Let's immediately overlook the suggestion that Asphalt 4 drivers have girls locked away, and only set them free when it comes to taking them on high-speed, nitro-fuelled burnouts around the city. Although that concept is somewhat in keeping with the loading screen's hints and tips that advise you to perform 'illegal acts' to earn more money and get on the telly.
It's all in good humour and is in no way the kind of gameplay that'd rile up Jack Thompson, but there is something a tad gratuitous about the way Asphalt 4 attempts to court controversy right from the start. Being chased by smokies is a great addition to a city-based racing game, but curt statements about how cool it is to do illegal things (without specifying their gaming benefit or making them particularly apparent during play) comes across as quite distasteful.
Putting our pedal to the floor, we'll race past the vulgarity of strained controversy and check out this latest addition to the popular Asphalt franchise. This standard version (as opposed to the HD version also available), doesn't make a huge improvement on the previous game, but it does make a small effort to give fans something extra to burn their rubber on. New cars, new tracks and new girls form the crux of those additions, which is no bad thing as these are the core elements of modern racing games.
Gameloft has had a lot of practice when it comes to making these urban racing games, so naturally Asphalt 4 is well polished. The different game modes add a decent number of reasons to circle the same, albeit diverse, city circuits that bring the game closer to typical console racers than previously seen. The Cop Chase and Beat 'em All modes are particularly interesting and give the game a significantly different tang from the usual knockout racing.
The addition of police involvement in the races also throws an intriguing spanner in the works (I love that phrase), and gives you something else to contend with other than simply jabbing away at the boost button in an attempt to squeeze past the next competitor. But that doesn't entirely camouflage Asphalt 4's underlying problem.
The game is anchored down by its own far-reaching scope. It struggles as the cars fill up the screen, and when the news chopper sweeps into view to give you 15 minutes of notorious fame, the game system stutters trying to keep up. Hitting the boost button in busy traffic jumps the car ahead a few hundred yards, often into a building or streetlamp, with enough of a reduced frame rate for your to lose all visual coherence.
The drift function, which is remarkably slick in operation, works by sliding your thumb up from the '4' or '6' buttons (which control steering) onto '1' or '3'. The car then begins to slide around the corners and, with careful control, you can perform some pretty amazing and reckless rubber-burning antics around the tracks while adding a pseudo-analogue steering mechanic to the gameplay.
Other than this superb drift capability on the corners, the driving feels rather disjointed. One moment you'll be catching up on the car you're chasing, the next you've fallen behind without any clear indication as to where your lead boots went. The Police will come and go seemingly at random, while the boost is so negligible on a pimped out motor that you feel to be very limited in your top speeds.
There's no denying the Asphalt series is an overall success, but this fourth game doesn't offer enough to warrant a significant resurgence of interest. Mobile racing fans without a hot new car to drive should certainly look into Asphalt 4, but casual gamers or those who're expecting a noteworthy upgrade from the third instalment might find pickings a little slim.