Asphalt 4: Elite Racing iPhone Review

Few iPhone apps have as much content as Asphalt 4: Elite Racing. Gameloft took almost everything we love about racing games (crashes, customization, sports cars, online play) and shoved it into a $9.99 package that'll have you burning rubber for months.

By the looks of it, Asphalt 4 wants to be Gran Turismo, Project Gotham Racing and Burnout. You've got a technically sophisticated racing game with cars and bikes from manufacturers like Ferrari, BMW, Mercedes, Nissan, Kawasaki, Ford and Aston Martin, among others. You also have the option of customizing them using a plethora of parts that let you change rims, tires, air filters, pistons, cylinders, brakes and shock absorbers, but this isn't a straight up simulation. There's an attractive arcade edge that removes us from boring racetracks and takes us to 12 locales from around the world, such scenic locations as Dubai, Monte Carlo, New York City, Rome, Las Vegas and Hawaii. In addition, Gameloft borrows a feature from Electronic Arts' Burnout games and allows players to perform Takedowns on their opponents by ramming them, though enemies don't explore or become twisted wrecks. All of this combines to form a solid package, the best of all worlds, but in order to enjoy it, you need the right control scheme.

Asphalt comes with three ways to control its vehicles and two are good. The default, and least efficient, challenges you to steer by touching the left and right sides of the screen. Gameloft did a great job with the touch screen recognition, but it's much too difficult applying actual steering to pressing a flat surface. As a result, our cars made sharp turns, scraped against guardrails and plowed through cones, ultimately losing us numerous races.

Fortunately, the other two control methods work great. Tilting the phone to steer is by far the best way to play Asphalt, but if you prefer a different approach, you can steer with a tiny thumb wheel on the left side of the screen. It's not nearly as easy to use as the accelerometer, but you'll get the hang of it.

Once you find the best control scheme, prepare for a fun ride. Asphalt is immensely enjoyable, not only for its wealth of hidden goodies, but also because of its sharp 3-D visuals. You'll blaze through a neon filled Times Square, explore downtown Hollywood (Gameloft even put stars on the sidewalks) and pass luxury yachts in Monte Carlo, all the while jockeying for first place and shoving your enemies into walls.

That said, the game isn't without some nagging issues, starting with online play. For whatever reason, we had trouble setting up matches. Kudos to Gameloft for including this feature, but we've been unable to find games, despite leaving our phones connected to servers upwards of five minutes at a time while connected to a speedy Wi-Fi connection. Either the game has connection issues, or no one plays it online. It's a bummer either way.

On top of that, Asphalt's racing action occasionally becomes choppy when too much happens on screen, and the game does not automatically pause when you receive calls. Instead, you end the call and immediately return to the race.

Finally, watch out for the nitro button. It's great being able to give our cars a nitrous boost, but it's too easy to accidentally press the icon (located on the lower right side of the screen) with the first control scheme. However, since we never use it, this isn't a problem.

Asphalt 4: Elite Racing is the most feature packed and fun iPhone racer, a game that actually deserves its $9.99 price tag. You'll gets hours upon hours of wheel swerving, nitrous boosting goodness, all wrapped within a gorgeous display of scenery and muscle machines. Don't even bother with the iPhone's other racing games. Asphalt is the Ferrari to the competitions' Volvo.

What's Hot: Crisp and detailed graphics, numerous racetracks, lots of real world cars and bikes, good vehicle customization, horizontal and vertical play, Burnout style takedowns, excellent accelerometer controls.

What's Not: Touch controls are too difficult, at times sluggish racing, receiving a call does not automatically pause the game, difficult to get an online match, cannot change control scheme from the main menu.

4/5