The word "Asphalt" in a video game can only imply two scenarios: racing and construction. Since the latter would probably be filled with lines of cones and frequent lunch breaks, this can only leave Asphalt: Injection as a racing game. Seriously though, this is a Gameloft title on the PlayStation Vita game. Games by this developer are commonly found on cell phones and tablets, so this outing stands as a golden opportunity for it to break into higher-quality game development. As a former owner of the Xperia PLAY, it'd be great to see one of Gameloft's games glorified on a console. With this being one of the first car racing games on the Vita, it has the opportunity to start the bar for its genre pretty high, much like Golden Abyss did for action adventure games.
It took me a fair while to get into this game. In fact, I almost had to force myself, especially after my first few races. My initial perception of the options on the main menu was that the game was limited to simple races, though the menu did use touchscreen functionality. My mindset then made the first few races feel incredibly generic. Honestly, they are, but I'll get back to that. It took a little bit for me to warm up to what this game has in store.
After starting the career mode, I was greeted with about four straightforward races, which didn't help my cause. Then, the game threw me variety. I raced in time trials, elimination rounds, duels, and even demolition rounds (literally, where I had to earn points by running over light poles and construction cones and blockades). The A.I. is very competitive when on the main drag, but I found it fairly ridiculous that no computer player ever used any of the short cuts that frequent each race.
Each track is littered with money signs and nitrous packs to collect, though only nitrous is used mid-game; at one point on each track, Gameloft has left a boost marker for an added advantage, which is usually found in a short cut. The money, which is also earned from winning races and drifting for instance, can be spent on any of the 45 authentic cars that unlock throughout the career mode. On top of that, Gameloft even included the ability to stock cars with enhanced parts and use different sponsors for added relative bonuses, which are also unlocked in the career mode.
The overall experience in this game, as well as the overall locations to unlock trophies, is solely in career mode and multiplayer. The free race is there for people who want that sort of thing, but Asphalt doesn't really give much incentive to linger in any other modes; though, the Garage does allow you to view your cars by using the Vita's Sixaxis functionality, which felt like physically looking at a line of cars.
Now, back to my point about the actual races. The maps are pretty detailed, but the car movement feels a bit too automatic for a console game. In other words, the actual racing element feels like a racer that could easily be put on a cell phone. It definitely put me off until the game styles diversified. Even after that, though, it still feels like a justification for the gameplay. This game has a lot to it, much like a Prius, but it's not as attractive as a Camaro; also like a Prius.
Mechanically, navigating the track doesn't have any sort of challenge. Sharp corners can be taken without even braking, and I felt cheated in moments like this after playing games like Gran Turismo. The controls feel limited by the developer to make use of the joysticks, as it were, more applicable. But these joysticks are fully functioning and don't have the limitations that the PSP nub-stick had. It's fully responsive and the Vita has more than enough functionality to navigate through sharp turns by using the brake; this feature almost felt condescending to the console itself, as if the game was rushed to make it to the launch deadline. The biggest difference between a cell phone and the PS Vita is going to be the ability to manipulate fine-tuned controls. Once Gameloft utilizes that level of functionality, then another racing game under the same banner can hit the streets.
The visuals in this game are decent, and I feel that they could be much better. The game, however, justifies itself with a vast array of game modes that expose themselves as the career mode progresses, which goes on for about twenty different events that consist of at least six races. This game has a lot there. The sounds are a bit low quality, but they're still pretty accurate, though drifting sounds more like drowned but constant radio frequencies that can't find their proper tuning. Asphalt does make up for this very minor issue by delivering a very invigorating soundtrack. Each song has its place, and all of them go well with racing. When I finally started recognizing the songs for what they were instead of blindly racing, the experience begins validating itself even more. It's really unfortunate that the mechanics don't feel authentic.
In a world filled with racing games, it's almost tragic to see a small-name franchise try to compete with names like Ridge Racer and Gran Turismo. Gameloft has something going here, and the sheer feeling it gives by having so much to unlock for both car variety and car parts gives us gamers the same feeling that a lot of racers give us. It's hard to get around the vehicle mechanics, though, even if the core elements of the game are robust. With its flaws, it's still a game that can fill up time for any racing fan, but it may not be up to the standards of elite racing fans. Since it's one of the cheapest Vita games available, it can definitely fill time until something more authentic comes around.
-The Final Word-
Asphalt: Injection is the Prius of the racing genre: it's not great, but it'll get you by.