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Asphalt 3D - 3DS Review

Game Info
Asphalt 3D

3DS | Ubisoft | 1-6 Players (local multiplayer/co-operative play) | StreetPass Support | Out Now
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31st May 2011; By KnucklesSonic8

"You never forget your first". That phrase came to mind many times as I was preparing for this review since Asphalt 3D was actually the first game I tried for the system prior to launch. After trying the demo, I came away with very mixed feelings but I found myself wanting to continue racing. Now that I've had time to play it on my own terms, I've developed a different attitude towards the game. The technical flaws in this game are appalling -- you can't dispute that. But what's surprising is that tucked away under the rough exterior lies a game that sincerely tries to pull you in anyway. And it's that faint level of hope that may ultimately spare this launch title from having a terrible image.

    The first thing you'll notice when you make your way to the Main Menu is the sleek impression the visuals give off. The garage area presents your default car on a display platform for you to gawk at, with the Circle Pad being used to give you an all-around look at your vehicle of choice. In front of that is a player card (a driver's license, if you will) that lists how many events you've cleared and ranks you based on your competencies. It's a great little hub that's much more pleasing to look at than traditional menu screens.

    Asphalt 3D features four modes where you can burn rubber. Career has players completing leagues and individual competitions to unlock new upgrades, locations, and vehicles. Free Race allows you to select one of the available gameplay styles (Race, Ghost, Vigilante or High Speed Chase) and race to your heart's content. Multiplayer gives you the ability to host or join local games amongst fellow 3DS owners who own a copy of the game. And finally, StreetPass mode lets you compare stats with other players you've encountered and even collect ghost data. And what's especially great about this is that you don't even need to have the game running to do so.

    Most of your time in the game will be spent in the Career option as you work from the ground up to build a name for yourself. This is done by completing various challenges, set out in a league-based format. There are more than 12 different classes featuring five challenges with AI of increasing difficulty. The challenges themselves range in objectives that go beyond just simply racing to the finish line. You also have drifting and cash-building events, time trials, elimination races, knockdown challenges, duels, and high-speed chases. In addition to the main tasks, you also have bonus challenges that can add replayability to tasks you've already completed. There's definitely some variety to be explored and in the process, you'll discover that some events play out better than others. 

    Over the course of your races, you'll earn bonus cash for performing stunts, destroying environmental objects, finding new shortcuts, escaping police cars, or pulling off risky moves against the flow of traffic. Colliding with a car or a wall at high speeds will result in a costly crash that will set you back in funds, as will getting stopped by the police. At the end of a challenge, you'll get a summary of your accomplishments and earn additional experience points if you manage to complete any bonus challenges. Then you can move straight onto the next mission without having to go back to the Main Menu. Career also offers players the ability to team up with sponsors to earn additional rewards. As well, the game features an Achievements area where you can set 16 different goals for yourself, including scoring a 1000-Point drift.

    In the way of vehicles, Asphalt 3D has a good list of unlockable luxury cars, bikes, and other futuristic transports. Additional vehicles won't be unlocked until you reach a certain experience level and even then you'll still need to fork over the needed dough to actually use them. But with a few exceptions, they won't set you back too much. They aren't fully decked out when you buy them and that's where the Tuning area comes in. Players will need to unlock general part upgrades for the engine, handling and the boost power and apply these to the vehicles idling in the garage. You can also customize your vehicles by applying unlockable decals or a desired colour scheme.

For the most part, Asphalt 3D is user-friendly in the way it has been designed. Controls are easy enough to follow, with the A Button used to accelerate, B to brake or drift, and either X, Y or the R Trigger to activate the Nitro. The L Trigger is used to change the frontal view to near, far, or even inside the windshield. Strangely enough, that last one takes some time to get used to because of the implications this has on the drifting. 

    Using the Circle Pad to move your vehicle left and right feels right on paper, but when you actually see the results on-screen you may have a different take altogether. Usually you'll find the movements with the cars aren't as fluid as they could be, and bikes just feel really stiff. And speaking of not fluid, the map on the Touch Screen is so ineffectively choppy that you're better off never referring to it at all.

    Much of the gameplay mechanics revolve around the built-in boost system. A four-tier structure is in place to encourage a small degree of strategy in amongst the fast-paced racing. Your boost gauge at the top of the screen can be filled by zooming through Nitro icons, drifting, or creating mayhem on the track. With enough energy, you can initiate the Boost up to three times for increased power. When your energy bar is full, you'll pull off the HyperSpeed move where everything around you darkens and the sides of the track light up with neon colours to add atmosphere. I enjoyed seeing these speed-driven moments play out especially while 3D was active since it made the sense of speed that much more gripping.

    With boost power activated, you can ram into the bumpers of rival cars and knock them off the track, or push police cruisers into side-railings. As this happens, the in-game cam pans back to show your car speeding off as the victim gets sent backwards in a crash. These are referred to as Knockdowns in the game, and they are fun to pull off even on the fiftieth attempt. They aren't always fun to watch, though. Many times when 3D is active, you'll either get a delayed response or jittery animations when multiple cruisers are involved. 

    In addition to the main roads and the occasional shortcut or two, you also have special stunt moments where the HUD disappears to emphasize the moment. I suppose they were fine, but they didn't really have much of an impact on the game's action element. I did have an issue, however, with a stunt in the Hawaii stage that clearly wasn't programmed properly.

My biggest gripes with the mechanics stem from the drifting system. The process of entering drifts could have definitely been integrated a lot better. Even if you've reached minimum speed to pull it off, pressing B while moving the D-Pad in the opposite direction of travel won't always set you up for a nice drift. Sometimes, the game will confuse a drift with a brake and slow your car down instead, much to your frustration. Then there's the fact that exiting from the drift does not feel fluid at all and trying to transition from a boost to a drift won't always work the way you plan. To top it all off, drifting over longer periods actually slows you down! These issues serve as a huge threat to the amount of fun you can have with the game.

    More on the use of 3D, this racing title makes use of the 3DS' main strength to an adequate degree. For the most part, the effects do work well when the slider is set to its fullest capacity, adding more excitement to the gameplay. Sometimes the pop-up text during races can be distracting because of the lack of contrast. The HUD becomes even more distracting when you use bikes due to the proximity between the top display and the biker's head.

    Aside from that, the visuals do look pleasing. There are 17 different environments in all set in real-life locations around the world. Most of them look nice with the different details that were added to create some setting, like sunshine reflecting off roads and streetlights adding to a nightlife scene. I did find it unnatural, though, to see bikes have a black rectangular shadow underneath them. But really, that's the least of your worries...

    A much more serious flaw that severely hampers this game is the problematic framerate. One moment it could be holding up pretty well, but then a crash takes place and things slow down drastically. Interestingly, some areas within a given location experience more slowdown than others, and after doing multiple challenges on a single track, you start to pick up on this. After a couple hours, I was finally starting to get used to the unsteadiness of the framerate, and just as I thought the game was improving, the technical flaws seemed to get worse. Glitches started to pop up and the slowdowns at times would reach a level of awfulness that, on its own, would be extremely hard to forgive. On a more positive note, though, when you're playing by yourself in a Ghost Race or a Time Trial, the framerate holds up just fine! If it were not for the fact that the game is actually fun to play, all of these recurring issues would surely have destroyed this game's potential for success. 

In terms of audio, Asphalt 3D isn't particularly impressive or anything. I enjoyed the soft electric tune featured on the Main Menu, and there were maybe one or two techno songs that were actually of good quality. The rest were either dreadfully average or just plain irritating. I liked the presence of the voiceover in this game as it made the experience a little more immersive, even though I did pick up on some inaccuracies (e.g., introducing a mode as "Street Punk Buster" instead of the actual name, "Vigilante").

    There are lots of stuff to do in this game, which is another one of this game's positive attributes. Besides the Championship Leagues which should definitely take you over 10 hours to clear, you also have Bonus Challenges, multiplayer support for up to 6 players, and the fun of racing ghosts of your own times or that of others. Even after having spent over 12 hours with the game, I could still find content to keep me occupied before the game is only used for multiplayer purposes. It's a shame players don't have the ability to pit their skills online, because that would have made this an even stronger contender. During the game's development, there were signs that pointed to the presence of online races, so it's very disappointing to see the developers didn't end up following through on this.

    There's no denying Asphalt 3D has serious problems. What could have been a good launch title has been hampered by a host of technical flaws that would quickly send impatient gamers to an unhappy place. It definitely has the makings of a good game and it's very content-driven. However, even if you have enough patience to see it through it all, the thought of spending $40 on this game is absolutely ludicrous! So in the end, Asphalt 3D is a game best left on the shelf.

17/30 - Below Average

Gameplay 5/10 - Drifting could have definitely used some work, controls feel stiff at times, exciting boost effects, different mission types
Presentation 5/10 - Mild-to-severe lag, glitches really bring it down, good use of 3D, selection of techno is a mixed bag, good visuals
Enjoyment 3/5 - Can be fun once you get going and the game is co-operating, having to put up with the technical flaws is frustrating, fun Knockdowns
Extra Content 4/5 - Championship leagues, unlockable cars and upgrades, achievements, good StreetPass incorporation, multiplayer, definitely not worth $40

Equivalent to a score of 57% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)

Review by KnucklesSonic8
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