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Asphalt 4: Elite Racing

Gameloft, esteemed mobile gaming company and the creators of Asphalt 4: Elite Racing, are one of the more underrated developers of the current gaming landscape. Specialising in games catering to the handheld and arcade markets, it’s fair to say Gameloft have a respectful experience in this popular division. The Asphalt franchise has seen considerable success since its inception, with its unique brand of racing inspired by likes of Need for Speed, Burnout and even Project Gotham Racing. While elements of the game are similar to these titles, it still manages to stand out, and establish itself as an extremely competent videogame, making full use of the iPhone and iPod Touch’s utterly fantastic touch-screen interface.

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With a total lack of buttons, you’d be forgiven for thinking a racing game wouldn’t work on Apple’s little machine. Thankfully, Gameloft has proven this isn’t the case, with three control schemes that all work well. The first control scheme, and arguably the most precise and reliable, uses the touch-screen. By pressing your fingers on the right and left of the screen you can steer your vehicle, with turbo and the brakes a quick button press away. Acceleration is automatic for all control schemes, a wise decision on Gameloft’s part, to avoid player frustration. For the second configuration, you need to tilt the machine to manoeuvre round bends, with a forward tilt enabling turbo. Sometimes the sensitivity becomes an issue, and you can be forever accidentally activating turbo, but it’s a decent alternative to the default that many players will utilise. The final and perhaps weakest control scheme places a steering wheel at the bottom left of the screen. By placing your finger over it you steer the car as you slide your fingers left and right. It’s another decent alternative, just a little awkward.

Upon entering the main game, the interface is initially confusing, with the ability to race just a click away. You get the option to change the track and mode from one screen, whether to play WiFi multiplayer on another, and finally a screen for car selection. Once you learn all the ins and outs of the menu interface, and read up on the help section, you’ll be pleased with how things are laid out, as it lends well to pick-up-and-play gameplay, exactly what iPhone games are made for.

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You get five race modes to indulge in. There’s Duel, which is simply a two-lap race against one other car, and Cop Chase, where you assume the role of the police and need to take down the leading car. Less race orientated is Beat Em ‘All, which is similar to Burnout’s road rage mode, where you need to destroy your opponents cars, this time before you finish three laps – lack of crash damage detracts somewhat from the experience, but this is iPod not PlayStation. Cash attack is a mode where you need to make as much money as possible by smashing up scenery, clearing jumps and collecting cash icons, and finally you have the standard race mode, ironically one of the better games thanks to its no-nonsense, ‘we all know and love it’ status. This plethora of modes is certainly welcome, although dependant on whether you enjoy novelty, you may wish there was less arcade smashing and higher-octane racing, or vice-versa.

The racing gameplay, thanks to the tight and innovative controls, is a lot of fun. Pedestrian cars are out and about and don’t frustrate too often, adding an air of authenticity and the feel of a living, breathing world. When you cause too much havoc the police become on your tail and you need to shrug them off or ram them to get back on track. When you race particularly flashy, utilising the most of your turbo, the news team ride by in a helicopter, which is a neat touch that doesn’t clutter the screen as you’d expect, instead heightening the action. The opponent cars all drive intelligently, and put up quite a fight, yet at the same time the difficulty is well-balanced, affording you a more enjoyable ride. It’s arguably a little too easy sometimes, but that comes down to the skill of the player – it just so happens that this player is extremely adept and skilful.

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Over forty cars and a few motorbikes can be eventually bought, and each is completely licensed and recreated with finesse. Included in the mix are the Ferrari Scuderia, Lotus Elise, Ford GT and the Italian beauty that is the Bugatti Veyron. You can tune every car with new parts; however this part of the game feels slightly pointless, if only for the fact the advantage to customising your ride isn’t massive. It sometimes feels like a chore, especially having to apply the same upgrades to newly purchased cars, but petrol heads should reap the benefits. Because the money you get after the completion of events is significantly larger than the price of each vehicle, there’s no grinding to be had, and newly unlocked cars can be bought with ease – whether this is a bad thing is entirely subjective.

The visuals, and more importantly the tracks, is what makes Asphalt 4: Elite Racing stand out, and the lure of new courses needing to be unlocked is always high. With just under ten tracks, all with four events, this game will keep you busy. The locales range from Shanghai to Dubai, from Hawaii to Rome, and from New York to Las Vegas. The day courses are incredibly scenic, and instead of the same four buildings or sea views cropping up every corner, you get little shanty towns, to palaces, to waterfalls. Each course has been expertly crafted, and there’s always something interesting to see as you drive round them. The night courses boast fluorescent hues and sparkling lights, while the day courses contain coliseums, the Brooklyn Bridge, and sweeping tunnels, amongst other memorable monuments. You’ll enjoy the sight-seeing on offer in this game, and the fact everything is presented through fantastic visuals and the very best production values the iPhone and iPod Touch can offer, is impressive. Gameloft need applauding for the marvellous aesthetic they’ve created here. Sound is decent, with cute snippets of dialogue, predictable engine whirls and police sirens along with a harmless soundtrack. With a game like this, however, audio takes a backseat.

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When you ask yourself whether it’s worth a purchase, the answer couldn’t be simpler. For a pocket money price you’re getting an extremely solid racer, one that ticks lots of boxes. Asphalt 4: Elite Racing is a great racing game, and possibly the best out on Apple’s handheld sensation. The tracks are the real star, with a fantastic range of interesting, replay-friendly locations, and thanks to the controls, you can enjoy them as they were intended. Just like the roads you’ll race on, this game is slick.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @_Frey.

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