Yesterday Gameloft released the next iteration of their long-standing racing series for iPhone and iPad: Asphalt 7 - Heat.
Asphalt 7 includes 15 tracks based on real-world locations and 60 brand-name cars to drive. There's multiplayer support for 5 racers, either online or local, through which you can place on leaderboards (Gameloft's, no Game Center here). There are also weekly challenges if you feel like you've got what it takes to take on the best racers out there. The core career gameplay takes you through 15 leagues and 150 races in 6 different game types, including Burnout-style takedown matches, time trials, elimination matches, and classic races.
The usual progression scheme is found in Asphalt 7: pick a car, win a race, earn rep, level up, access new cars and new races. Rep is earned depending on how well you race; the riskier your maneuvers, the more your combo meter goes up, the more rep you continue to earn. You have to keep up the fancy driving though, since your multiplier gradually drops over time.
Cars are broken up by tier depending on speed, and you get one car from each tier to start. This might be a redundant thing to say for a racing game, but these cars go fast. I've found the need for sharp reflexes are apparent even in the first level - moreso than most racing games I've played on iOS. The controls are nicelyto accommodate twitchiness without being overly sensitive (though you can adjust steering sensitivity in settings). I found drifting controls to be quite smooth and intuitive. Control style options spans the usual gamut, like accelerometer-based steering, tap steering, or manual gas and brake control.
As you race, you pick up cash, nitro, and speed boosts. A nitro meter gradually fills up as you drift, crash through destructable terrain, and whiz by civilian traffic. On a mostly-full bar, you can tap your nitro button three times to get going pretty quickly, or you can wait until it's completely full to enter the trippy Adrenaline mode, which gives you a massive speed boost and lets you plow right through the competition.
You earn in-game cash from winning races which can be spent up cars, upgrades, and pre-race power-ups (sponsors). You earn stars for completing challenges, which cycle and change as they're completed, and are awarded up to three stars for completing career events, depending on how well you do. Both stars and game currency can be acquired through in-app purchases. All cars are unlocked with stars and bought with the in-game cash. It's refreshing that stars are more of a progress indicator rather than a premium currency; in a lot of mobile games you have to save up premium currency for big purchases, then start again from scratch after you've spent it. It's definitely more in line with console racing games to earn stars as you go (though the option to buy them outright is strictly a mobile thing).
At the end of every race, Asphalt 7 hopelessly tries to get you to share your race results and achievements with Facebook for additional bonus rewards, which gets irritating very quickly if you've already decided not to spam your timeline with game stuff.
Threre's a broad array of customization available for each car, including paint job, decals, window tint, and plenty of performance enhancement for acceleration, speed, nitro, steering, and even armor.
The graphics are optimized for the new iPad's Retina display, and are ripe with detailed models, smooth animation, lens flare effects, dynamic reflections, motion blur, and a lot more. Asphalt 7 doesn't try too hard to be a true-to-life simulator like Real Racing 2, though - you'll find plenty of glowing power-ups along the track, and given the arcade feel of the gameplay, that look is totally appropriate. The music earns top marks - it's modern, fast, and sets a perfect mood for racing. As you might expect, all of these assets add up to a fair bit of room on your device (1 GB), so make sure you've got the room or you're willing to ditch another game.
For a buck, Asphalt 7 - Heat really burns rubber. Sure, it's on promotion right now and will likely get bumped up to $4.99 in the next couple of weeks, but at the current price point, it's obvious that Gameloft is betting that you'll end up spending cash on in-app purchases. The implementation is sound in that you certainly aren't required to buy anything in order to progress, but if you've already paid for the game, I'd rather not have to deal with the pre-game prompts for sponsored boosts. I get that they want me to burn through my in-game cash more quickly and make me feel the need to top-up with real money, but that basically boils down to a pay-to-win scenario. Honestly, this game doesn't need in-app purchases.
Equally pushy are the prompts after every race to share my results online for extra rewards. By all means, give me a pop-up letting me know about levelling up or my results, and sure, have an option to share to Facebook, but the dialog is still set up as "Do you want to share online?" rather than "Good work, you're awesome, let's get on with your next race".
Those niggles aside, Asphalt 7 delivers a really excellent racing experience on iOS. The graphics are sharp, the music is positively awesome, and the multiplayer is smooth and seamless.