When Ubisoft announced that it would be publishing a handful of GameLoft’s smartphone titles for the PlayStation Vita, I thought it was a fantastic idea. Finally, a dedicated portable would have some quality budget games to help it compete with the popcorn games of the iPhone and Android platforms. What we got instead were full-priced ports of next-to-free games.
Asphalt Injection isn’t a direct port of Asphalt 6 for the iPhone/Android/MacOS/Symbian/ToasterOven platforms, but to the feature sets are similar enough that the word “port” still applies. Although controls are of course mapped to the Vita’s traditional buttons and analog sticks, Injection still maintains the option to use the accelerometers to steer, for people who are now used to playing racing games on the iPhone or the Wii. There is also a neat control method that allows the driver to use the backtouch panel as a paddle-shifter. None of the control schemes are egregious, which makes it easy to jump in and enjoy a quick game. The jump-in, jump-out style of mobile game is what GameLoft has always done best, and Injection definitely fits that bill. Races are generally quick, allowing commuters to fit a game into even the shortest of bus rides.
Asphalt Injection narrowly holds its own against other contemporary racers, like Ridge Racer. Even when held up against PSP titles, like Burnout Legends it’s hard to find the game’s appeal. There are almost a dozen race types, from Elimination to Time Attack, and just shy of 50 cars to collect. The tracks are rarely challenging, and the computer-aided opponents take the term “rubberband AI” hilariously literal. During a “Wanted” event, Hot Pursuit-style race against the coppers, I pulled ahead of the police, only to have a squad car shoot past me, at what must have been mach 6 in order to be in position for the next roadblock. The tracks themselves look nice as they whizz by, but the twists and turns are a tad too generous to require a lot of skill or strategy. The touchy controls and goofy AI give the game an arcade feel, but unfortunately, the entry-level of challenge keeps it from ever feeling tense or exciting.
If I were playing this game on a cellphone, I would have to point out how stunning the visuals look on my 3” LED screen, but since I am playing on the same 5” OLED screen I used to play Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 and Uncharted, I have to say the opposite feels true on the Vita. The game does look markedly better than a PSP title, but doesn’t really live up to the potential of the Vita. Some of the textures are pixelated and muddy, especially the car decals – which are displayed front-and-center at the start of every race. There are almost 50 licensed cars to choose from, which look nice, but seem to use the same reflective techniques that wowed us when the PS2 first came out. If you want, you can take a closer look at them in your garage, which features a first-person mode in which you walk around a few of your cars and…well that’s it. You just walk from one end of the room to the other.
By this point I’ve suckered you into reading 3 paragraphs that say “this game is okay, all things considered” – which is true – but the real point I want you to take away is this: There is no possible way to justify spending $30 on a 99c game. Buying a copy of Asphalt 6 and setting a $20 bill on fire is literally a better deal than spending $29.99 on Asphalt: Injection. The few additions such as a handful of new cars and even the Vita controls themselves are not worth paying a 3000% premium. Judging from colleague reactions to Ridge Racer and Modnation Racers, Asphalt: Injection may seem like the lesser of three evils for racing fans, but I would personally rather buy the same game, for a device I already own for myself and 29 of my closest friends than spend the full $30 on a wholly forgettable racing experience for my shiny new Vita. I suppose the best option for race-fans is to pick up Burnout Legends on PSN, and form a holding pattern until the holidays.