Asphalt 5 throttles up a fun arcade racer

Posted: November 3, 2009 in Racer

The iTunes store has thousands of games for the iPhone/iPod Touch platform. But one could argue that only a handful of genres naturally take advantage of these devices in terms of the touch screen and the accelerometer. Racing games are one of those genres, and when done right, they deliver an exhilarating experience. In any debate of the best racers on the platform, titles such as Real Racing and Need for Speed: Undercover are likely to come up. You may want to add one more to that list—Gameloft’s newly released Asphalt 5 which is simply an adrenaline rush in your pocket. On the fun meter, Asphalt 5 definitely delivers with strong sense of speed. But, while the game delivers a solid overall racing experience with a good amount of content, responsive controls (unlike its predecessor Asphalt 4), the graphics and animation game keep it a notch below the others mentioned.

On that note, the first thing that hits you is the graphics. Even though they may not be the smoothest on the platform, they do pop off the screen, which makes a difference when you’re careening through tracks and dealing with oncoming traffic from all sides. Admittedly, the middling framerate impacts the animation, but running this on an iPod Touch 2g, the game performs with minimal lag.

Framerate aside, even though you may not be focused on the details, Gameloft obviously has. Whether racing through snow-covered freeways, mud soaked roads, or the darkness of night, the details are everywhere. From the signs on storefronts to damage on vehicles, Gameloft has definitely spent a good deal of development creating an arcade experience with good degree of visuals. The perky soundtrack is a keeper, although you can play your own music if you’re into something a little more gut wrenching.

The objective of Asphalt 5 is simple: win races and earn money to soup up your ride. Of course, you’ll face a variety of obstacles including oncoming traffic, innocent bystanders, and police in addition to weather conditions such as snow and rain. This can all be experienced through 3 different camera angles: close, far and bumper. Bumper provides a driver’s seat view which can be quite intense with every bump and crash.

The game takes you through 12 different locations including Aspen, St. Tropez, Athens and Las Vegas. The well-designed tracks offer different terrains and environmental conditions, and most importantly, a shortcut. These shortcuts, which can be seen on the mini-map, are a good addition allowing players the option of sticking to the beaten track or risking it by taking a shorter yet tighter path. In some cases, these shortcuts are the only way to succeed especially in the time-sensitive races.

Asphalt 5 has three game modes: Single Race, Career and Local/Online Multiplayer. For many, Single Race will be the first taste of Asphalt 5 which provides a quick multi-lap race through the track of your choosing. While Single Race provides a good setting to practice driving skills, winning doesn’t unlock new tracks or earn money.

Online multiplayer provides a number of options which includes competing against up to six players in a single race. In general, the online experience is smooth with minimal performance issues, and joining or hosting a race is relatively easy.

Career is the guts of Asphalt 5, and this really where winning matters. Whether unlocking tracks, picking up women, or earning money, Career is where you do it facing 8 different racing events. Keep in mind that once tracks are unlocked in Career, they become available in Single Race.

Normal—street racing with the goal of finishing in the top three
Cash Attack—collect as much cash as possible
Cop Chase—catch and eliminate other racers
Escape—elude the police
Drift—test drifting abilities and earn points
Time Trial—cross the finish line before time runs out
Duel—one-on-one racing
Last Man Standing—try not to cross the finish line in last place

With a variety of challenging racing events, Asphalt 5 has 33 cars and motorcycles potentially at your disposal. From Lamborghinis and Ferraris to Ducatis and Kawasakis, winning races and earning cash will give you access to many of these vehicles for a price. The default vehicles are the Mini Cooper S and Nissan 370Z, and all vehicles are stored in the Garage section. If you want to cut through all that, playing online through Gameloft Live will provide full access to all the vehicles for competing against others or in individual time trials.

Cash can be used to upgrade vehicles in three areas: engine, handling and boost. And you’ll find there are numerous other ways to customize your vehicle. For example, paint jobs can be altered using the color slider and decals can be applied. The other nice thing about winning is the girls. As you progress through Career mode and level up, various girls are unlocked. Once unlocked, a video and photo gallery is available for your viewing pleasure. Kate for one is a saucy brunette, while Yumiko is the hot Asian. Others include Carla, Jennifer and Liz, which you can, um, experience for yourself.

Earning cash goes beyond winning races although that’s a big part of it. Cash is also earned by collecting tokens on the roadway, near misses with other vehicles, drifting, jumping, and eliminations. If you’ve played other racers, you’ll find that drifting in Asphalt 5 is works well and fairly accurate. On the other hand, elimination is an art that will take some practice. While knocking off vehicles doesn’t sound difficult, it’s particularly difficult in this game primarily because you’re often coming up from behind. If there is an issue with Asphalt 5, it’s that Cop Chase is offered relatively early as a challenge in the game, and it may have been better to hold that until later. To eliminate vehicles with the Mini Cooper is nearly impossible primarily because of the lack of acceleration. However, because of your ability to unlock new vehicles, the game is flexible enough that you can go back to revisit races using different and more faster vehicles.

Speaking of which, Asphalt 5 provides a few power ups—Nitro Canisters, Cash, and Mechanic/Tuning Kits. These power ups appear randomly throughout tracks, and collecting is as easy as driving through them.

Nitro Canisters—refill nitro boost tanks
Cash—money for purchasing upgrades
Mechanic Kits—repair damage

Nitro can be activated at any time during a race through the Nitro button. However, once activated, only time and acquiring nitro canisters will recharge the supply. Mechanic kits come in handy for repairs, and for those days, when driving a straight line just isn’t in the cards.

Asphalt 5 also has an awards system that recognizes wins both locally and online, discovering shortcuts, racing speed, drifting points, and even unlocking all the girls. The system keeps track of progress along with racing statistics.

The controls are what make or break any game especially with racers. Asphalt 5 provides a responsive set of controls, and in general, the handling is highly accurate. The game consists of three types of controls: wheel, screen tap, and accelerometer. Choosing the accelerometer controls allows you to turn on/off auto acceleration. Of the three, the accelerometer feels the most natural with screen tapping the most awkward. With auto acceleration turned off, a brake pad appears, although rarely used my brakes except when wanting to score style points for drifting.

When it comes to gameplay, Asphalt 5 does what it’s supposed to do—provide a good sense of speed. The speed is obvious even without looking at the speed gauge. The different race types certainly offer variety, and a replay function is included at the end of each race to review the race, although replays can’t be saved. The AI in Asphalt 5 feels well balanced providing enough aggressive driving to keep it interesting but not overdoing it either to make it impossible. The controls make steering and handling relatively easy, and most won’t have issues picking them up. The game is fairly forgiving especially when it comes to crashing into objects because speed isn’t necessarily impacted. However, crashing into oncoming traffic tends to have more severe consequences by stalling your momentum and losing position in the race.

Overall, Asphalt 5 definitely delivers on the fun meter. The controls and content really makes this a racer accessible to everyone. Aside from the middling framerate which is not a deal break, Asphalt 5 is solid racer with quality graphics. With a variety of different races, a relatively balanced AI, the feeling of speed, and the female eye candy, Asphalt 5 deserves to be in the racing discussion once again.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (fun racer with responsive controls and a feeling of speed; content in terms of race types, vehicles and customization; quality graphics although framerate could be better; tracks are long and varied with shortcuts, jumps and weather conditions; online racing provides access to all vehicles; racing types may be too varied for those looking for strictly a racing game)

Check out my review at http://toucharcade.com/2009/11/03/asphalt-5-a-fast-and-fun-arcade-racer/

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