Review: Asphalt: Urban GT
Version Reviewed: 1.34
Games Maketh the System
Somewhere in Finland, the big brass plaque that has this etched on it was lost when they were working out how to sell the N-Gage and the QD. Yes, it's a great phone, and probably one of the best Series 60 phones out there. But it's sold as a games machine, it's perceived as a games machine, which means it could be the greatest phone in the world, if it doesn't deliver on this one front, then it's doomed.
Can the N-Gage finally deliver in the run up to its second Christmas market? Looking at the early Q4 games, the N-Gage is in a healthier state than it has ever been before. Because now the genre titles that have been missing are coming out, and the N-Gage is starting to fire on all cylinders. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Exhibit 7, "Asphalt: Urban GT," the driving game.
Almost every system has its driving game of choice, and up till now, the N-Gage has had the rather lacklustre Crash Nitro Kart occupying the "Cartoon Karting" style of driving, but we've not had an arcade/real life style game in the Advance GT or Gran Turismo style. While Sega Rally was going to be the first entry, it became another 'lost' title from Sega for reasons that became painfully obvious on the first lap.
But Asphalt GT does the business, in a fashion.
Real Life Places, Cars and Adrenaline.
For a long time, Asphalt has been trailed as being ultra realistic, with real places, real cars and everything you expect from a modern driving game. So we’ve got a choice of a number of cars, from a Hummer, which is grossly over-large US Land Rover, to the Lamborghini Galardo. And all them have a modification to the standard factory fare. Nitro boost. This is the first hint that the expectations of the game aren’t exactly in line with the realism that’s been promoted since the summer.
Asphalt is not a ‘realistic racing game like Gran Turisimo. These have been done on other devices (notably Advance GT on the Nintendo GBA) and done well, so let’s not hear about how they wouldn’t work. They would. So my first ten minutes with Asphalt were a complete let down, and all I could think of was that this wasn't the game I was expecting. But I got through that, and found a pretty competent arcade racer.
Arcade is the key word here. Forget about treating the cars like a car, or changing gears, or anything remotely like going down to Wal-Mart in a Jaguar. If I had to say what Asphalt compared to, it would be Cruisin’ USA. Mash the accelerator down and keep it there for the whole race. Okay maybe the occasional lift off to get through a sequence of corners, but never ever use the brake as a brake.
The learning curve on Asphalt is quite an interesting one. Getting a fast time is all about knowing where to position your car on the track so you can take the ‘arcade’ racing line. While you’re trying to find that, you’re all over the shop, crashing off the road, into barriers, shops, tunnels and buses. And you’ll finish in 8th place. At one point everything clicks into place, and lo and behold you’re challenging for 1st place.
The final key is learning to power-slide the car around the corner. This is the only time you need the brake key and once you work this out, you’re home free and on the winners rostrum as regular as Michael Schumacher driving a big red sports car starting with the letter 'F'. Line yourself up in the middle of the road, and then move slightly away from the corner. Turn in, tap the brake key, and then get back on the throttle. Welcome to your power slide nirvana… and the handy word ‘drift!’ appearing in the bottom left of the screen.
Where it gets interesting is in bluetooth multi-player with your friends - who have also worked out the fastest way around the courses. Good knockabout fun is almost a given, but again, the speed and frame rate don't fall away during multiplayer - which is good.
Evolution - The Ongoing Game
So cracking the single race doesn’t take long, maybe a good day or two of playing. And if that’s all there was, then no matter how fast and smooth the game is (and I’ve yet to see any frame drop off while playing) it would get really boring once you work out how to win. This is where the Evolution mode comes in.
It’s a series of competitions, normally run over three races, in a league table. You start off able to enter only one event, and depending on where you finish in the final table, you can earn money, spare parts for your car, and new cars. If you win, you unlock the next competition, which is usually for a different class of car. So to start you’re racing the little sports cars and the Land Rovers, but over time you’ll build up a garage of faster and more expensive cars, with sports tuning, improved suspension and better grip on the road. It doesn’t affect the gameplay to a great extent (you still power slide and take the same line no matter the car) but, and all credit to Gameloft here, it’s actually very addictive.
Making you want to carry on driving round the same courses, albeit with different cars, is that unknown something that lifts Asphalt from being a mediocre arcade racer game, into something approaching greatness.
I Can Get This For The Gameboy
I'm going to drop Asphalt GT a few points in the final score, mainly because it's not an exclusive title. For all the marketing effort and money Nokia have put behind it, the fact that it's also going to be a launch title for the Gameboy Dual Screen is going to take away from the impact of this title. The N-Gage can't operate without looking at the competition, and I'm waiting to see just how much of a difference the Dual Screen and landscape view on Nintendo's redesigned Game and Watch style Gameboy make to the game.
But even without that caveat, Asphalt would still just miss out on a recommended award. Asphalt: Urban GT isn't the game that will make people walk out and buy the N-Gage. What it does show is that the N-Gage isn't an island, and if you do buy into Nokia's vision, then you'll still get the cross platform titles. Giving people the confidence that the N-Gage can deliver good titles like Asphalt should result in people seriously thinking about a purchase. But it won't make people run out and buy the QD on Asphalt's merit alone.
I’m not beating up Asphalt; it’s a pretty good game. The graphics are fast and smooth, you do have a sense of speed and the feel of driving on the limit. It’s well coded and the addiction level is pitched just about right. It’s good for the N-Gage, it's just not an out and out classic. So a 76% score is going into the garage. And I’m away to race round New York again. Excuse me.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at