Shell Racers – Game Review (iOS)

Shell Racers is a car racing game that comes with a dedicated augmented reality mode using Apple’s ARKit. The game was developed in cooperation with BMW M and promotes Shell Indonesia and its Shell V-Power X BMW Motorsport Series.

This game actually reminded me of another app called BMW I Visualizer. although the later is an augmented reality car showroom app the was published by BMW itself.

More About the Game

Shell Racers app also comes with a built-in option to view any of its available BMW cars in real life size or smaller size in AR and change the car’s exterior color, but it’s more about racing than anything else.

Shell Racers Normal and AR Mode screen
Choose which mode to play: Normal or in Augmented Reality (AR)

Players can unlock new cars using coins or by scanning a barcode. Coins can be collected by the players as they compete in different events, for example, BMW M4 Cabrio, M4 Motorsport, M2 Coupe and M6 Gran Coupe. Furthermore, each car has its own stats, including different horsepower, weight and max speed, which is reflected directly in the game itself.

The game features a total of 19 events like regular races, reverse races and time trials that take places in tracks located in different places around the world, including Tokyo, Norway, South Africa and Germany.

Customize your BMW M car
Customize your BMW M car using different exterior paint colors.

Tracks are unlocked using trophies which you can obtain by completing different events. Each event has a maximum number of trophies you can obtain from it.

Gameplay

Shell Racers is very similar to a game called Lightstream Racer which I’ve already reviewed on my blog, but there are major differences between the two.

Shell Racers AR game mode
Playing Shell Racers game in AR mode.

First of all, Shell Racers can be played on a large scale, but I found it more comfortable playing it as a table-top game. The reason for that is because the car appears very small due to the large level design. When you put the game on the floor, you have a large distance from the track and the car appears even smaller. Just for comparison, Lightstream Racer was designed from the ground up as a large-scale AR game.

Second, Lightstream Racer is a futuristic arcade-style game whether Shell Racers maintains its authentic racing tracks and sports realistic physics. In Shell Racers, you compete against other AI opponents while in Lightstream Racer you compete against other player’s best times.

Things that I liked about Shell Racers is the ability to bump into other cars and even get take them out of the race. If your car gets hit, you might have a hard time getting back on track. Like Lightstream Racer, you can also drift.

Shell Racers features a single speed acceleration button. When you push it the car accelerates when you release it the car quickly slows down.  That single-button mechanic made the game less exciting had it had a brake button and ability to play the game with two hands. Lightstream Racer, on the other hand, has two buttons, one for speed and the other ‘Magnet’ which holds you on track and allows you to pull out some nifty drifts and cool aerial landings. If you really want to have fun with drifts, I recommend checking out powARdup game.

Another thing that I didn’t like is that you don’t really get to feel that great button interaction feedback as the button lack any visual differentiation when it is pressed, nor a pleasing sound effect or haptic feedback.

Graphics and Level Design

The race tracks look detailed and neat. I like the touch of atmospheric weather effects (e.g. snow) and the edge design that makes the level blend quite seamlessly with the area the game is placed on.

Playing Shell Racers game in AR on the floor
Playing Shell Racers game in AR on the floor. You can barely see the cars. I recommend playing it either on a large area in large size or on a table where you can sit and view the track from up close.

Having said that, the tracks are quite large, therefore the car appears very small on the track. Even when I played it in a relatively large size (you can choose the track size), still, the car looked way too small. It took me a few seconds to locate my car, even with the purple icon that shows your car’s location. Because of that, I felt a bit disconnected from the experience. It felt like the action is happening “way there” not “here”.

Playing racing AR game with my cat nearby
Eventually, I found it better to just play the game on a table while sitting close to it.

This is not the first game that I had this issue where the controllable game entity looks like tiny and insignificant miniature car toys. This design actually lead so that that instead of feeling that horsepower and excitement of those beautiful and powerful BMW racing cards, it delivered exactly the opposite impressions. Because of that, I enjoy playing the game more in the non-AR mode, although that mode also has some follow-camera positioning issues.

I did spend time trying to find ways how to deliver that exact experience on a long racing track while still being able to maintain good proportions. The problem is that in this case, because of the authentic-looking tracks, there wasn’t an option to make it any different. If the developer opted for generic tracks, it could have dropped some of the environment 3D models to make more space for the track, use elevation to create longer tracks or just make the cars larger. Another option is to make the resizing of the track dynamic so it removes some of the environment structures when you resize it up and add them when it’s downsized.

The end result is a game that looks likes a static 3D scene with some little rectangles moving through it. Maybe I am a bit exaggerating, but when I placed the game on the floor, that more or less how it felt.

Let’s check out some gameplay action!

Conclusion

Shell Racers had some good things going for it, like a detailed level design, fun drifting, ability to immobilize other cars and bump into them and it comes with cool BMW cars and a generous selection of tracks to race in. I also liked the ability to view each car in life-size and change its color in the showroom screen.

On the negative side, the one-hand acceleration control was boring, the small car relative to the track undermined the overall gameplay experience. I found myself just wanting to play the game in standard mode rather than in Augmented Reality (AR).

Overall, the game has quite a lot of content for a free promotion app, but with disappointing AR mode, I just wasn’t motivated enough to keep on going and stay there until I unlock all tracks and all cars.

Download Shell Racers iOS Game from the App Store here.