Our favorite free iPad on-rails, 3D and 2D racers, and trials games.
Gravity Rider Zero
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Gravity Rider Zero is a bike trials racer, set in a future where Tron appears to have collided with mankind’s desire to launch people from hills while they sit astride a two-wheeled vehicle. Everything is stripped back, and so steering around the futuristic courses is automatic; however, getting past obstacles does require very careful use of throttle and balance controls.
Although races are ultimately about getting to the checkered flag first (avoiding the many spikes and lasers racing in the future apparently mandates), Gravity Rider Zero is a free iPad game that's primarily about finesse. You must learn the nuances of each course, in order to succeed. Sometimes, this is fiddly – and occasionally maddening. But nail a tricky bit, enabling you to progress to the next, tougher outing, and you’ll find this one a two-wheeled delight.
Pico Rally is a high-octane racer controlled with a single thumb. In short, hold down on the screen, and you get a burst of speed; raise your digit and you slow down a bit. Steering is taken care of, and so victory is about learning the twists and turns in each circuit, and not losing speed by smashing into barriers and other cars, or grinding across the dirt.
In essence it’s more or less slot racing, in terms of the basic nature of the controls, and the behavior of the cars. But the way Pico Rally keeps shaking things up with its varied track design, races, and pursuits, ensures it blazes through the checkered flag as one of the iPad’s premier racers, despite being a million miles away from traditional fare.
Data Wing is a speedy but elegant neon-clad top-down racer. It’s also an intriguing narrative based around an irrational artificial intelligence’s attempts to escape its lot.
The racing bit is superb as you pilot your tiny craft, scraping track edges for boosts of speed during time trials. New challenges are slowly unlocked, such as races, and levels that flip everything on it side, pitting you against gravity and forcing you to use boost pads to reach a high-up exit.
A simple two-thumb control system ensures the game works brilliantly on every size of iPad, and as game and story alike unfold there are plenty of surprises in store. But perhaps the biggest is that a production this polished is entirely free. Get it!
Asphalt 9: Legends
Asphalt 9: Legends is a brash arcade racer with such a scant regard for physics and reality it almost makes its bonkers predecessor look like a simulation.
You blaze along hyper-real road circuits, having pimped-up sports cars do things no manufacturer’s warranty had ever considered. 360-degree turns off of massive ramps to pinwheel through the air! Nitro-boosting through skyscraper windows! Playing chicken with massive trains! We’re not in conventional racing territory here…
Like all Asphalt games, this one scrapes a key along its pristine bodywork in the form of IAP and grind; also, some players may be irked by a default control scheme that has you swipe and tap to time actions rather than actually steer. But despite its shortcomings, Asphalt 9: Legends remains a glorious and compelling oddball arcade racer.
MMX Hill Dash 2
MMX Hill Dash 2 is a one-on-one monster truck racer, with tracks akin to roller coasters, full of unlikely peaks and crazy dips. Helpfully, then, the physics is so bouncy vehicles often feel like they’ll bound off of the screen, never to be seen again.
At first, this makes for an off-putting experience. It can feel like you’re fighting the physics with the two-button control system that deals both with braking and also rotation when a vehicle’s airborne. But grab vehicle upgrades and properly plan how to tackle a track, and you start making progress.
The game then becomes strangely absorbing – almost puzzle-like as you gradually figure out the choreography and upgrades required to crack a track. It is, however, best for players with a slightly masochistic streak, since you’re often hitting the same track time and again, until you get the kit and brainwave to defeat it.
Carmageddon is in theory a racing game, but is really more a demolition derby set in a grim dystopia where armored cars smash each other to bits and drivers gleefully mow down ambling pedestrians and cows.
It’s a game of questionable taste and a brains-free approach. You may not be surprised to hear it ended up banned in several countries when originally released on PC back in 1997. These days, though, its low-res over-the-top feel seems more cartoonish than gory – and the freeform driving is a lot of fun.
The maps are huge, the physics is bouncy, and your opponents are an odd mix of braindead and psychotic. There’s no nuance, but loads of laughs to be had – assuming you’re not the type to get offended when a game congratulates you for power-sliding a startled cow into a wall.
Vertigo Racing is a sort-of rally game. We say sort-of, because although you’re pelting along a twisty-turny track, it happens to be at the top of a wall so high its base is lost in the clouds below.
Also, you’re barreling along in old-school muscle cars, to a classic guitar rock soundtrack, and you can’t steer.
Instead, the game does the steering for you, leaving you merely able to prod the accelerator or slam on the brakes, to stop your car plunging into the abyss. This transforms the game into a decidedly oddball take on slot racing, reimagined as a roller-coaster. Or possibly the other way around.
Either way, it’s fun, even if handling and camera issues make progress in later tracks tough. Still, the upgrade path is smart (with a generous dishing out of virtual coins to upgrade your cars and buy new tracks), making for hours of grin-inducing arcade action.
Reckless Getaway 2
If you’ve ever played the last level of PC classic Driver, with its psychotic police vehicles, you’ll have an inkling what you’re in for in Reckless Getaway 2. You pick a car and barrel about a little wraparound city, driving around like a maniac, until your inevitable arrest.
Well, we say ‘arrest’, but these police are crazed. SWAT vans will hurl themselves at your vehicle, oblivious to the carnage around them. Eventually, airstrikes will be called in, at which point you might question if the law’s applying a bit too much zeal towards grand theft auto these days.
Over time, the game’s repetitive nature palls a bit, and the physics is a bit floaty; but otherwise it’s a great fun freebie for virtual joyriders armed with an iPad.
Instead of blazing through larger-than-life takes on real-world cities, Asphalt Xtreme takes you off-road, zooming through dunes, drifting across muddy flats, and generally treating the great outdoors in a manner that will win you no favors with the local authorities.
As per other entries in the series, this is ballsy arcade racing, with bouncy physics, simple controls, an obsession with boosting, and tracks designed to make you regularly smash your car to bits.
It’s also, sadly, absolutely riddled with freemium cruft: timers; currencies; nags – the lot. But if you can look past that and dip in and out occasionally to allow the game to ‘recharge’, there’s a lot to like in this racer that’s decided roads and rules are so last season.