Having turned up on the N-Gage, the Nintendo DS, and on all manner of mobile phones, Asphalt: Urban GT is fast becoming one of Gameloft's most visible franchises. Its latest iteration brings the entire N-Gage game to the LG VX8000, adding multiplayer functionality over Verizon's high-speed EVDO service. With dozens of vehicles and nine locales to enjoy, online or off, Asphalt: Urban GT Multiplayer brings a lot of quality content to bear, despite some network performance issues.
Racing exotic cars along the world's most beautiful boulevards is an activity ordinarily reserved for eccentric, adrenaline-loving billionaires such as Virgin's Sir Richard Branson. Once again, more reticent billionaires can simulate this experience on their expensive V Cast phones. Asphalt: Urban GT features a host of slick vehicles--all meticulously modeled--ranging from the cute Audi TT Roadster to cars you wouldn't ordinarily see outside of a showroom floor, like the Lamborghini Diablo. Perhaps because these vehicles are licensed, you won't see much in the way of damage modeling; but each car's speed and handling is loosely based on the real deal.
"Loosely" is the key word here, because you'll spend much of your time powersliding into other vehicles and generally comporting yourself in a way that would never fly on the real Champs-Elysées. There's no better way to perpetuate the "ugly American" stereotype than by driving erratically through France's most populous city. On a mobile phone, however, this behavior is perfectly acceptable, even a little cathartic. Asphalt is clearly inspired by other urban racing games, like Need for Speed Underground. Fortunately, though, you won't have to endure any painful dialogue between street-racing hopefuls. Each car is equipped with nitrous oxide canisters, which refuel as you race. Knowing when to hit your nitro boost is a big part of the strategy. Although the 8000's digital keypad isn't ideal for simulating an analog steering wheel, Asphalt's control is manageable. You'll have to use two hands, however--the keypad should be used for braking, nitro boosting, and acceleration control, while the navigation bar should be used for steering. Players with larger hands might feel cramped by this setup, but they'll get over it. The single-player game, with all its modes, is completely intact. In arcade mode, you can choose between instant play, road challenge, free race, time attack, or cop chase modes. The instant play mode lets you start a game right away, with all relevant settings randomized. Road challenge is a short ladder tournament. Free race mode lets you choose a locale and vehicle, and race purely for your own enjoyment. Time attack mode removes all cars from the road, and lets your challenge your best lap and race times.
Cop chase mode is by far the most interesting of these arcade gametypes. In it, you're placed in what looks like a Ford GT with a siren atop its roof--not exactly standard police equipment. This is just as well, though, because the suspects you're pursuing aren't exactly riding around in busted-up Chevy Impalas. Your goal is to lock onto these extreme speeders using a Robocop-esque targeting reticle, and to keep them in sight for several seconds. Incredibly, they'll pull over. This is actually a more difficult feat than you might imagine.
Evolution mode, which exists outside the arcade menu, offers the most robust experience. In it, you start, predictably, with no money to your name and no cars in your garage. Through successive race victories, you can unlock new content, win cash and wheels, and generally achieve street-racing greatness.
Unlike in the single-player modes, all vehicles are immediately playable online, along with nine tracks from cities around the world, including such unlikely locales as Chernobyl, Ukraine and Havana, Cuba. Each city, while not modeled exactly accurately, features recognizable buildings and landmarks.
We were glad to see that Asphalt's collision detection seems improved over previous versions, although it can still be inconsistent. Most of the time, when colliding with an enemy vehicle, you'll hear the appropriate sound and feel some pushback on the controls. Occasionally, though, you'll simply drive through your rival's phantasmal car, as if it were never there.
The online game is pretty conventional, offering single races against one to four human players. CPU-controlled vehicles fill an additional four slots, making for the eight-racer action seen in the single-player game. Your victories will affect your overall rank and whether or not you'll be featured on Asphalt's online leaderboard, which can be viewed at any time. For what it's worth, we were never wanting for competition.
Unfortunately, even with our EVDO-infused connection, we found the game's online performance to be variable. Sometimes we'd enjoy seamless racing with online opponents; in other cases, we saw what looked like a street-racing slideshow. Even during this chunk-up, though, our vehicles performed smoothly.
In fact, Asphalt looks smooth in general, and is still one of the best-looking games on V Cast. The game's intelligent use of motion blur makes the game's frame rate of twenty or so (excellent by mobile standards) look even faster. Anyone who's played the N-Gage version will be hard-pressed to notice a difference. While some of the building textures are a little muddy and repetitive, the car models all have benefited from a great deal of attention and simply look spectacular.
Strangely enough, however, much of Asphalt's music seems to have been removed since the last version, presumably to allow space for multiplayer features. Whereas in the previous game, you could select between five electronica tracks, this version has no in-game music at all. The engine and collision sound effects sound great, as does the female announcer's countdown of "3-2-1"; however, the music is much missed. The rock-and-roll MIDI that plays over the menu screens is now the sole tune. Considering EA's Need for Speed Underground 2 used V Cast to stream eight RealMusic audio tracks, this omission is surprising.
Despite the loss of music, and in spite of network performance inconsistencies, Asphalt: Urban GT Multiplayer should be considered the definitive mobile edition of the game. Although our multiplayer experience was hardly seamless, its more fluid moments suggested that, when it comes to network play, mobile developers are nitro burning in the right direction. Asphalt Multiplayer is probably the experience Gameloft wanted to craft the first time around. If you've already purchased a previous 3D Urban GT, however, you probably won't be compelled to upgrade.