Asphalt: Injection is the latest in a long list of Asphalt titles, this time released to capitalize on the launch of the PlayStation Vita. Gameloft has tried to make a fresh start with this series, but the same old problems continue to plague this generic racing franchise. The game barely passes as playable even though it desperately tries to modernize its visual appearance.
As a rule, arcade racing games are allowed to do just about anything within the laws of physics. The only requirement is that the application of those rules be consistent within the game. Asphalt: Injection commits an unforgivable sin in regards to in-game physics; at times you'll be able to bounce off of walls and other objects at top speeds and just keep on trucking, while at other times the softest contact with a wall will utterly wreck your car. And naturally, the AI doesn’t seem to share these same issues. In the latter stages this is particularly devious and will frustrate you no end.
The gameplay is made enjoyable thanks only to the sense of speed and inherent joy of smashing your opponents to bits. But when it comes right down to it, Asphalt Injection is a poor man’s Burnout. The game is divided into Free Race, Career, and Multiplayer modes, and features 20 tracks to race on that imaginatively reconfigure the layout of various cities from around the world. You'll tour circuits based on New York, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Moscow, Shanghai, and more, though each course bears only a superficial resemblance to the city it’s based on.
The career mode has you competing in several different leagues across 10 different game modes. Normal Races comprise most of the time. In these races you square off against five AI opponents and must place in the top three to advance. There are also Elimination races, where the car in last place is eliminated after a certain amount of time has elapsed until there is just one racer left; Time Attack challenges that task you to finish two laps around a circuit with as much time left on the clock as possible; Duels, which pit you against a single AI opponent; Drift challenges, which challenge you to achieve a certain score before the time runs out; Beat ‘Em All, where you have to knockdown a specified number of your opponents during the race; Under Pressure, where you have to complete the race with as few wrecks as possible; Cop Chases in which you're tailed by an aggressive brigade of cops that seek to stop you and give you a ticket by any means necessary; and finally, Collector races, which have you racing to collect certain pickups against rival AI. The combination of these race modes makes for a nice level of variety, but they're all bound together by the same busted game mechanics and shoddy presentation.
Asphalt: Injection features a roster of 45 cars from 19 different manufacturers. The predominant brands or Ferrari and Lamborghini, though RUF, Nissan, Aston Martin and others are represented as well. The car models look adequate in the middle of a race, and even better outside of one. There's no damage modeling, though you will crash the living hell out of these vehicles multiple times, so glass and the like shatters in an unappealing, superficial way. The only way to customize the look of your car is with different paint and decal options. Under the hood you can add upgrades to the engine, brakes, armor, nitrous concentration, and more, and while these upgrade options are nice, they really don’t force you to think about which tuning actions are best for your car; you just add the latest available upgrade then move on to your next race.
Asphalt: Injection features the most uneven presentation I’ve experienced in a videogame to-date. The menu system looks sleek and is relatively simple to navigate, more so with the buttons than the touchscreen. Car models look pleasant, and you have the option to enter your garage and walk around a futuristic and fully realized 3D storage space where you can look at all of your purchased vehicles up close. Some of the tracks are also imaginatively constructed and feature a bold color scheme and sleek lighting effects.
Unfortunately, the load times before races are unbearably lengthy, and the game is prone to obvious visual glitches, so for example cars will appear and disappear right before your eyes, which naturally has implications for what you'll crash into (I’ve even wrecked my car by driving it into absolutely nothing). There's frequent screen tearing and you’ll be able to see through surfaces or pass through other cars as if they were pure ether. If you look closely enough, you'll discover that the model for your driver is just a bifurcated torso sitting in the driver’s seat. On the surface, Asphalt: Injection looks like a slick and modern racing title. But spend any amount of time with it and you'll soon discover just how many corners were cut during development; it's simply a beat up jalopy with a fresh coat of paint trying to sell itself off as brand new.
The audio fares better than the visuals in terms of consistency, but is still lackluster overall. At times the audio is vulnerable to distortion. The musical soundtrack fits the game but is not particularly great in its own right. The sound effects for car crashes are unconvincing and oft repeated, though the car engines actually purr quite convincingly. My least favorite part of the game’s audio is the disembodied voice of the announcer; she's clearly a psychopath who maniacally eggs you on to drive more and more recklessly, all the while repeating her hackneyed spiel far too often (thankfully you have the option to tune her out - something I wish I had discovered sooner).
Multiplayer options allow for racing both locally and online in standard races. If you're unable to assemble a party of six real life players you can fill the rest of the spots with inept and uncompetitive computer AI. You can join or host matches, though your options in setting up a match are limited to track selection and whether or not you want computer opponents to join in. I found that online play during actual races ran quite smoothly on the technical level, though on a practical level the time lost during a crash is much more punishing than it is in single player as everyone else continues to race in real time. There is, however, something more viscerally satisfying about performing a knockdown on a real person rather than a bot. The online keeps track of your race record and there are leaderboards that allow you to compare yourself against the rest of the community. Aside from leveling up and pursuing the game’s few multiplayer trophies, however, the online component doesn't offer much in the way of incentives to keep you coming back, though it can be fun in spurts. Oh, and good luck finding someone to race against.
Asphalt: Injection retails for $30, which makes it a budget title. The career mode alone lasted me more than 10 hours. Considering the amount of potential playtime you get for the price, value is the game’s strongest component. Of course, value takes into account how much fun you'll have as well, and in that respect there's simply too much frustration and too many sloppy design decisions to contend with for much joy to permeate through the cracks. In the end Asphalt: Injection does nothing to elevate the status of this persistent racing series above the level of mediocrity it has long resided in.
This review is based on a retail copy of Asphalt Injection for the PlayStaion Vita.