Review: Asphalt 5 (Xbox Live)


Gameloft's long running street racing franchise Asphalt Urban GT power slides onto Xbox Love with Asphalt 5. Unfortunately, the gaming world has left the start line and is a couple of laps ahead of this tired title that needs to be quietly pulled aside and retired from the race.

Author: Gameloft

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The problem with this release is one of timing. Asphalt is a long running franchise, with each version built around a base game engine that is then ported around as many gaming platforms as possible. Any serious Asphalt fan who has any other platform has likely played this game to completion in the past, and there's very little in the Xbox Live version that makes me want to play through it once more.

Asphalt 5 on Windows Phone

It's also a game that feels old when compared to other racing titles on Xbox Live. The graphics are in that horrible no mans land between 'smooth' and 'a little bit jerky'. Switching between the two seemingly at random makes for a slightly nausea inducing drive. The biggest graphical issue I have is when the cars find a ramp and go flying through the air and the subsequent huge drop in frame rate of the car's animation. It's as if the world suddenly had a strobe effect in place and it's horrible.

Assuming you get past the graphical issues, you get to fight the control system.

Three options are available, accelerometer, wheel, and screen. Screen is the simplest to understand, where tapping on the left or right of the screen will steer your car. It is a digital input system, and the longer you hold down on the screen, the more you steer. Worryingly, this is probably the best of the three control systems, but it pops up another issue - with your thumb very close to to the 'back' and 'windows' button, it's very easy to pull yourself out of the game.

Which is when you discover that there is no fast-app switching implemented in Asphalt 5. When you jump back to the game, the whole level is reloaded, a 15 to 20 second wait, and worst of all, your position in the race is not kept - you'll be put back to the start line to run the race all over once more. Quite simply, this is a fail, and very close to a deal-breaker for me.

Asphalt 5 on Windows Phone

The accelerometer is the control system you would expect to see, but here the arcade nature of Asphalt is the issue. To simulate the centripetal force as you go round a corner, the horizon is tilted in the opposite direction. Combined with the tilt of the smartphone in the opposite direction and you have the ludicrous visual of your car tilting at upwards of 60 degrees in a sweeping corner. Very distracting, and not at all fun.

Finally, there's the halfway house of an onscreen steering wheel that you can turn by dragging a finger. I wonder if they actually did a usability test on this - with the wheel on the bottom-left my right-handedness meant I was holding the phone in my left hand and reaching over the screen to the wheel - and then having to try and use my pinkie finger to touch the brake on the bottom right of the screen. Or I could use my non-dominant thumb to steer so I can brake and steer at the same time.

In short, the control system is an exercise in choosing the lesser of three evils.

Asphalt 5 on Windows Phone

Once you get to the game, the AI starts to rear its ugly head. To keep the game challenging, you will be taking on opponents that are only slightly worse than the performance of your car. You need to drive a perfect race to beat them. When you advance a level, and have the option to buy new cars or performance enhancing parts, you have to take them, otherwise your opponents will be unbeatable. The game's challenge is therefore identical no matter how long you have been playing.

This feels false, because the game is always adjusting itself to match your progress in a very linear and mathematical way. It doesn't feel organic. I like my games to have a difficulty curve, but I like surprises and the unexpected. I also love the feeling that I am getting better at something, and Asphalt simply does not give me that feeling. Different race course, different car... same game. The exact same game. It's not noticeable in the demo or the first few levels, but it creeps up on you. Once I realised what was going on, the illusion was shattered.

Putting it together, this is an old game, with slow graphics, frustrating controls, and annoying computer AI. Yes it has a fair bit of name recognition, but anyone who does recognise the name will be aware that Android and iOS have taken digital delivery of Asphalt 7.

I'm struggling to think of a reason to recommend this title on Xbox Live.

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