Review: Asphalt 3D (3DS)

Screeching fault

Gameloft’s racing series is something of a DS staple, with Asphalt: Urban GT launching with the original dual-screened console, a sequel, and then Asphalt 4 available on DSiWare. The French developer is certainly getting some mileage out of the Asphalt name, and now with the 3DS comes Asphalt 3D, a sadly middle-of-the-road affair that fails to impress.

With Namco Bandai launching Ridge Racer 3D, a very capable entry in its arcade series, Gameloft and publisher Ubisoft have some competition out on the track. On paper at least, Asphalt has a lot going for it: 40 licensed cars, a variety of real-world locations, StreetPass functions and a sizeable career mode — but the whole package just fails to come together.

Jumping into the career mode will likely be your first port of call, and with 70 races spread over 14 leagues it’ll keep you going for a long old while. Each league or series contains five races, each with different objectives: finish first, accrue drift points, eliminate opponent racers and so on. Completing a stage rewards you with money to buy new cars or upgrade the ones you have, as well as experience points that increase your standing on the world stage. There are also secondary objectives to meet that dish out extra cash and experience, making it worth retreading old courses if you want to earn everything.

Once you’re behind the wheel, cracks start to appear. The game engine isn’t up to the task at hand, with regular frame rate drops at hairy moments whether the 3D is on or off. There’s also some prominent pop-up of scenery on many courses, something that jolts you out of the game, particularly when viewed in 3D. There’s a nice graphical effect when you trigger a full nitro boost, but otherwise the graphical side of things isn’t up to snuff.

Handling isn’t without its issues either. Whereas Ridge Racer revels in the joy of drifting, Asphalt is yet to carve out its own particular style, and here it seems caught between two minds. While it’s possible to drift with a tap of brake while cornering, hitting the button again sets you right back in a straight line as if it were an auto-centre command. It’s another seemingly small touch that breaks you out of the game, cars going from sideways to dead ahead almost automatically.

The artificial intelligence of your opponents is usually good, as they jostle about with each other and won’t think twice about bumping you to get past, but as street racing is Asphalt’s trademark there are other cars on the road to consider. These drivers are every bit as dangerous as your official opponents: head-on crashes aren’t pretty, losing you vital seconds. It’s the behaviour of these cars that baffles though, sliding around corners without turning, making it hard to predict where they’re heading and causing many a frustrating crash.

While the top screen handles all the in-game action, the bottom screen hosts a map that shows each racer’s position, as well as clearly marking all the available shortcuts, rather taking the challenge out of learning the courses. You can zoom in or out of the map by holding a touchscreen button, but as this usually means taking your thumbs off the all-important steering and accelerating, it’s hardly ideal.

It’s a shame the interface is so hit-and-miss, as the content on offer is rather good. The career mode is substantial and paces the unlockables nicely, with upgrades on older cars helping you keep up with the pace until you can afford a new ride. You also unlock purely decorative decals and the more useful sponsors, which grant you extra abilities: more experience after races, improved handling and so on. For players who stick with it, there’s no question of there being a multitude of things to shoot for.

If multiplayer is more your cup of tea, there’s local wireless play requiring one copy of the game per player, with the ability to share ghost data and lap times to other Asphalt players via StreetPass. Meeting other players this way grants rewards, from extra experience to cash rewards, going right up to meeting 5,000 players, something we’d be very surprised if anyone ever managed. Still, if the game sells well enough it could provide an entertaining diversion to see new times and ghosts appear automatically.

Rounding out the whole affair is a decidedly average audio accompaniment, with some of the worst announcer dialogue we’ve ever heard: “they say South Beach never sleeps, and you won’t want to be sleeping on these corners, or you’ll put the ‘die’ in ‘beach diet.’” The engine sounds, horns and crashes are a mixed bag, and the bland dance soundtrack blands away in the background blandly.

Conclusion

Asphalt 3D’s flaws are mostly minor but there are too many to ignore, and it doesn’t have enough of its own personality to make amends. Its twitchy handling does it no favours – half the fun of powersliding is wrestling control back from your car, but here the cars all bounce back to a central position as if spring-loaded. If you’re after a launch racer, steer towards Ridge Racer instead.