Review: Asphalt: Injection

AsphaltInjection

Like Woody Allen’s Zelig and Tom Hanks’ Forrest Gump, it always seems to be there, milling facelessly in the crowd of new titles that marks the launch of every major gaming handheld. Or maybe idling its engines is a more appropriate metaphor, given that we’re talking about a racing game: Asphalt: Injection, the series debut on the PlayStation Vita.

As anyone who’s played a previous entry in the Asphalt series—like, say, maybe the most recent 99-cent iPhone version–this is arcade racing at its simplest, for better and for boring. Asphalt: Injection touts its Vita-based tilt controls, but they’re not as effective as rocking the dual sticks. Frankly, the more interesting twist is the ability to use the Vita’s backpanel touch screen to shift gears. Neither Vita feature is even remotely necessary to win races and unlock new cars and events, but Gameloft deserves style points for experimentation. If you’re into it, the Vita’s front-facing camera can also snap a pic of your gloating maw after you’ve sent an online opponent into the side of a mountain.

Those races could be in Los Angeles, Moscow, Switzerland, or any of the exotically rendered locales Injection includes in its event docket. Ostensibly, races are supposed to be about jockeying for position, drifting curves and avoiding spinouts and crashes. In Asphalt: Injection, they basically boil down to collecting nitro power-ups littered obtrusively on the courses—seriously, there are gigantic beacons pointing them out–and mashing the adrenaline button early and often. This is a game that actually has to build in incentives (cash rewards, drift-based events) to force you to drift through the curves. It’s possible to win almost every race without drifting even once, but since it’s also impossible to wipe out by overdrifting, there are reasons to both avoid and mash the left trigger.

Driving through the familiar events—choices run the gamut from elimination and time trials to item-collection and avoiding capture by cops–it’s hard not to wish Asphalt: Injection had swiped a few more elements from other, better racers. Like the unbridled and delicious destruction of Burnout (the series Asphalt most idolizes and apes) or the colorful weapons of Blur. There’s a dealership’s worth of cool licensed cars (Fiats and Fords and Nissans, oh, my) to unlock here once you’ve earned the appropriate amount of cash, but none of them seem to feel or drive any differently. At least they look awesome.

Asphalt: Injection also features the latest entry in the Pantheon of Annoying Announcers—this time, a female who tries (and fails) to inject the sexy into the proceedings. “Are you feeling this? ‘Cause I’m feeling this,” she purrs when you’re trying to hold off a challenger on a straightaway. Great. Thanks for sharing. Now zip it and let me focus on actually winning the race.

Also annoying is the game’s “speeding ticket” function, in which you get docked cash for doing something (speeding, driving in the oncoming lane, etc.) because you happen to be doing it as a cop car drifts by. It’s not generally enough to drastically impede your progress toward unlocking the next cool ride, so it’s a little puzzling as to why it’s even here in the first place.

Asphalt: Injection is a perfectly competent racing game. Unfortunately, in a Vita launch crowd that includes four other racing options—at least three of which are clearly superior choices–that isn’t nearly enough to separate it from the pack.

SkipIt

Pros:
+ Nice array of beautifully rendered tracks
+ Wide range of licensed unlockable cars means you look cool driving
+ Backscreen touchpad shifting is a cool concept

Cons:
– Even with tracks set in icy caves and volcanoes, events feel bland and lifeless
– Female announcer’s attempt to amp the proceedings are a big flat tire
– Upgraded cars don’t feel or drive differently

Game Info:
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Gameloft
Release Date: 2/14/2012
Genre: Racing
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-8 (ad-hoc and online)
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.