Asphalt 5 does more to fill in the pot holes made by previous instalments of the series than pave a brand new path. Nothing more than a tune up was really needed, and with an expanded set of multiplayer options, new cars in the garage, and much improved graphics, this tweaked sequel speeds ahead of the pack.
A mix of street style and crash action, Asphalt 5 fully embraces arcade racing with events that rocket you through the streets of Honolulu and have you chasing down opponents to slam them against mountain cliffs in Aspen.
It's all about speed and decking out a garage packed with rides ranging from a modest Mini Cooper S to powerhouse Ferrari FXX Evolution.
The ability to upgrade each of these vehicles lends surprising depth to the game. Winning events in Career mode unlocks myriad upgrades, which can then be purchased for specific vehicles. Since upgrades do not apply generally to all cars in your garage, you're encouraged to pick and choose which vehicles to tune up with a limited pool of cash earnings. Factor in money needed to buy new vehicles and you'll have to be frugal to get that Ferrari.
Events range from circuit races and one-on-one sprints to drift contests and cop chases. All are good fun aside from cop chases, which conceptually are cool, but play out poorly. The goal is to eliminate a target number of competitors by ramming them off the road. This requires boosting like crazy to pursue an opponent, then slamming your car into them.
Unfortunately, it doesn't happen so easily. It's hard to actually connect with a competitor's vehicle. You're more likely to scrap the guard railing than side-swipe an opponent.
The computer drivers are slippery sorts when it comes to cop chases, and the high number of eliminations required by most stages make them a frustrating endeavour. Reducing the number of crashes necessary for a win (the Rio de Janiero level is right on the money, for example) would be the simplest way to address the issue.
Thanks to a non-linear structure, you're not forced into competing in cop chases or any other event you may not like. With each new driving level achieved, you're usually presented with a small slate of new events. If you don't want to do a cop chase, another event can often be completed to keep your Career moving forward.
Of course, you can always take a detour to multiplayer if you need a break from Career mode. Asphalt 5 revs up competition for up to six via Bluetooth and online. Network play isn't supported, though wi-fi gets the job done. Registering a Gameloft Live account is required.
Complementing the option to host or join circuit races is a new Asphalt Academy, which presents a weekly time trial challenge. It's a nice addition to encourage coming back on a regular basis, even if more could be done in terms of multiplayer incentives.
One element of online competition sure to cause frowns is pausing. In an unwise move, Asphalt 5 allows any participant in an online race to pause at will. While you're only allowed to pause once per race and for limited amount of time, it ought not be allowed at all. It's disruptive and opens the window to unsportsmanlike racing tactics.
Room for improvement exists on the multiplayer side, yet Asphalt 5 provides a phenomenal single-player experience that leaves other App Store racers in the dust. The absence of any discussion of the controls should also serve as a sign of the game's fundamental strength, both tilt and touch options performing admirably.
Some rough edges still need to be smoothed out, even after filling in the pot holes left by earlier instalments. Asphalt 5 nonetheless speeds past these troubles on the road to fun.