Asphalt 3 is an arcade racing title from prolific third party phone game publishers Gameloft. Is it streets ahead or does it deserve to get clamped? There's only one way to find out... read our review!
Asphalt 3 is the follow-up to the Asphalt series of games from the
first generation N-Gage and the Nintendo DS. This is a third party
title from Gameloft, who specialise in phone games and have supported
N-Gage since its first generation. (The Asphalt brand is also used on
Java titles from Gameloft, but these aren't really the same games, they
just have similar names and themes.)
The Asphalt games are arcade racers, i.e. they're not realistic in the slightest. Their purpose isn't to simulate driving, but to let you pretend you're in a car chase from films like "The Fast And The Furious", doing ridiculously over-the-top driving that would never be possible in real life. The gameplay revolves around illegal street racing, and the emphasis is firmly on doing stuff you shouldn't do: knocking other cars off the road, driving too fast, smashing into crates etc. The score you get for a race is far more influenced by what you do during the race than where you finish in the race, so if you come first but do very little else then you'll get a very low score.
To get by in Asphalt 3 you have to master two things: nitro boosts and "drifting". In general you should drift on every corner and use nitro boosts on every straight, which if done carefully should get you to the head of the pack fairly quickly. Nitros can be picked up from certain points on the track, and they can also be earned by drifting and other activities.
Of course illegal activity means the police will be after you, and if you do too many bad things you'll see a police badge on the screen to indicate that a police car or bike are on your tail. If they catch you there's a hefty penalty to pay, so you can either try to outrun them or nudge them off the road, both of which earn you bonuses. Illegal activity also attracts the attention of news helicopters and you'll sometimes find yourself looking through the camera of a news report, which means you briefly have to steer the car from above (rather like the original gen N-Gage game Glimmerati).
You start the game with just a couple of tracks unlocked, but as you earn money you can unlock the others, making a total of seven tracks (in order of unlocking): Honolulu, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Rome, St. Petersburg, Mumbai and Tokyo.
Earning money also unlocks new vehicles and new engine parts in the garage. You can choose any unlocked car or bike and any unlocked part before a race. The parts menu gets very complex as you unlock more and more, but the garage helps you by displaying the effect each part has on your vehicle's abilities (for example a part might increase top speed but reduce acceleration).
There are a total of nine cars and three bikes (in order of unlocking): Mini Cooper S, Ford Mustang GT, Kawasaki Z 1000, Nissan GTR R34, Aston Martin V8 Vantage, Chevrolet Corvette Z06, Kawasaki ZX 10R, Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder, Ruf RT 12, Pagani Zonda F, Lamborghini LP 640, Ducati Desmosedici RR.
Whichever car or bike you choose, the other cars on the track will automatically be chosen to match it, and the "rubber band" gameplay means you never pull that far ahead of your rivals, but never fall that far behind either.
There are a total of five game modes which can be unlocked, covering a variety of contrasting gameplay styles:
- Race: A straightforward three lap contest to get to the finish line, you earn the most money from bonuses on the track but you have to finish in the top 3 to keep the money.
- Beat 'Em All: The most aggressive mode, you have to push six other racers or police cars off the track before you've done three laps.
- Cop Chase: The roles are reversed, you control a police car and your task is to catch the leader of some street racers. Hitting innocent cars costs you points, but at least you don't have to worry about police trying to catch you for speeding.
- Vs: You race against one other car to reach the finish line after two laps.
- Cash Attack: You have to earn over $20,000 from various bonuses by the end of three laps. If you earn less than this, you lose the race. One major snag in this mode is that if you lose it doesn't tell you how much you did earn, so you've no idea how much you lost by, making it very difficult to chart your progress.
The strategy you need to win varies wildly from one mode to the other, for example "Beat 'Em All" doesn't require you to be anywhere near the front of the race while "Vs" requires you to come first.
The game can be played in both vertical/portrait and horizontal/landscape modes, and can also be flipped if you want to use the controls on the other side of the phone. Because it's a racing game it felt slightly more comfortable to play in horizontal/landscape mode, but it was still perfectly okay in vertical/portrait mode, especially if you use the camera keys to zoom out a bit before the race begins.
The controls of the game are fairly similar in all modes, with the bulk of features being accessed through the d-pad (the button does nitro, down brakes, left and right steer). Drifts are a bit trickier, you have to press 8 during a turn, but if your phone has gaming keys you can drift with the lower gaming button. The keypad's * and # buttons control the camera angle, which is most useful in vertical/portrait mode as it lets you see more of the road around you.
Three of the twelve vehicles in the game
Before we discuss the graphics in Asphalt 3, it should be remembered
that this isn't a 50 euro console game, it's a 10 euro phone game. As a
phone game, the graphics are very very good. They're not perfect, and
they'd be better if they used the graphics accelerator chip on certain
N-Gage models, but in general the game looks extremely pretty and
detailed. As well as you and the other racers, the streets are populated with other traffic, police cars, trams and even press helicopters, which really adds to the atmosphere. Perhaps the biggest graphical glitch is the strangely wobbly
camera at the beginning, but once the race begins the camera is fine.
The look of each tracks is very different thanks to the globe-trotting nature of the game. The 3D is a lot more detailed than on previous Asphalt games, and the game world on each track feels a lot more real. However, it would have been nice to see more variety on each track through the use of different times of day and different weather conditions (the snow on the St. Petersburg track is a tantalising glimpse of how much this could have added to the game).
The feeling of speed conveyed by the graphics varies from track to track and situation to situation. Sometimes, especially when you're using the bikes, the game feels incredibly fast, but in other situations the game starts to slow down because there are too many objects near each other at once. In general though the game is playably smooth. A higher frame rate is always welcome of course, but the current frame rate is perfectly adequate.
Sound is pretty much what you'd expect from this kind of game, the music is straight out of a Hollywood film with a mixture of pop, rock and hip-hop. The title screen has a rather nice rendition of Misirilou in the style of Dick Dale. The soundtrack and sound effects are all recorded in high quality, and suit the game very well. Whether you like them depends on your taste, but if you enjoy arcade racers then you'll probably enjoy Asphalt 3's sound.
The one problem audiowise was the volume control, which didn't seem to vary the volume properly.
Four of the seven tracks: Honolulu, Tokyo, Mumbai (aka Bombay), Rome
Shamefully, the only Arena feature of Asphalt 3 is a rankings board. No
shadow racing, no online multiplayer, just high score posting.
Even worse, we could not get the rankings to work at all, either in the game or in the N-Gage app. The screen just stayed blank.
As things stand, Asphalt 3 gets a big fat zero for its online features, which is a real shame because it has a lot of potential as an online multiplayer game. Hopefully Asphalt 4 will let us race against each other on the Arena in real time.
If you're looking for a realistic racing simulator, Asphalt 3 is not
for you. If you're looking for a fun, easy-to-get-started arcade racer
then this may well be your cup of tea. Despite its attempts at
realistic graphics Asphalt 3 is actually a very cartoony title, like a
sort of Mario Kart designed for petrolheads, which is a good thing.
A big shock for some people may be how little Asphalt 3 values winning a race or scoring a low lap time. If you get to the front of a race, stay there and finish first, your score will be very low. If you stay in the middle of the pack, cause as much mayhem as possible and then finish third, your score will be very high.
Seven tracks may seem like a small number, but the five distinct game modes make you approach the tracks in totally different ways. Catching a criminal in "Cop Chase" is a completely different game to smashing the city up in "Cash Attack", and this kind of contrast adds greatly to the game's replay value.
Perhaps Asphalt's biggest drawback is the lack of clarity over what actually gets you credit in the end-of-race score. The score rundown after a race has a mysterious "others" section which frequently contains more money than any of the other bonus categories, and even the listed bonuses aren't explained properly anywhere (what's the difference between "Takedown" and "Road Rage" for example?). In one "Beat 'Em All" race this reviewer managed to take down four cars at once at the start of the game, then another, then two at once at the end so that the total score was a bizarre 7 takedowns out of 6, all in the first lap. This would seem to be an amazing fluke, but the end-of-race score was very low because it all happened so quickly. Ironically for an arcade racer, Asphalt 3 seems to punish people for speed.
However, in general Asphalt 3 is a fun and playable game with accessible gameplay, a good selection of game modes, nice sound and nice (though sometimes a bit too jerky) graphics. The lack of online gameplay is a big disappointment though, even shadowracing would have been fun.
AAN Score: 80%
PS: You can watch a gameplay video of Asphalt 3 over on the Unofficial Nokia Gaming Blog.