As the first non-Angry Birds Xbox game running exclusively on Windows Phone 8, Asphalt 7: Heat understandably had a lot of interest from gamers and some rather lofty expectations to live up to. Now that the downloading issues that plagued last week’s launch have been resolved, we’ve been able to step into the driver’s seat and take it for a spin. Is Asphalt 7 the best arcade-style racing game since Outrun or another trip down a one-way road in the wrong direction like its Windows Phone 7 predecessor, Asphalt 5?
I’m pleased to tell you that Asphalt 7 is not only the best racing game in the Windows Phone library, it’s one of the best games period. Head past the break to find out just how it impressed its way into my icy heart.
Don’t sweat the simulation
Asphalt 7 is easily the most realistic looking 3D game on Windows Phone 8, not that there has been any competition so far. The generous assortment of 15 tracks take place in various exotic locations, boasting a fair amount of detail and gorgeous colors. If not for the slightly low resolution textures, you could mistake it for an early Xbox 360 game.
Realistic looks or not, this game focuses on fast-paced arcade racing over simulation. You won’t be manually shifting gears here. Drifting – a maneuver that can be extremely challenging in some racers is surprisingly easy to pull off. Just tap the brake button while steering left or right and you’ve initiated the drift. It won’t stop until the driver steers hard in the opposite direction, brakes again, or commits the generally inadvisable act of wrecking.
Of course, controls play a big part in any racer’s accessibility. By default, the controls rely entirely on the accelerometer for steering, while pressing anywhere on the left side of the screen brakes and the right side activates Nitro. The standard sensitivity makes driving in a straight line kind of tough, perhaps simulating the experience of driving while fueld by mojitos. Adjusting the sensitivity sobers things up, but don’t expect to pull off massive drifts with wibbly-wobbly controls. Instead, try one of the two all-touch screen control methods. These provide much more accuracy and make the game easier.
Asphalt 7 is a fast-paced game, and the Adrenaline system only makes it faster. By collecting Nitro pick-ups, drifting, and performing various stunts during the race, you’ll fill the Adrenaline meter. You can press the Nitro button at any time for a quick burst of speed. Fill the meter until it flashes and you can activate Adrenaline, the super-charged version of Nitro. The screen turns blue and your car rockets ahead until the meter runs empty. That blueness reduces visibility – a slight trade-off, but it’s more than made up for by the ability to knock oncoming cars and CPU opponents off the road just by touching them.
Pimp my ride
Cars are divided up into seven tiers, with each tier containing several vehicles. They’re all licensed and include such luxury machines as Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Corvettes, and even a DeLorean. Each one can be viewed and rotated from the selection screen, where they look fantastic.
Vehicles can be upgraded to improve their acceleration, Nitro speed, handling, and other factors. On top of that, the game allows a fair degree of visual customization. You’ll have to opportunity to change a ride’s paint job and window colors as well as select from an assortment of decals, all at no cost.
Rep, money and stars
Unlocking those cars and upgrades requires a combination of in-game currency and stars. Winning new events in Career, completing single events in Quick Play, or placing in the top three in multiplayer games are all great ways to earn money. Multiplayer Elimination races provide the fastest payout, especially since an opponent disconnecting results in a win for the remaining player.
Stars prove harder to come by, but there are still several avenues to get them. Most Career events offer up to three stars for finishing in first place. Earn enough rep from participating in races and you’ll level up, thus gaining one star. Leveling up unlocks new decals for customization. Levels also function as a general way to tell how far the players you meet in Multiplayer have made it through the game.
The other, most interesting way of snagging stars comes completing optional goals. Players always have three goals to work toward. Every time you finish one, you get both a star and a new goal. A few examples: drifting X distance, completing Y events, renting Z car, and winning a multiplayer race. There are tons of unique goals, so they can really add variety to the game beyond just trying to win races. If a goal seems problematic, the gamer can always opt to pay in-game money to complete it and get a new one.
On top of earning money and stars through gameplay, either currency can be purchased with real money via credit card or PayPal. You never need to do so, but it can certainly help to get ahead in the game faster. If I had to choose one or the other, I would definitely buy stars. Money is easier to come by, and you need stars to unlock those all-important car upgrades.
The single-player Career consists of 13 cups, each with 4-13 events. You need to place at least third (thus earning one star) in order to pass an event and unlock the next one. The final race in a cup is the Championship in which finishing in first unlocks a new vehicle.
Asphalt 5 suffered from a handful of poorly conceived event types that could be tough to even figure out, let alone win. Mercifully, all of the event types in this sequel are logical and doable. The only one I don’t care for is Paint Job, a race that subtracts time with each collision. But on the whole, the difficulty is quite fair. I did hit a wall at Cup 7 when playing exclusively Career – without some extra money and stars, my car couldn’t keep up with the competition. But hopping into Quick Play or Multiplayer whenever I ran short of money got me back on track.
Asphalt 7 is the first Xbox Windows Phone game with true real-time online multiplayer. Oddly, it requires players to create and sign into a Gameloft Live account rather than Xbox Live. I described the process in detail in a previous article. Just let me reiterate that the separate login was necessitated because Microsoft does not provide Xbox Live developers with real-time multiplayer tools. For whatever reason, the big MS exclusively prefers asynchronous multiplayer on Windows Phone and Windows 8. Gameloft did the best they could under those circumstances. Users’ accounts will carry over to future multiplayer Gameloft titles like N.O.V.A. 3 and Order & Chaos Online, so it’s worth the minor initial hassle.
At the moment, I’m often able to get an online game going within just a few minutes of creating a lobby. The game’s price and overall awesomeness pretty much ensure a decent number of potential players – hopefully the community sticks around in the long term. I did run into the occasional hiccup, but in my handful of hours played online, those were quite infrequent. I only wish we could communicate in-game.
On top of multiplayer (which also supports local Wi-Fi), Asphalt 7 has a few more online features. There’s a weekly challenge called Asphalt Academy in which players compete on a specific event and then get ranked globally. The game also has a built-in method of sending Xbox Live messages for some reason.
Gameloft’s latest has several fun Achievements such as activating Adrenaline in a DeLorean. Oddly, that one doesn’t even reference Back to the Future. Some users might have trouble with the drifting Achievement, but it’s easy once you learn how to go about it. There’s also an Achievement for winning three online races, so I suggest you go after that now while lots of people are playing.
The rest of the Achievements aren’t too challenging – just time consuming. Earning three stars in every Career event and racking up $20,000,000 will take a while. Luckily the grinding system is pleasurable on the whole, so gamers shouldn’t lose interest before the 20-plus hours needed to accomplish everything.
Asphalt 7 will make you forget the glitchy Gameloft games of old. The developer really went all-out on this one, creating a game that feels equal to the robust iOS version in every way. Four months after the launch of Windows Phone 8, we finally have a game that takes advantage of the hardware and couldn’t be accomplished with nearly the same fidelity on the previous OS. If you like racing games even a little bit or just want to support someone making a real, big-budget game for Microsoft’s mobile platform, don’t wait. Buy this game.
Buy it if your device can run it, that is. The game is an 878 MB file but requires about 4.7 GB of free space to install due to platform restrictions (not the developer). It also requires a phone with 1 GB of RAM at the moment, but Gameloft has promised an update that will allow it to run on phones with only 512 MB.
Asphalt 7 costs 99 cents. Get it here at the Windows Phone Store.