Technology

App Smart

Games put auto racing action in the palm of your hand

A screenshot of the mobile game “Fast and Furious Legacy.” The game has an arcade-game experience with a story line that progresses as you race in different street drag events, outrun police cars, and so on.

A screenshot of the mobile game “Fast and Furious Legacy.” The game has an arcade-game experience with a story line that progresses as you race in different street drag events, outrun police cars, and so on.

The 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 culminated with a thrilling victory for the rookie driver Alexander Rossi on Memorial Day weekend. While most of us will never get to actually drive a race car in real life, we can experience some of the drama through racing apps on our phones or tablets.

GT Racing 2

Free for iOS and Android

GT Racing 2 is one of my favorite racing apps because of the game’s attention to detail. If you ding the bumper of another car during a race, for example, it hangs off and bumps around just as the real thing would, and the engine sounds become convincingly echoey when the course goes through a tunnel. This realism makes the app feel as if it’s half racing simulator, half arcade game.

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Among GT Racing 2’s arcade features are automatic braking and steering assistance. These keep players racing and stop collisions from happening too often, which is a common problem when playing a new racing game. The assistance features can be turned off when players are ready.

GT Racing 2 includes many different racing venues and styles, as well as the option to upgrade to different high-performance street cars or old, souped-up classics. It has a clear interface and not too many choices or controls, so when using the app people spend most of their time actually racing.

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The game is free, but there are a few pop-up advertisements and requests that can become annoying, including some that pester people to buy in-app expansions or rate the app.

Fast and Furious Legacy

Free for iOS and Android

Fast and Furious Legacy, which is my second-favorite racing game app, has much more of an arcade-game experience. It has a story line that progresses as you race in different street drag events, outrun police cars, and so on. The app also has pop-up instructions and story details that include images of characters from the “Fast and Furious” movies.

The app automatically handles much of the “driving” of a car, and controls are pretty basic — often just touching the screen steers a vehicle around obstacles. But it’s visually quite thrilling and lots of fun, and as the game advances you can collect around 50 different cars from the movies and add custom paint jobs and wheels.

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Fast and Furious Legacy’s features include the ability to race head-to-head with friends who have the app and even chat with them. It’s free to download, but some extras like special cars cost around $3 and up.

Asphalt 8: Airborne

Free for iOS and Android

Asphalt 8: Airborne is one of the most impressive racing apps for mobile users for one reason — stunning graphics.

This game is not a realistic racing simulator by any means. It’s full of crazy stunts and situations that owe more to the fiction of racing films than real-life high-technology race cars, with explosions and spectacular crashes aplenty. You race your chosen car using tilt controls, but the app automatically manages complicated things like selecting gears, so you can concentrate on fulfilling your need for speed.

The app is full-featured, borrowing a lot of game design from the sort of racing apps found on gaming consoles. Complex features let you tune your engine, buy new cars, and personalize the look and feel of the game. If you are impatient, you can speed through the settings to get out on the track quickly and into a race.

Asphalt 8 looks even better on a mobile device than on the television screen (where it’s already a popular Apple TV app). The interface is easier to navigate and the game play is even more satisfying — there’s something about having the screen in your hand as you race. The big display of an iPad creates an eye-popping experience that can be disorienting at first: You find yourself twisting your head left and right when speeding around freakishly tight bends.

The app’s amazing graphics and special effects are particularly exciting when zooming through busy city streets, or looping through unfinished tunnels beneath a mountain.

For access to all the features, such as the full range of high-performance cars, the in-app expansions cost around $10 and up.

Among the many car racing apps out there, these three offer the most excitement and the best graphics. Fire them up and enjoy some digital high-octane fun.

Kit Eaton writes on technology for The New York Times. Follow him on Twitter @Kiteaton.
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