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Asphalt 3D

Score: 58%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Ubisoft Entertainment
Developer: Gameloft
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1 - 6 (Local)
Genre: Racing (Arcade)

Graphics & Sound:

I've heard pretty good things about the Asphalt games for iPhone. And I believe most of what I heard is true, despite my experience with Asphalt 3D. This could have been a must-have launch title. Unfortunately, some crippling gameplay flaws and a serious lack of overall polish make it one to avoid instead.

Asphalt 3D's graphics are a 50-50 affair when it comes to quality. On the one hand, the 3D effects are nice, if not great. There's a nice sense of depth to the environments, and the car (provided you're driving in third-person view) appears to be coming out of the screen. The 3D is no more than a distraction everywhere else; the opening menu screens superimpose themselves on an ordinary background, aiming to go for that "augmented reality" aesthetic. It's a nice idea in theory, but the execution comes across as forced and disorienting. Unfortunately, the car physics are staggeringly bad. When you're dealing with straightaways, the game looks fine, but when you start turning, drifting, and going airborne, it starts to look like an unnatural robotic mess. The physics are staggeringly awful. Often, there's no sense of impact, because usually there is no impact; when the game deems a collision worthy enough, it switches to a slow-motion camera reminiscent of Burnout to showcase the carnage. This is a bad idea, because cars tend to simply rub against one another and tilt at awkward angles or simply phase through one another. Combine all of that with an incredibly unstable framerate, and you come up with something that can be more than a little embarrassing at times. However, I really like the red and blue vector graphics that outline the track when you accumulate enough boost.

Asphalt 3D's sound design is less remarkable than its visuals, but sometimes that's not a bad thing. Having less to say about something can indeed be better than having a lot of bad things to report. Asphalt 3D covers the bases, though it does so with varying levels of success. Cars sound a bit wimpy, and the announcer is annoying to say the least. However, I really like the music that accompanies the starting menu screen; it reminds me a lot of Radiohead's "Everything in its Right Place," and it's a very good fit for this kind of game.


Gameplay:

Asphalt 3D is purely an arcade racer, and it never strives to be anything but that. Burnout is clearly its inspiration, as the emphasis is on stunt-like driving and breakneck speeds. In addition to the standard races, Asphalt 3D featuers a healthy number of different events, including Elimination and Time Trial Challenges. These modes are functional, and the racing can occasionally be fun, but the controls occasionally work against the rest of the game, as does the awful rubber-band system. However, there's still some enjoyment to be had in leveling up and earning cash (either on the track or by winning events), and then taking said cash to purchase upgrades and vehicles.

On the track, things pinball between decent and awful at almost all times. On the plus side, the sense of speed is okay, even though just about all the A.I. racers are always given faster cars than the one you're driving. The tracks aren't imaginative, but they work for the most part, and they even include shortcuts in the hopes of adding a bit of depth. On the down side of things, the bad car physics get in the way of everything, destroying the sense of immersion and giving you the sense that the game could have benefited greatly from more time in development. But, to be fair, the gameplay isn't broken -- it's just extremely rough around the edges.


Difficulty:

Asphalt 3D can be an incredibly frustrating experience. The artificial intelligence of other racers (and in some cases, police officers) is borderline insane; I get the feeling that the gamer isn't supposed to see a lot of what the other racers do, because when you do get a good look at them in action, you'll be confused. Sometimes, it appears as though the cars themselves forget how fast they're supposed to be going in order to give you a run for your money at all times. Vehicles zip left and right, backwards and forwards, never settling into something that looks real. All this, I suspect, has to do with the game's busted rubber-band system. Some races will see you leading the pack with no contest. Others will have the A.I. racers slingshot past you at an absurd speed with absolutely no plausible explanation -- other than "you're winning too easily and we can't have that." I've voiced my disapproval of these kinds of difficulty tweaks several times, and Asphalt 3D only makes me more firm in my opinion.

Game Mechanics:

Asphalt 3D isn't out to innovate. Everything this game brings to the table has been done better in several other racing games. However, despite a few questionable design decisions, the mechanics work well enough.

This is the kind of racing game that encourages you to use the brakes only for drifting. After all, arcade racers are usually about speed, not realism; gamers can get their realism from Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo. Speed is Asphalt 3D's goal, and the way in which you gain speed borrows the entire Burnout playbook -- well, minus a few pages. You accumulate boost by drifting, acquiring power-ups, and causing other racers to bite the dust. You can boost up to three times in a single cycle, provided your meter's full enough. If your meter's completely full, you will enter a kind of turbo mode, where your boost rapidly drains but your speed level goes through the roof. In addition to the aforementioned boost pickups, cash and repair items usually show up in threes. The cash simply pads your earnings at the end of the event, while the repair tools ostensibly repair your vehicle.

Asphalt 3D bears most of the hallmarks of a slightly sub-par launch title. Despite it's strengths, the entire package feels more than a bit rushed, and could have done with more time in the pipe. As it stands, though, you'd be better off searching for an alternative.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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