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So you wanna go fast? Gameloft's latest iteration of its arcade racing franchise, Asphalt 5, lets you do just that in spades. It is the type of racing game where you often forget about the brake pedal, and can pinball around the track at ridiculous speeds with very little consequence. That is, unless you careen into oncoming traffic and meet a car head-on in a blaze of glory! Asphalt 5 is an unabashed arcade racer that is good-looking, sometimes silly, and almost always fun.
The first thing you will notice is the graphics, and they get a very nice overhaul from the previous version. You start out with two vehicles, a Mini Cooper S and a Nissan 370Z, but can unlock a total of 33 cars and motorcycles including Ferraris, BMWs, and Ducatis, to name a few. There is also a total of 12 tracks to unlock that are very detailed and offer various challenges. There is a nice variety of weather and road conditions across the course locations, including elaborate shortcuts and jumps that can often make the difference between sweet victory and crushing defeat. I did experience the occasional drop in framerate while playing on an iPhone 3G, but not enough to impact the overall experience.
Asphalt 5 offers a single race mode, where you can jump into a quick race, but won't earn any cash or experience. The career mode is where you will spend the bulk of your time, and can unlock all the available cars and venues in the process. You will encounter 8 different race modes as you progress through your career, including Normal, Time Trail, Last Man Standing, Cop Chase, Escape, Cash Attack, Drift, and Duel. These modes offer some nice changes of pace, although the Cop Chase mode, where you are asked to act like the police that often harass you and eliminate a certain amount of your peers during the race, can be very frustrating. It doesn't work as well as the other modes, especially early in the game when your cars don't accelerate as capably, and you will eventually meet a point where you will have to complete these races to advance.
All of the available race modes have you collecting power-ups throughout, such as nitro and cash. You are also rewarded monetarily for aggressive driving maneuvers, and you can then turn that money into better rides and upgrades. Tuning your car is actually a pretty easy experience, as you can upgrade across three different categories: engine, handling and boost. Each category has some options that can be improved by just purchasing the next, better-performing part in a sequence. Each upgrade serves to increase either your acceleration, braking, handling, top speed, boost capacity, or boost speed. You can also change the look of your car at no cost by painting it or affixing decals. Asphalt 5 also offers a menu option called "Girl", where you can choose between different lovely ladies that you earn at certain levels of your career. These girls can provide certain stat boosts such as helping you earn a percentage more money or boost. Although this is an established part of the series, and a very minor one at that, it feels a bit unnecessary and somewhat tacky. A game this good doesn't have to try this hard to be cool.
As far as gameplay goes, Asphalt 5 gives you the option of three different control schemes. The default is accelerometer control with auto-accelerate, and it feels the most natural. You can adjust the sensitivity of the tilt, and can also choose to enable a manual accelerator pedal. There is also tap control, where you tap the left or right sides of the screen to head in the corresponding direction, or a steering wheel control, both of which use auto-acceleration. As far as cameras go, you can choose between close, far or the visceral bumper cam. Regardless of which control/camera combination you choose, you should be zipping along the track as recklessly as possible after relatively little time to acclimate.
For those looking for some multiplayer action, Asphalt 5 offers a variety of local and online solutions. Local multiplayer is both bluetooth and WiFi capable. Online mode lets you host or join a race fairly easily with up to 6 players when you log into Gameloft Live!. There are also online leaderboards, trophies, and Asphalt Academy, which lets players race on a specific track with a specific vehicle to see who can post the fastest time for the week. The multiplayer modes will often let you compete using any vehicle and track, regardless of whether you've unlocked them in career mode.
At the end of the day, Asphalt 5 does not presume to be anything else than what it is, and that's a flat-out arcade racer. It succeeds in its mission, and does so without taking itself too seriously, making it both charming and fun.
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