome to the still-embryonic CarX Street, currently only available on iOS in a few territories, but heading to consoles and PC soon.
At present, it’s a little feature-light, most notably missing online multiplayer events, though there is an online version of the map where you can meet other racers in real-time, hanging out under the lookalike Eiffel Tower and showing off those DriftX skills for anyone who’ll watch.
It can feel a bit like driving a 2003 Yaris through Cheddar Gorge on a Friday night if you’re a newbie (everyone’s so growly!), but at least the online element is already functional, which bodes well for the next big update set for July.
Offline, the gameplay is familiar, but nonetheless pretty impressive for a mobile game, feeling like a PS2/3-era Need For Speed title. The city sprawls in front of you, the cars have rendered interiors, and there’s a lovely day/night cycle which sees the city lights coming on, and headlights illuminating the barriers as the cars go by.
Indeed, in stills, it’s hard to find fault with it, but in reality, even on max settings, there’s a lot of flickering, redrawing, aliasing and pop-in going on. It’s a bit messy, sadly. This is less noticeable if you play on a smaller screen like an iPhone 13 Mini, though the frame-rate hitches a little there. It’s smoother on a 2018 iPad Pro (and automatic graphics settings can be applied to maximise the gameplay experience), though the larger screen of the iPad exaggerates the draw-in of foliage detail. It’s a bit distracting, to say the least.
If you can overlook the numerous graphical issues, or just get used to them, it’s a competent enough open-world city. Civilian cars pull out in front of you and realistically swerve if you’re driving towards them, and physics objects like barriers and lamp posts respond well to your car running into them.
There’s no damage modelling on any vehicles, but there are still some spectacular crashes thanks to nice smoke effects and AI cars that occasionally have pathfinding issues, launching themselves into the air as they misjudge the start of a section of Armco.
On the whole, however, the AI is good and there is (whisper it) some actual racing to be had with them.
The rather basic career is structured around clubs, so you join with a car and then soup it up as you go, taking on the boss after beating progressively tougher street races. These events have clear entry requirements, and it’s reasonably easy to see which of the two main stats need to be improved, and how you can do it.
Even so, you’ll probably feel properly underpowered before the end of the second club’s races, meaning you’ll need to grind for cash – perhaps by playing familiar drift events – or spend real money. Even spending under £3/$3.50 can way overpower you, though, so it may arguably be better and more rewarding to just suck it up and put your nose to the grindstone.
For a free-to-play game, the microtransactions aren’t shoved in your face as much as you might expect. Refuelling at petrol stations costs in-game credits, or you can watch an advert. Seeing as the fuel going in also takes time, you’re clearly supposed to think ‘well, I may as well watch an advert’, but the adverts are mega annoying so it’s your call.
Control-wise, it’s actually best in its default tilt-to-steer mode, though on-screen buttons are available and can be moved to suit your thumbs. However, Bluetooth controllers don’t work at present, which is a shame. It’s also worth noting the game absolutely saps battery life on both iPhone and iPad, and the iPhone gets pretty hot very quickly, though it does seem to level off after a while.
Multiplayer may well make the game better in future, but for now, it’s just a case of buying your dream car and souping it up to within an inch of land speed record spec. CarX Street is nothing revolutionary, but a decent enough time waster and approaches console quality even on iPhone.
Certainly already worth a try, even with so much more to come.
|CarX Technologies LLC
|17th November 2022
|iOS (dev recommends iPhone X upwards, iPhone SE 2nd gen upwards, iPad Pro 2nd gen upwards, iPad Air 3rd gen upwards, iPad mini 6th gen upwards)
|iPhone 13 Mini, iPad Pro 2018 11-inch
|Best played with
|A recent iPad Pro model
Full disclosure: We downloaded this game from the App Store for review purposes. Here is our review policy.