Real Racing 2: Review - Click above for high-res image gallery

"Real" racing on a cellphone? Turn up your nose all you like, but after millions and millions of downloads, the original Real Racing for the iPhone and iPod Touch is certainly the real deal when it comes to sales performance. A sequel arrived in the iTunes Store this month that adds a suite of licensed cars, 16-player online racing and a new career mode promising 10 hours or more of mobile gearhead engrossment. Despite the game's name, it's hardly a hardcore driving simulator for your phone, but read on to see why it's just about the best $9.99 a car-loving iPhone or iPod touch gamer can spend.

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You'll be familiar with the formula, as you've probably lived it before. You start off with some wheezy, under-powered hatchback and take to the racing circuit, challenging the world, earning some money and respect, and of course a garage full of sweet autos. Except here that first hot hatch is actually reasonably hot: a brand new Volkswagen GTI. Sure, it understeers like a proverbial porker, but it's at least reasonably good fun until you can upgrade to something better.

Volkswagen GTI in Real Racing 2

29 other cars are on-offer, all better, all officially licensed and all looking reasonably good, a big step up from the kinda-familiar-but-decidedly-fake autos found in the first game. On the hot hatch front, the Ford Focus RS and Volvo's lovely C30 join VW's offering, but you'll quickly move up to hotter customers like a BMW M3, Lotus Exige, and Nissan GT-R. Then there are the purebred racers, like Nissan's Motul Autech Super GT GT-R and Chevy's iconic C6.R Corvette.

Those machines will cost you, though, about 620,000 fake in-game dollars in the case of Chevy's Le Mans ground-pounder, an amount that will take a good long while to earn. You'll do it through one-off races, multi-race championships, time trials and even elimination races, where the slowest competitor is cut after each lap. Each car is rated and has a minimum and maximum rating that you need to enter, so as you progress you'll naturally find yourself adding more and more ponies to your the stable.

If one isn't trotting quite as quickly as it should be, you don't need to take it out back or haul it down to the glue factory. Each car has a number of upgrades available, from tires to ECUs to flywheels, that boost their performance, and performance rating, ever so slightly. There are even 16-player online races, a great-sounding addition that's more or less ruined by an inability to set restrictions on what rides people roll up in. In other words, don't bother making an appearance until you have one of those big yellow Vettes or the like.

Now you might be inclined to start thinking of Real Racing 2 as Gran Turismo for those who are doing a little touring of their own, but the overall impression is decidedly more along the lines of a Project Gotham Racing or Midnight Club. Physics in the game give a good feel, but they're simple and somewhat limited, with an obvious switch over from gripping to slipping – nothing of the vagueness in between that you'd get in a real car.

But, that's a good thing thanks to the decidedly limited controls available here. By default you'll be tilting your iPhone or iPod Touch to steer, letting the game do the acceleration for you, and then tapping anywhere in the right quadrant of the display to brake. The game does auto-rotate the horizon for you to keep things the right-side-up, but we still found this to be disorienting -- plus keeping hold of your $200+ gadget while quickly diving through some tight turns and mashing on the brakes can be a little tricky. Besides, who wants to let a game mash the accelerator for you?

Thankfully there is an array of control options, and we ultimately settled on one that has a virtual wheel on the left part of the display, steered via thumb, while little brake and gas pedals split the right side. This is a bit of a handful and the little translucent steering wheel sure is mighty touchy, but it worked well enough for us – with some grumbles. Tap as hard as you want on the "brake," but you'll find it impossible to lock the wheels. The same applies for attempts to spin them them using the semi-opaque accelerator. Oh, and you'll find neither clutch pedal nor paddle shifters; things are strictly automatic here.

Real Racing 2 impresses on the visual front for what it is: a game played on a mobile device. There are real-time reflections as well as fully modeled interiors and crash damage on each and every one of the cars. (Yes, we're looking at you, GT5). Okay, so the crash damage is limited to bumpers falling off, but still, it's there, and while the visuals aren't a huge jump over the first Real Racing, gamers who missed that and are used to Angry Birds and similar 2D games will be blown away.

Console or PC gamers, meanwhile, will find a few nit-picks like brakelights and headlights appearing through other cars, buildings and structures popping into existence in the distance, visual holes in the road surfaces, and other little graphical glitches we haven't seen since our last hot laps in Porsche Unleashed 10 years ago. Still, it's a good looking game, though not a particularly great sounding one with rather generic engine notes and a certifiably generic techno backing.

Lotus in Real Racing 2

Real Racing made millions realize that driving games could work on a phone, and if anyone still had any doubts, the sequel makes an even stronger case. Sure, we might like some more choices in the garage, a few more tuning options, maybe a slightly more driftable physics engine and more customizable online gameplay. But, for $9.99, it's a heck of a game and we're already looking forward to the upcoming release of an iPad version.

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