With Ridge Racer being delayed in the U.S. (probably due to the poor reception it received in the East), there hasn’t been a better time for another racer to fill its shoes and claim the crown of the handheld racing games.
Asphalt: Injection starts off well; breaking you in gently with a nice Mini Coupe and some slow moving opposition. The idea is to move your way up the racing leagues by winning and performing objectives, such as drifting and taking out other cars. Each time you win a race and complete the bonus objectives you are awarded stars. These unlock new races and, eventually, new leagues. They also contribute to unlocking new cars (there are 45 in total) and upgrades. These enhancements are meant to improve your car’s performance and speed, but in actuality do very little to change your driving experience; but more on that later.
The one thing that Asphalt has going for it is the sheer amount of content. There are 20 leagues to work your way through, each with five races. The game also offers up a variety of race types. There are the standard ’finish in the top three’ races, time trial races, duels and elimination. Asphalt also adds police chases and a style of race that best resembles Road Rage from Burnout Paradise. Add to that a multiplayer mode (Online and Ad Hoc) and a Free Play mode, and you would be forgiven in thinking that Asphalt was the complete package.
Unfortunately, the whole game is let down by the most fundamental of flaws: terrible driving, cheating AI and a lack of difference between the cars. The game uses a boost mechanic, called Injection. As you drift, perform jumps and generally play havoc with the traffic, your Injection meter fills up. You can opt to use a small burst of nitrous, or wait until it is full for a massive injection of speed.
However, most of the time when you use it, it doesn’t actually increase the distance between you and cars behind you. This makes the whole mechanic pointless, especially as all of the other cars always seem to be faster than. Half the race, you seem to be playing catch up, and as soon as you do take the lead, all of your opponents suddenly appear on your tail. One false move and you go from 1st to 6th.
There is always the option to improve your cars’ performance through the upgrade system. These become available as you move up the ranks, and you can then add them to any of your cars, at a price. But again, this seems to be a pointless exercise, as I didn’t once notice any particular difference to the way the cars handled, or the feeling of speed. This leads me on to the driving mechanics; the one thing a racing game needs to nail down, and the area that Asphalt falls apart.
The handling of the cars on the straights is fine, but when you take a corner, the game really requires you to use drifting if you want to maintain some speed. This becomes a real pain, as you’ll often end up crashing into a barrier, or slowing down so much that you might as well have taken the corner slowly in the first place. The tracks are heavy on the corners, so this ends up being a problem. It is especially apparent when playing the Police Chase and Takedown modes, as moving fast around the track in those races is critical.
If you fancy taking your skills online, the game provides both online and ad hoc modes, but they couldn’t even get that right. To be fair, I didn’t try the ad hoc mode, as I didn’t have anyone to try it with, but the online mode is a no go. With most online racing games you end up in a lobby that only allows specific classes of cars; that way everyone is on even ground, reliant on skill to see you to the finish line. In my first online race with Asphalt, I sat in my low range Mini Coupe, with my opponent revving up his Bugatti Veyron, making me feel rather inadequate. The whole this was embarrassing, by the end of lap 2 he was already 30 seconds ahead of me. That means that the only way you can really compete is by unlocking the top tier cars, which takes a very long time. This soured me on the whole experience, and I doubt I will return to the online mode.
To make matters worse, the game doesn’t look all that special; in fact looking more like a PSP game than something that is running on the same hardware as Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Some of the car models look okay, with some nice reflection effects; but as a whole, it just feels stale and dated.
Asphalt: Injection could have been something outstanding, with tons of cars, tracks and content. Unfortunately, the game is let down in the most important areas of a racing game and has gone from a ’Must buy’ to a ’Must avoid.’
Review copy of game provided by publisher.