The Asphalt series is a mysterious one. This relatively young group of street-racers never seems to appear anywhere else but inside the launch windows of portable and mobile hardware. With the Vita now in the wild, no one should be surprised to see an Asphalt title in the mix, but just what is it bringing to the table for racing fans and early adopters? A tepid driving experience patched together by lot of other people’s ideas, it seems.
Asphalt: Injection is a title that, as Peter Griffin would say, “insists upon itself.” The game is packed to the gills with racing modes, vehicle upgrades, international courses, and a wide selection of different cars. On paper it sounds like an omni-racer, attempting to give players the most diverse framework possible within which to accrue vehicles and tear up pavement, but it falls almost majestically on its face before it can even get the door open.
Asphalt has two major problems, and several lighter ones that might have seen their way through mitigation if not for their volume. The first is that driving simply isn’t any fun. In fairness, it’s functional, and the illusion of speed is there via the game’s impressive framerate, but it is wholly unremarkable and staid. Of the 45 automobiles available, very few of them feel like they have an identity. Outliers such as the Bugati Veyron and Mini Cooper certainly provide different driving experiences, but on the whole, cars control as if pasted to a routine template. Agility, acceleration, and top speed are the core variables, but every machine seems to turn from the same center of gravity, just at different degrees. Developers can’t get away with that in a post-Forza and NFS world, where even arcade racers do their best to account for individual suspension and car behavior. Asphalt just isn’t up to snuff. It feels like racing bar graphs instead of cars.
The second major problem, one that capitalizes on the bland driving mechanics in the worst possible way, is catch-up AI. Asphalt boasts some of the cheapest, most flabbergasting opponent behavior seen in a racing game. Races almost never start without the player immediately sinking to last place and having to work up from there, and even then, finishing a race in first is often a mere crap shoot. It’s not out of the ordinary to perform well, only to be overtaken in the home stretch by an opposing vehicle moving at unnatural speeds. Because challenge, apparently.
On top of these flaws, it’s painfully obvious that Asphalt isn’t interested in fashioning its own identity, just co-opting modes from other racers to give the illusion of breadth. A peek at “Free Race” shows no less than 10 different types of races, ranging from cop chases to “urban destruction,” but none of these display a mode-enabling sense of variation in the track design or even objectives. That’s not always necessary, in the police-chase scenarios particularly, but the game makes no effort to explain or change the parameters; the player has to remember the rules they chose to follow when the race began. It’s sloppy.
Asphalt also comes with online multiplayer, but as with its offline content, the sensation of depth is ethereal. Most every scenario is carried over, but the matchmaking isn’t balanced, meaning that players will have to grind their way to high-level vehicles and upgrades if they want to compete. Strangely, career progress isn’t segregated from multiplayer, but rank is, which leads to level 1 racers rocking Ferrari’s and similar S-class machinery. This renders the playing field all but broken for newcomers, and mandates that the only way to stay competitive is by self-boosting personal upgrades in the offline modes, against said AI. Where’s the fun in that?
Asphalt’s visuals are its strongest suit. It’s a very hygienic title, with nice anti-aliasing and a great framerate. The cars look quite distinguished, and there’s a Garage mode that lets players walk around in first person, using the Vita’s gyroscope feature to ogle their fleets in greater detail.
On the other hand, track designs aren’t so hot. The aliasing might look smooth, but the textures are dull, and the art design behind each of the real world locations does just enough to make them look different- St. Basil’s cathedral in Moscow being a notable standout -but not really interesting. It’s a decent looking game, but the Vita is capable of more.
This is one of those titles that represents “gaming” in its most simple, unambitious sense. It provides a loose idea of what it’s like to drive and race different cars against other cars. No more, no less. There is no compulsion to be either realistic or imaginative, and in that, Asphalt can’t be considered as anything more than a placeholder. It isn’t broken, per se, but it doesn’t work either. There’s simply no reason to play it.
Booting up Asphalt: Injection for the first time feels daunting. With 10 different racing scenarios, a career mode that stretches over 20 tiers (way too long), and a full multiplayer suite, this racer appears to have everything going for it. The truth unfortunately, is that none of it makes an impression. The driving has no personality, and the sense of speed and competition are hamstrung by atrocious rubber band AI.
At best, this is just a pain pill for hardcore racing enthusiasts. As one of four racing games in the Vita’s launch, it’s the only one holding the fort down for the urban street racing sub-genre, but it’s completely lifeless and devoid of originality. Players unable to quell their curiosity will definitely find something playable here, but they’d do just as well to save their money for the eventual Need For Speed release.