Release Date: November 14, 2006
When the original Asphalt: Urban GT launched alongside the Nintendo DS just over two years ago, it was met largely with critical indifference. I wasn't surprised – handheld racers have rarely lived up to the hype, and it was Gameloft's first project outside of the mobile gaming market. Toss in a generic title and a simultaneous release of an N-Gage version, and boy … things just didn't look good.
Then again, its biggest competition at the time was the similarly poor Ridge Racer DS, and Asphalt: Urban GT was certainly a better choice than Ping Pals or Sprung. Needless to say, it sold; and clearly, it sold well enough to allow for a sequel in the form of Asphalt 2: Urban GT. However, despite the two-year gap, the DS racing market has barely improved. Aside from the sublime Mario Kart DS, no other racer stands out as a quality release.
I've got some bad news – Asphalt 2: Urban GT is not the racing savior for the Nintendo DS. Despite a decent selection of licensed vehicles (both cars and bikes), the bizarre A.I. patterns and complete lack of challenge effectively kill any excitement potentially held within this solid framework. Not even still images of the Pussycat Dolls can make this more than a mundane exercise in repetition.
Asphalt 2: Urban GT features more than 40 licensed vehicles from a bevy of manufacturers, including Dodge, Ducati, Aston Martin, Hummer and Lamborghini. The variety of vehicles is undoubtedly one of Asphalt 2's strengths, and the cars are very nicely rendered by the 3D engine. If you can tell a Viper GTS-R from an Eclipse GTS in real life, you can do the same in Asphalt 2. Sure, you're not going to mistake the in-game models for real-life cars (this isn't quite Gran Turismo, circa 1998), but the models pack more detail than I expected from a DS racer. Each vehicle can be modified with performance parts and body kits to create the tiny, digital car (or bike) of your dreams.
While the vehicles aim to be reasonably realistic, the racing itself draws much more from an arcade-style racer like Burnout. The handling is loose and often unwieldy, with boost and bonus icons lining the tracks. As with Burnout Revenge, smashing into the back of another vehicle is seen as a bonus, while a head-on collision will almost always ground you for a couple of seconds. Clearly, realism is not a high priority when you are knocking full-sized ambulance vehicles forward into the air – with a motorcycle.
Boost – both the collection and copious use of it – is a major part of the racing experience in Asphalt 2: Urban GT. Blue icons in the shape of nitrous oxide canisters are placed along the 14 tracks, and usually come in sets of three. Nabbing all three icons will fill up a significant part of your meter, though you can also fill it up by causing (or nearly causing) crashes and knocking over road signs. There are three levels of boost, and you can reach the highest tier simply by pressing the boost button three times – assuming you have a large enough boost meter. Due to the plentiful nature of the boost, you can spend the majority of the race sliding around at the highest speeds.
The races in Asphalt 2: Urban GT take place in fourteen environments, including Las Vegas, Dubai, Paris and Tokyo. Though the visuals around the actual track are significantly different, many of the tracks feel very similar due to their restrained nature. Much of your time will be spent on blocked-off roads in major cities (or war zones, oddly enough) with little or no interaction with the surroundings. The limitations of the DS hardware makes for pixelated visuals, but the tracks look fine in motion. More importantly, they look "familiar" – the Las Vegas track has replica versions of many famous signs from the strip, and Tokyo features tight streets with a heavy emphasis on neon lighting.
Also on the courses are police vehicles, which pop up if you cause too much mayhem – which is usually all the time. The police bikes and cruisers are not too much of a nuisance, and can be eliminated simply by ramming them into a nearby wall. Yes, even your Ducati can slam a full-size police car into oblivion. Sadly, in a move that lacks both class and tact, the elimination of any police vehicle will net you a cash bonus, while "Cop Killer!" pops up on the screen. While I fully Gameloft's right to put that slogan in the game, I have to wonder if it is really appropriate in a mass-market game that will likely be played by many children.
Though the land-based police vehicles are easily bested, the laser-equipped helicopters are another subject entirely. With the awesome power of laser technology, the airborne Asphalt 2 police can spin you out simply by locking on to your vehicle – and levy a hefty fine in the process. The laser even works when you are driving through a tunnel! How this feature made the final cut is baffling to me, but it is just one of many aspects of Asphalt 2: Urban GT that confound and bewilder.
Most troubling is the erratic behavior of your A.I. opponents. When you start a race, the cars are oddly separated by a fair distance, though you can catch up to the person in front of you in a matter of seconds. At that point, the opponent will suddenly catch a burst of speed and continually ram into you. However, as soon as you pass any vehicle, you will likely never see it again for the rest of the race. It seems as if your opponents give up as soon as you take a lead – even if the race just began. Essentially, if you can find your way to first place, it will be smooth sailing until the finish line.
Such tactics are reflected in the final finish times, as I typically won each race by an advantage of one minute or more. On the three-lap races, I would often finish two minutes faster than anyone and lap half of my competitors in the process. As you progress through the Evolution championship mode, the races never become more challenging – only more repetitive, as it is the same outcome every time. Be it a Normal, Elimination, or Duel race, I never had trouble finishing with a significant lead. Sure, the goal of the game is to get to the starting line first, but without any real competition, where's the excitement?
Sadly, the game attempts to cover up its weaknesses with "appearances from the Pussycat Dolls," but it is little more than a marketing gimmick. One of roughly a dozen still images of the Dolls appears after you finish a race, and that is the entirety of the "appearance." No music, no video footage; just still images. Speaking of music – Asphalt 2: Urban GT has just one licensed music track: "Lift Me Up" by Moby. This singular track plays during each and every menu screen, which may actually drive you to insanity. The money spent on these licensing gimmicks should have been put towards expanding and enhancing the skinny, repetitive set of original tracks that loop during each race.
Asphalt 2: Urban GT seems to have a lot going for it – 40+ licensed vehicles, over a dozen real-life cities, and still pictures of the Pussycat Dolls. Yet, though the game is gussied up with smooth visuals (and again, the Pussycat Dolls), the incredible ease of each and every event ultimately renders the game worthless for most seasoned gamers. While Asphalt 2 features an impressive amount of content between the Arcade and Evolution modes, it ultimately becomes repetitive after just a few hours of play. Hold tight, DS race fans. Perhaps the upcoming port of Diddy Kong Racing will finally pry you away from Mario Kart DS.
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