Interplay's Red Asphalt is one of the most interesting racing games to come along in a while. Rather than just using speed to win races, you have at your disposal front and rear guns to take out the competition as you overtake them. In addition, the game features a (very slight) RPG element, as you are awarded experience points for winning races. Along with WipeOut XL, Twisted Metal, and Destruction Derby, Red Asphalt proves that racing games can be more than just driving in circles.
Sure, the game is packed with all kinds of plasma guns, oil slicks, and even napalm, but the emphasis here is still on racing. Killing off your enemies is simply a means to get ahead. They don't really die anyway, they're just forced to lose five seconds of race time or so, waiting for a replacement car to drop on the track. If you win races, you gain experience points (to raise your driver's driving, targeting accuracy, and damage stats), cash (usable to buy armor, more powerful weapons, nitros, or whole new cars), and "chaos" points, which are required to advance to new worlds.
This is one of the more innovative looking racers since WipeOut XL. Gorgeous use of color - especially noticeable when you move on to a new world - and solidly detailed texture mapping never seem to impede the game's frame rate. The cars are a lot more solid looking than in, say, Twisted Metal 2, although the comparison may not be entirely fair since that game is entirely 3D (in play as well as looks).
The level design of each world's tracks is what really sets Red Asphalt apart from other racers. Sure, each of the six tracks in the first world (Los Angeles) is noticeably similar, each being essentially an extended version of the previous track. But you won't care when you get to Varkon, the second world, which for all intents and purposes is hell, with lava falls, glowing skulls, and amazing jumps. The game really gets hectic here, with some jumps that are impossible to make without a nitro boost. Miss one, and plunge to your (temporary) death. Even if you pull off the speed required, some of the jumps have extremely narrow stretches of track to land on, making it easy to miss your target and end up vulcanized in lava. And check out the tropical amusement park stylings of the twilight third world, Tranzine. Again, this game just looks great.
Red Asphalt has arcade-style driving controls, which are a snap - at least to drive. The vehicles are extremely responsive, and you'll have no difficulty taking turns at high speeds. The four primary buttons control offensive weapons, defensive weapons (they shoot out the back), nitro boosts, and acceleration. It's a little difficult to master them in the default configuration, since you're nearly always holding down three of the four. Certain weapons are disappointingly ineffectual also. It's a shame to save up through six races to buy an expensive new car whose missile system would be powerful, if it didn't have such a weak targeting system, which when coupled with very slow regeneration makes it almost useless.
The only real shortcoming with Red Asphalt is that the combat element could be a little more precise, or ultimately more important. Weapon targeting is often more a question of your character's targeting attribute than actual player control. This is especially true of the defensive weapons, which just fire off randomly from behind your vehicle, without even the pretense of player control. And since being "killed" by the opposition essentially entails just a few seconds of watching your opponents pass you up, rather than any substantial loss, it's entirely possible to win the game ignoring the combat angle entirely and just focus on driving.
Still, Red Asphalt is a solid contribution to the "drive 'n' kill" genre. The variety of weaponry and level design prove that the future of driving games is in all the extra stuff that makes racing more exciting than the real thing, without displacing the primary goal of just driving like hell.