Archive for the ‘Racer’ Category

Movie sequels generally don’t have a good track record when it comes to topping the original. Video games, on the other hand, are a decidedly mixed bag often times delivering outperforming sequels that provide superior gameplay. So where does Pixelbit’s Reckless Racing 2 rank? The similarities between the two games don’t extend beyond the name as the sequel is significantly different than its high-falutin predecessor and in many ways, much better with more of a focus on racing, track design, upgrades and customization. If you’re a fan of top down racers, then RR2 is arguably one of the best in the genre on the iOS platform. While some may argue about the physics within the game, RR2 provides a top flight racing experience along with plenty of content that should keep gamers entertained.

Visually, RR2 is all about the details and the visual depth when it comes to the tracks. The tracks are very detailed right down to the barriers, orange cones and surrounding environments. RR2 is the details especially during races. Whether it’s mini sand storm that gets kicked up on skids or the shadows that cast themselves along the track, RR2 does not disappoint on that end.

Unlike the original, RR2 does away with the hillbilly theme so gone are banjo tunes and “Yee haws!” that were humorous to some and irritating to others. Racing among 24 tracks, the objective in RR2 is to earn money which can then be used to purchase cars and upgrades. With the Sansiban XL as the default, RR2 offers a total of 18 cars, each with customizable attributes in speed, acceleration and handling. These cars include Vico Tourado V6, Maxima Ventri, Trumper M2, Yoshma Rally, Phantom GTS, and Textor V2-R to name a few. There are number of upgrades for the engine, handling, and tires as well paint, rims and window tint. Also a garage is included where purchased cars are stored.

While the vehicles look great in the garage, one thing to point out is that the vehicles don’t seem to have as much texture or depth as the original game during gameplay. For me, this is a mixed bag that ultimately doesn’t impact gameplay, but it’s something I miss.

The devs do a nice job of including steering control options: Full Wheel, Half Wheel, Standard (directional arrows), Tank, Tilt. From here, players also set auto gas, steering sensitivity and even adjust the placement of controls. Personally, I found all the controls extremely usable, although my personal preference is the Full Wheel with auto gas turned off.

If that weren’t enough, players can also adjust assists and the difficulty. The game uses dynamic difficulty where the game gradually increased the difficulty so races will start out relatively easy and will become harder as races are won. If you’re in the mood for road rage, turning off dynamic difficulty will allow you to set your own difficulty level.
These options are some of the most extensive available for this type of game so players should be able to fine tune the game to their liking.

RR2 has several gameplay modes: Career, Arcade, Single Event and Multiplayer. Within each of these modes, there are a number of variations for the 24 tracks. In Career, players race in a number of tournament cups: Roadrunners (Rookie), Reckless Cup, Swoop Cup, Moto Sprint, Crowley Cup, Red Rocket, Super, Golden Rim, Roundhill, Tropic Breeze, Framstupa, and Outer Peak.

Arcade offers 40 challenges where the objective is to finish in the top 3, earn gold stars, and win prize money. Challenges are unlocked with a top 3 finish, and prize money can be used to purchase vehicles and other upgrades.

In Single Event, 3 event types are offered: Race, Hot Lap and Elimination. Hot Lap is basically a competition against yourself to beat your best track time. I actually find this to be a good practice event before engaging in Career or Arcade modes. Elimination is a race where the goal is avoid finish in last place for each lap. Note that these tracks must be unlocked in Career and Arcade mode before they are available in Single Event.

Aside from the vehicle animation mentioned earlier, the gameplay in RR2 should make racing fans happy with an engaging and intense racing experience. The early races start out relatively easy with other cars slow and docile. I had no problems speeding right by them without much interference. Part of the difficulty early on is that the vehicle will have very little handling which makes the controls feel loose and subsequently adds a degree of difficulty. The races do become more difficult as players progress, and of course, the track terrains alter racing strategy. A number of obstacles such as dunes and ramps add to the overall experience. But, so does the smoke from engaging the brakes or the sparks from swiping across metal barriers.

Where the game does excel to a certain degree is in the actual driving experience. The controls are responsive although they do have a small learning curve depending on the selected option. The power slides around curves are actually pretty entertaining once you get the hang of it. And, sideswiping and ramming other vehicles adds to the fun. Tailgating right up against the car in front is even possible right before swiping them aside. However, unlike the original, there isn’t a sense of weight shifting, for example, when making a quick turn which may be due to the reduced vehicle animation.

While mentioning customizations and options, a mini map and green guide line are also options. One of things players will notice is how extensive and long some of the tracks can look and feel. A green guide line appears on the track showing track direction which is useful early on. But, as players become more comfortable with the tracks and desire a bit more difficulty, the guide line can be turned off.

As money is earned, purchasing and upgrading is relatively straightforward. For those who are impatient, RR2 does have IAP where players can buy credits that can be applied to picking new wheels and other gear. What should resonate well with players is that IAP are by no means necessary to progress in RR2.

It’s worth pointing out that the physics can sometimes feel a little out of whack. There are times when the cars don’t seem to shift such as on a quick turn and as funny as it sounds, in crashing. Vehicles sometimes don’t behave the way they should when crashing into each other, while crashes into the side barriers or environments can also have strange reactions. Also, occasional lagging and stuttering does occur, not often, but noticeable when it does and this was the case running on an iPad and iPhone 4S.

RR2 does offer GameCenter support, but the number of achievements is relatively small. In terms of importance, this will vary from player to player, but know that there isn’t much there at the moment.

RR2 is a significant upgrade and change from the original and really should be considered a standalone game from the original. From the tracks and cars to the options and of course, the racing experience itself, RR2 is a winner. Regardless of whether you’re a novice or an advanced racer, RR2 has the content and depth to appeal to everyone.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (engaging gameplay with a plenty of content and depth, a variety of tracks and vehicles; a completely different game from the original; multiple responsive control options and game modes; visually detailed tracks, although cars lack texture; minor physics issues; occasional lags and stuttering)

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I’m an avid reader of literature and while it may seem strange that I bring this up in reviewing a racing game, “A Tale of Two Cities” rings true in the instance of Mini Motor Racing, a top-down racer by Binary Mill. Not that the game is set during the French Revolution or has “bloody” battles, MMR is at times a potentially great top-down racer presented with engaging gameplay and wonderful animation. Other times, frustration comes from an over-the-top AI and system optimization issues. Don’t get me wrong, MMR is a solid offering if you’re a fan of the genre, but play it with a touch of patience.

Visually speaking, MMR stands helmet and belt harness above other racers with animations that pop off the screen. Whether playing on an iPod Touch or better yet, an iPad, and you’ll see what I mean. The tracks look amazing from the skid marks on hairpin turns to the expelled dust from fast spinning tires. The race cars themselves all exhibit detailed markings that frankly look great both close up and during gameplay.

The specs on MMR…you won’t need to worry about variety when it comes to the vehicles you’ll be driving. There are 13 cars to choose from (some are unlocked as you progress through the races)—LeMans, Hatchback, LeDorean, Sleigh, Bus, Sedan, Hot Rod, Buggy, Sprint, Sports, Fruit Ninja, Big Rig, and Pickup—each with their own unique attributes in the areas of handling, nitro, acceleration, and top speed.

The game offers two modes: Career and Quick Race. Career is made up of 17 cups, each involving 4 races. Some of the cups have more than one circuit. For example, the Fruit Ninja Cup has 3 circuits meaning you’ll need to complete 12 tracks to complete that cup.

The objective of each race is to place in the top three resulting in a gold, silver or bronze trophy and prize money. The money can then of course be used to soup up your vehicles in handling, nitro, acceleration and top speed. A running total of earnings is displayed when you return to the menu. And, as you complete circuits by finishing in the top three, additional cups or leagues will unlock. Once unlocked, these tracks become available in Quick Race, a mode that allows you to practice driving maneuvers or just to get familiar with the tracks. On that note, MMR also has a Multiplayer which unfortunately is limited only to local wifi and Bluetooth play. Hopefully, online multiplayer will be available in future updates.

Off to the gameplay…the devs behind MMR really deliver an exhilarating racing experience which in the plethora of top down racers available on the platform is saying something. While it’s easy enough to say that the tracks themselves are varied enough with hairpin turns, sharp angles, and treacherous curves, MMR’s tracks provide visually stunning backgrounds. For example, Alpine provides long jumps, rocky terrain and a steep uphill climb, while Safari offers a dusty terrain surrounded by an oasis of vegetation and water streams. On the other hand, Tarmac is a race full of curves, while the Docks is all about weaving in and around warehouses in an industrial setting. One of may favorites is the Fruit Ninja track because it has sharp angles and splotches of smashed fruit which affect acceleration and speed as you drive through it. All of this of course is accompanied by catchy soundtracks that you’ll either enjoy or find irritating.

In any racing game, the controls are make or break, and for me, I found them spot on in MMR. MMR has a number of control options from left/right buttons to a steering slider, but the only scheme that worked effectively is the steering wheel. Used in conjunction with the accelerator button (you can also play with auto acceleration), MMR’s controls are spot on. Because you can buy upgrades for your vehicle, tweaking handling and top speed actually helps with making precise steering as you progress through the cups.

In the initial circuits and races, the game is relatively easy, and I managed to place first in my first 8 races without making any upgrades to my LeMans. Experimenting with other vehicles, I found that the different attributes do impact driving which is a good thing. For example, turning on a dime with the Big Rig led to spin outs, while the Buggy has a good straightaway acceleration. Because the controls make MMR relatively accessible to anyone—they’re easy to use—you can experiment with different driving maneuvers such as ramming or nudging other cars out of the way or cutting corners when possible. Part of the challenge is that the top down views change as you progress through Career mode. But the devs do a great job of providing just the right camera views as the vehicles move through the tracks.

During races, money and nitro boosts randomly appear on the track, which comes in handy. Nitro boosts provide quick shots of acceleration that you’ll need to strategically use during races especially in the later cups…more on that in a minute. There’s nothing like flying through the air with a nitro boost. Money picked up during the race is added to your purse upon finishing a race.

With the good comes the not so good…remember I told you it was a tale of two cities. In the initial races, the AI of competing racers generally feels balanced with a few exceptions. There are issues with competitors hitting their nitro at inopportune times and crashing right into a curve or crashing on the side of the road. Later on, however, this becomes a bigger issue when competitors start intentionally crashing in your vehicle. It almost felt like a demolition derby with a pinch of road rage to boot. None of this was more apparent than at the start of a race when almost all the competing vehicles smash and box into your car. Other times, multiple cars engage their nitro to ram full speed into your car, sometimes hard enough to flip you over. You almost feel like a big bull’s-eye has been painted on your car, and it certainly adds to the challenge of the game depending on your point of view. One tip I will provide is to use your nitro—even several times—right out of the gate to create some separation.

Another form of crashing involves the game itself. Running MMR on my iPad, the game sometimes closed out completely without recording results from my race. This became more of an issue in the more difficult races later on when I would manage to squeeze out a victory in a tough race only to have the game quit without recording my victory. I’m not sure what kind of testing was done prior to the game’s release, but it obviously wasn’t enough. The devs have submitted a new update that hopefully addresses the crashing and AI issues. Let’s just hope they tested the update to ensure that it doesn’t wipe out career progress.

Overall, MMR is a good top-down racer, and probably the best looking one in the genre, that could have been great. The controls make the game accessible to anyone, while the gameplay provides an engaging racing experience. The cars and the tracks should keep gamers coming back for more if they can put aside the crashing issues for the time being.

Albie Meter: 4 stars (great gameplay coupled with equally great visuals and track variety; controls are easy to learn; inconsistent AI in later races; would be 5 stars if not for the all too frequent game optimization issues)

Last year when I reviewed Real Racing, it was the hands down winner in delivering a realistic, eye-popping racer. Since then, a number of racers entered the spotlight, but it wasn’t until Firemint’s Real Racing 2 appeared that I felt driven enough to come back on the reviews circuit. Frankly, I didn’t think anyone could improve on the thoroughly entertaining experience that Real Racing brought to the iPhone/iPod Touch platform…that is, until Real Racing 2.

Often in game reviews, we get lost in the minutiae such as features and numbers of levels, but what really matters is whether the game is fun. Regardless if you’re a hardcore gamer or simply a casual player, Real Racing 2 at its core is all about fun—intense fun. Real Racing 2 is a combination of evolutionary and revolutionary, creating a familiar yet new experience for fans of the first Real Racing, while simultaneously delivering console-quality graphics and racing depth within the Mint 3D engine that would make any gamer salivate. And, for those worried about whether you’ll get your money’s worth, I don’t think you need to worry about that.

If you don’t read any further, four things set Real Racing 2 ahead of the pack: graphics, mechanics, content and AI.

Real Racing 2 offers 30 officially licensed cars which by themselves would take up too much space in this review, but to give you a taste, you’ll have a good selection of BMWs Chevrolets, and Jaguars to choose from. Visually, you’ll be amazed at the detail, colors and fluidity of the graphics. By changing views and angles, you soon develop an appreciation for the work that went into Real Racing 2. From the different vehicles to the track scenery, it’s really something to behold with Real Racing 2 as graphics and animation pop off your mobile device. Frankly, it’s the little things that Firemint does so well. Whether it’s the shading and textures that run across your dashboard as you drive under a sign or the smoke from spinning wheels, Real Racing 2 delivers that immersive, all-encompassing experience.

5 different camera angles—cockpit, chase, far chase, front bumper, bonnet—are available that you’ll want to experiment with and fortunately are easy enough change at any time during a race along with changeable replay camera angles. From little things such as dust getting kicked up to skid marks, the details are there. In the audio department, Real Racing 2 incorporates a steady stream of high-energy music tracks that get the adrenaline flowing.

Before diving into the content, we need to talk about the mechanics or controls because the success of any game especially a racer lies in the driving experience and the responsiveness of the controls. Firemint incorporates 7 control schemes, 2 of which are flipped versions and various settings for acceleration and braking. Methods A and B provide steering by tilting. Methods C and D which also offer flipped versions utilize an on-screen touch steering wheel. Method E enables steering by touching sides of the screen.

I tested the different schemes for responsiveness and ease of use, and I found them all remarkably smooth and fluid. I prefer the accelerometer controls for steering in Methods A and B. Method A was ideal when I was just getting the feel for a new track, while Method B provides more of an actual driving experience with manual acceleration and braking. The other methods provide a wheel for steering, which is equally as smooth. You can also calibrate your device, and adjust Steering Sensitivity, Steering Assistance, Anti-Skid and Braking Assistance to suit your driving style and experience level.

For racing novices (or those simply uncoordinated to a fault), Real Racing offers 3 difficulty settings: Easy, Medium and Hard. More on that later…

Of the racers I’ve played with on the iPhone/iPod Touch platform, Real Racing 2 probably offers the most variety and content. With tracks based in 15 locations, I felt overwhelmed by the diverse scenery that comes with a good mix of day and night racing. The game has 5 game modes—Career Mode, Quick Race, Time Trial, Local Multiplayer (8 players), and Online Multiplayer (16 players)—and Career Mode by itself should keep the average player engaged for quite a while. With a purported 10 hours of play in Career Mode, I’ve spent about 6 hours (yes, there is a gauge that keeps track) and thus far haven’t reached halfway into the 44 races and 83 races. Of course, time spent will vary based on skill level, but for me, that’s a lot of time spent by myself.

Career Mode is categorized into 5 tiers—Club Division, State Showdown, Grand National, Pro Circuit, World Series—each containing events which are unlocked based on prize money and reputation points earned and car type/engine class. Within each tier, there are 5 events—Cup, Head to Head, Championships, Time Trial Challenges, and Eliminations.

Cup Races—One-off races against 15 opponents
Head to Head—Races against a single opponent
Championships—Series of races against 15 opponents
Time Trial—Races with a time component
Elimination—3-lap race with 4 competitors with last place finisher for each lap eliminated

Of these, the Cup races and Championships are wholeheartedly what set Real Racing 2 apart from other racers. There simply is nothing out there beyond Real Racing 2 that brings the intensity and fun that you get from racing in a field of 16 vehicles.

Among the many things that Firemint succeeds in is providing a realistic experience. Rubber banding is sometimes an issue with racing games because it takes away from the realism. The AI in Real Racing 2 brings the right level of challenge especially in medium and hard modes, and often, I was losing patience with myself for spinning out or getting bumped off by other cars. Easy mode provides a less chaotic, albeit intense experience with racers that you’re more likely to bump off rather than the other way around.

For example, in the Cup and Championship races involving a field of 16, you can more easily steer and maneuver from behind the pack to the front with the Easy setting. You still need to drive like you have a brain, but it’s much more forgiving. On Medium and Hard settings, the AI is much more aggressive, blocking and smashing into your car and plays much faster.

Physics wise, Real Racing 2 just like its predecessor does a terrific job. Making hairpin turns feels nerve-racking, while slamming into a guardrail can provide quite the jolt. Weaving in and out of traffic just feels real and engaging, and ultimately, that does matter in the overall experience. For the masochists out there, Real Racing 2 includes collision and vehicle damage. Crashing into other cars or sideswiping guardrails will not only slow you down, but create some havoc to the appearance your vehicle. Side mirrors and bumpers will show visual damage and even fall off if you’re not a careful driver, and you will see sparks as you careen into a guardrail. This is one area I wish Real Racing 2 would have gone more overboard visually in terms of adding more smoke and engine fires, but again, that is a matter of taste.

The sound effects in Real Racing 2 are more than adequate with the vroom vroom of the engine to the skidding around corners. Paired with the high-energy music tracks, you have a pretty solid audio racing experience. One area where I was slightly disappointed is the lack of sound effects related to collisions and crashes. While there are collision noises related to crashes involving your vehicle into walls and other stationery partitions, collisions between vehicles is almost a non-event soundwise. There were times when I felt like it was more of nudge than an actual sideswipe. Hopefully, this is remedied in a future update because that would certainly complete the racing experience.

The standard HUD includes completed laps, speedometer, assists enabled and time elapsed. An optional mini-map appears in the top part of the screen displaying the shape of the road ahead as well as the location of other drivers. It’s a minimalistic design, I sometimes found it difficult to see the location of other drivers since the representative icons tend to be small.

Depending on your finish, you unlock additional tracks and earn points and money to purchase cars and customize them. From changing the color and wheels on your vehicle to boosting the engine and handling, there are plenty of ways to customize your vehicles. All of this is managed in Pitlane, which also provides access to cars bought and sold and allows for transactions to add new ones to your collection. Under Profile, you can view your racing stats such as races won, money earned, and achievements accomplished. Real Racing 2 includes 27 achievements covering milestones for rank and money to completion of the perfect race without damage.

While accessing the menu items is simple enough, figuring where things are isn’t exactly the most streamlined. While I was able to figure out where things were, I couldn’t help but feel the menus were a little clunky. For example, when first starting up the game, the interface for accessing the various areas such as Pitlane and Profile isn’t the most intuitive. In fact, you have to tap around the various boxes to figure out what they are. It’s not a big deal by any means, and you do remember where things are after a while.

Firemint set the bar last year with Real Racing, and sets the bar even higher with Real Racing 2. This is one fine action-packed, full-featured racer that hits you over the head with eye-popping graphics, counterpunches with a ton of content and responsive controls, and slaps you with an immersive racing experience. You want your money’s worth? You’d be hard pressed to find another racer that does just that like Real Racing 2 does.

Albie Meter: 5 Stars (enough said)

Amazing adrenaline rush…those three words sum up Jet Car Stunts, a 3D dimensional racer that combines dexterity, brains, and most definitely risk taking. If racing were the only selling point, then Jet Car Stunts would just be another in a long line of games in the category. However, Jet Car Stunts stands out because of the breathtaking tracks that both inspire and frustrate would be drivers. Simply put, Jet Car Stunts delivers a thrill ride that will have you coming back for more.

Often tracks in racing games are the typical twists and turns we’ve come to expect. Jet Car Stunts takes it a new level, or actually altitude, creating a Lego Land full of nooks and crannies high above in the sky. From gravity-defying blocks to ominous-looking hoops with the clouds and sun as your backdrop, this is one game that looks as good as it plays. Visually, the game does a good job with the details. From horrible skid marks to the devastation from head-on collisions, Jet Car Stunts is quite the visual achievement.

The game has two game modes: Platforming and Time Trial. Platforming provides 25 stages categorized into 5 levels of difficulty: Just Learning, Easy, Intermediate, Hard and Impossible. Just Learning provides basic tracks that must be completed before unlocking the Easy level, and each subsequent level of difficulty must be completed before unlocking the next. With each completed track, a gold, silver or bronze medal is awarded based on time. There is a catch—each track has a limited number of retry opportunities, and using up those retries without reaching the finish line means no medal and no unlocking of the next track.

Time Trial consists of 11 stages divided into Easy, Intermediate and Hard levels of difficulty where the objective is to complete a set number of laps with a time to beat. Again, each level of difficulty must be completed before the next level is unlocked. A handy timer above monitors the time to beat to receive a gold, silver or bronze medal.

Upon a selecting a level, the game provides an aerial overview of the track for which you’ll want to pay attention to because there are no mini-maps or radars for guidance during the race. Every twist, turn, and jump is brilliantly illustrated with a handy fast forward button, and a replay is provided upon finishing a race, although these replays can’t be saved.

Both modes keep track of retries and times to beat so you can always go back and revisit unlocked tracks to improve on times and medal rankings. In addition to global scoreboards, Jet Car Stunts has an achievement system accessible via OpenFeint where recognition is provided for completing levels, medal rankings, and even for stunts.

The controls in Jet Car Stunts are some of the best and most natural in the category. The game offers 4 different control layouts so players should be able to find one that suits them. Accelerometer-based for steering, the buttons focus on 4 areas: acceleration, rocket boost, brakes/reverse and air brakes/gliding. Easily, these are some of the most responsive controls you’ll find, but as is typical with games, it will come down to how well you master them if you’re to succeed. Aside from that, tilt sensitivity, flip screen, and music/sound options are available. One of the notable omissions is a tutorial which means you’re on your own, although it’s not incredibly difficult to figure out.

Jet Car Stunts may lure you in with its looks, but this racer is not for the faint of heart and definitely not for those who have short tempers. The game is not a joyride in the park. On the challenge meter, this is probably one of the most unforgiving racing experiences I’ve had in a long time. However, driving these visually amazing tracks delivers quite the gaming punch.

Heavily physics-based, Jet Car Stunts requires the prudent and skillful use of your controls where using the right amount of rocket boost to make jumps is just as important as tapping the air brakes to guide and steer through the air. Managing rocket fuel is a core part of the game since it is limited in supply—Kyle Petty have mercy on you if you run out before completing the last jump. For example, when making long jumps between two platforms, easing up on the rocket boost is ideal to prevent overshooting the next platform and going over the side. This also applies to jumping through hoops where using the airbrakes to steer through them combined with the right amount of rocket boost is often the difference between success and failure.

Each track has a checkpoint so if your racer meets an untimely demise, it will start at the last checkpoint rather than at the beginning of the track. Intentional or not, Jet Car Stunts does have a hitch when it comes to checkpoints. Flying over a checkpoint rather than driving through it does not count so using the rocket boost appropriately is important especially on tracks where the checkpoint is located near the edge of a platform.

Another component in this game is the use of stunts where a variety of flips, tumbles and barrel rolls can be performed. While the not the easiest to perform, these require a combination of air brakes, rocket boost and steering best applied when you’ve managed a certain comfort level with the tracks.

The game relies on trial and error as much as racing prowess which should appeal to even the pick-up-and-play casual gamer. Having said that, Jet Car Stunts could use some tweaking in the difficulty department since it ratchets up quickly even in the Just Learning level where tracks become pretty complex. While some may find the difficulty off putting especially with the lack of different camera angles and in-race mini-map, the tracks do get easier with practice as is typical with this type of game. Additional tracks and even vehicles with different attributes would only strengthen what is already a complete racer.

Overall, Jet Car Stunts is an octane-filled thrill ride a minute that should exceed expectations even for the greenest racers among us. With innovative visuals and tracks that even the large development houses would envy, Jet Car Stunts is bound to be a palm sweating classic for those who dare give it a spin.

Albie Meter: 5 Stars (one of the best looking racers of its kind complemented by responsive controls; visually, a game that shows off as well as it plays; innovative track designs with replay value; difficulty level needs some tweaking since it ratchets up quickly; lack of tutorial and camera angles)

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/

Racing games tend to appeal to broad audience because of the exhilaration and adrenaline rush that come with them. Developers 2XL Games first introduced us to their visual mastery with 2XL Supercross, a supercharged motorcycle racer. Their latest title 2XL ATV Offroad continues that tradition delivering an ATV racing experience with visual appeal, challenging gameplay, and a ton of depth. Easily considered one of the top two racers for the iPhone/iPod Touch platform alongside Real Racing, 2XL ATV Offroad is well worth a spot on your device.

Visually, the graphics are near PSP quality and further demonstrates the possibilities of the platform. Even if you disagree with the near PSP comparison, 2XL ATV Offroad easily outdistances most other racing games. The different terrains and environments are well rendered with visual depth, and the attention to detail is apparent. You can literally see dust trails from competing bikes or the shadows from dunes and trees, and the animation is smooth although with an occasional lag on my iPod Touch 2g. Animation will be smoother on next generation devices such as the 3GS. While the high energy soundtracks are designed to pump up the experience, about the only shortcoming on this front is the sound effects which are decidedly on the weak side. The revving of engines and cheering crowds tend to be on the low and generic side.

As for depth, 2XL ATV Offroad offers two game modes: Arcade and Career. A local wi-fi multiplayer mode is also available, but I was unable to try that out. Arcade mode is similar to a quick race mode where you can select from among 18 different tracks in 3 categories: FMX, MX, SX. A visual overview is provided for each that you can conveniently scroll through before making a selection.

* FMX
Corona
Ridgecrest

* MX
Seneca
Little Scout
Diablo Pass
Rubicon
Blackhawk
Shadow Ridge
Castlerock
Pine Knob

* SX
Anaheim
Toronto
Daytona
St. Louis
Dallas
Philadelphia
Boston
Pontiac

In addition, there 15 different drivers each uniquely outfitted along with 15 ATVs to choose from. The presentation is rather innovative since the scroll menu allows you to view how riders match with the vehicles.

Within each event, you have several options including 3 levels of difficulty—easy, normal and hard; type of race—Time Trail, Race, and Practice; and number of laps ranging from 3 to 20.

Unlike 2XL Supercross, 2XL ATV Offroad has a career mode which frankly increases the replayability of this game. There are 11 leagues each consisting of multiple races with points awarded based on finish. Mixed in are 2 freestyle levels where stunts can be performed in a limited amount of time for points. RideNow is the only unlocked league start, and finishing in the top 3 will unlock subsequent leagues.

RideNow
MotoWorks
ONeal
Troy Lee Designs
DWT
ProTaper
HMF
Quad
Kicker Car Stereo
TrophyLite
2XL Games

Career Mode also has an extensive achievement system that provides recognition for a number of things including miles driven, races won, tricks performed, and points scored.

In terms of controls, 2XL ATV Offroad offers a good variety of customization. Steering can be controlled either by tilt or virtual steering wheel with red brake and green accelerator buttons. Stunts are performed via a set of six buttons—3 down the left and right sides. Tapping one button will initiate a trick while tapping more than one will initiate more complicated tricks. You also have customizable options such as Auto Throttle, Brake Assist, tilt sensitivity, tilt dead zone and steering sensitivity. In general, I find turning on Auto Throttle (also known as auto-acceleration) to be quite useful since it removes the green accelerator button. The placement of the red brake button and green accelerator button can be a little clunky since the red button sits right above the green one which makes inadvertently tapping the wrong button likely. If you can’t decide on the control set-up, 2XL ATV Offroad includes 8 preset control schemes so there’s bound to be one that works.

2XL ATV Offroad can be quite challenging and adjusting tilt sensitivity and using Brake Assist can help a great deal. Brake Assist will automatically slow down your ATV if it approaches a curve for example too quickly. Overall, the controls take some practice, but are rather easy to handle.

Besides the visuals, the intense gameplay in 2XL ATV Offroad is really where the game stands out. The races can be challenging with an AI that is pretty tough. Competing racers do a nice job of jockeying for position, and they don’t have any issues with taking you out. If I had one complaint, it’s that it can almost be too easy for competing bikers to knock me off my bike especially when I’m in the lead. The screaming of agony that accompanies collisions can either be painfully funny or just painful. Crashes that take out riders tend to have them in fetal positions on the track before they magically appear back on their bikes.

The controls are highly responsive, so making quick turns work well, although this also puts you at risk for overcompensating and oversteering. If you ever end up of the beaten path or track in this case, the game will automatically throw you back on the track albeit further behind the other racers.

The physics behind the jumps and collisions other bikers tend to play out realistically. However, crashing into objects such as trees and barriers tends to be a mixed bag where my ATV will either crash or go right through an object. It’s a minor issue, although there is no rhyme or reason behind what is solid and what is vapor. You can always go back to previously completed leagues to improve finishes and of course, the achievement system and the arcade mode provide plenty of replay value.

2XL ATV Offroad delivers an intense and more or less realistic ATV racer that has all the bells and whistles you’d expect. Sound effects aside, this game provides an immersive and punishing experience that not only shows the effort put in by the devs at 2XL, but also further demonstrates the full potential of the platform.

Albie Meter: 5 Stars (visually among the best on the platform; intense and challenging game that should provide hours of play; responsive controls and a ton of customization offset mediocre sound effects)

I remember when I played Monster Trucks Nitro on my iPod Touch 2g, and feeling pretty disappointed at the lack of depth. The visuals looked great, but the game was over even before it started. With Red Bull X-Fighters, I not only have a game that has a ton of content, but it provides the rush that comes from doing crazy aerial acrobatics and throws in a heavy dose of agony when hitting a sandpile at full speed. This is Monster Trucks Nitro motocross style and significantly better.

While the 3D visuals in X-Fighters are amazingly presented, it’s the mechanics and physics that really deserve applause. A choice of tilt and touch buttons are available, although I highly recommend using tilt since they feel more responsive and natural. This game isn’t simply about doing tricks which I will get to shortly. It’s about balance and using intelligence when performing. The motorcycle auto accelerates which is both a good and bad thing, which you soon find out, although a brake button is included. Using the tilt to balance on your back wheel can increase speed even more, but the landing also requires some finesse. In other words, doing tricks may sound fun, but it won’t matter much if you can’t stick the landing.

The replay value comes from improving your score and earning trophies, but to be honest, the entertainment value comes from focusing on tricks and creating combos. The crashes are entertaining as well with the use of ragdoll physics for the biker. You’re almost not sure whether to laugh or feel sorry as he gets laid out on a sand dune or run over by his on motorcycle. Visually, the animation is smooth and detailed, and in my opinion, some of the best out there. The devs did a terrific job creating realistic visuals for tricks and the environments. You do feel like you’re really in a stadium with flashing lights and cheering crowds with edgy music rounding out the package.

The game has a multitude of tricks that are learned as you progress through each level. Each level is a short track that requires you to meet certain objectives to advance. These can be either be performing a certain number of tricks which earn points or are time specific in reaching the finish line. A gold, silver or bronze trophy can be earned, and scoring requirements are shown at the beginning of each level with a minimum bronze needed in order to unlock further levels.

The tricks are accomplished through specific finger swipes which take practice especially when you’re also balancing the bike as it lands. Memorizing finger swipes especially when there are 20 different tricks is not an easy task. What the devs have creatively done is included the tricks you’ve learned on the screen during gameplay so you can perform any number of them, and as levels are successfully completed, those tricks are added to your Trick Book. The Trick Book comes in handy because you can refer back as a refresher to see how tricks are performed.

X-Fighters also has an achievement system that provides awards for completing stunts, trophies won, and even for crashes. Sadly, I’ve already earned the Emergency Ward award for crashing so many times. The game also includes unlockable bikes and outfits that are earned through achievements and by gaining fans. For each race successful or not, fans are gained for your courage…or possibly for your insanity. The more successful you are, the more fans or following you will earn, thus unlocking additional items faster.

In addition, a detailed statistics page is provided that tracks everything from the basics (# of races, crashes, events) to the crazy (flips per jump, greatest combo, most painful crash). There are too many to list here, but believe me, there are plenty of neat stats.

The game also has a great tutorial covering the basics such as acceleration, handling and basic tricks. In all, there are 8 locations with 60 levels and from personal experience, will last quite a while. The camera work is done fairly well especially when you catch air, and you’re 75 feet in the air with the crowd below. And a rather neat addition is the demo function which provides run through of the course so you have an idea of how to prepare for each track. The game mechanics are not overly challenging to learn and are flexible enough that performing wheelies for example is a no brainer. But tilt too far back and you’ll get more than dirt in your face. I do wish the courses were longer because they are on the short side, and the finger gestures aren’t very forgiving. And succeed or crash, you can watch it all over again with the replay function available at the finish of each event.

X-Fighters is a fun and strangely addicting freestyle motocross game that is challenging and offers a strong adrenaline rush. While the game may not appeal to everyone, the multitude of tricks and acrobatics along with a ton of levels should keep those who venture this way occupied in what could be worthwhile experience.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (highly recommended for motocross and physics-game fans; slight learning curve with the controls, but plenty of depth; replay value in earning high scores and trophies)