Gameloft took its sweet time getting its games in the Google Play Store, but when the French developer finally got its act together it offered some great stuff. The Asphalt series of racing games has been a mainstay of Android for a while now, and the newest incarnation, Asphalt 7, has finally launched. Now that there are so many alternatives, should you still be revving your engine for Asphalt? Let's see.

Controls

The default control scheme is probably going to be familiar to anyone that has ever played a racing game on a mobile device. Your car will accelerate constantly, unless you press over on the left of the screen to brake. Tilting the device left and right will control steering and drifting. You can kick off a drift by tapping the brake while turning ever so slightly. Another quick tap on the brakes will stop your drift.

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If you tap on the right half of the screen, you will trigger your nitro boost. A meter at the top of the display will tell you how much juice you've got. Drifts and other fancy driving gets you nitro fuel. Steering is still possible while pumping nitro into your car, but it's sluggish. If you need to make a turn, tap the brakes to end the nitro boost.

That's really all there is to the control of Asphalt, and that's a good thing. Controls for racing games are pretty well defined, and there's no use adding unnecessary features that won't be as good. There are some other control schemes, like an on screen wheel and manual accelerator peddle, but they're not as easy to use.

Gameplay

There are three different ways to play Asphalt 7. In career mode you work your way through races in order, starting at the bottom and working your way up to the elite levels. Single race mode allows you to choose any race at any level. I quite like this feature, as it's cool to skip ahead and drive the better cars. There is also a multiplayer mode which works somewhat well. You have to set up a Gameloft online account and the buffering times are a little slow for me.

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The races themselves fall into several types. There are regular circuit races of a few laps, elimination, drift, a demolition mode called "beat 'em all," and the point challenge "king of the hill" mode. I really enjoy crashing the other racers to gain an edge.

Asphalt is designed to be a fast game. There are few, if any, sharp turns on most tracks. You get up to speed, hit the nitro, and avoid traffic. This is a game where your reflexes are going to win races, not your good technical driving skills. There are plenty of tracks and races, so you won't run out of content.

I feel like the early races are fairly easy; everything in the first tier should be easy to knock out. The game also offers up some interesting achievements with various rewards. As you move on to the next tier, things get more difficult, and it doesn't slow down. You are given a basic car at each tier, which is nice, but it will need upgrades to keep up. This is probably due to Gameloft's business model as of late, but I'll get into that shortly.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the gameplay in Asphalt 7 is that you sometimes won't be able to access the game at all. You can't launch Asphalt 7 without a network connection. When WiFi-only tablets are becoming commonplace, this is beyond unacceptable. If I want to play offline, I should be able to.

In-App Billing And Sharing

I am not one of those that feels in-app purchases are inherently evil. I respect the way Madfinger handled them in Dead Trigger. I felt comfortable that I was not being forced into buying anything in that game. Then there are titles that really try to screw you with constant booster pack purchases just to continue playing the game. Asphalt is somewhere in between. You don't have to buy things just to play, but I feel like the difficulty is tuned high specifically to encourage more buying.

To Gameloft's credit, they give you plenty of cars for free. If you do well in a race, you get cash, which you can use to upgrade your rides. To unlock more cars, you need stars, and they don't grow on trees. You get a few from completing achievements, so you can get a couple cars just by killing it early on. Additional packs can be had for a few bucks. All of this is fine with me. The game is only $0.99, and previous versions were $7. If you spend that much, you will do just fine. Although, I wish the game would stop pushing power-ups so hard. I'm sick of tapping through that screen before every race.

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Speaking of that, you just read a paragraph! Would you like to share that with your friends. No? You just rolled your eyes! Would you like to share that with your friends? Asphalt 7 will ask you several times after any event to share it on Facebook. You have to tap through several screens just to get to the next race. It's obvious that Gameloft is doing this to get your friends interested in Asphalt, but it only serves to make the menus clunky and annoying.

Graphics And Performance

Even with the above foibles, Asphalt 7 could be a good game. The deal breaker for me is the overwhelming mediocrity of the graphics. Judging from the screenshots on the Play Store page, this should be a gorgeous game. Instead, it's just average. Even then, only on some devices. On the Nexus 7 the texture resolution is absolutely terrible. Everything in the environment looks muddy. The cars aren't bad, but there is noticeable aliasing along the edges.

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I also looked at things on the Galaxy Nexus, and the textures were a little better. I was still not impressed with the overall fuzziness of the roads and buildings, though. The jaggies are not as prevalent here, possibly because the screen is smaller, and I can't see them as well. For whatever reason, performance is questionable on both devices. Both will get a spot of lag from time to time, and the Nexus 7 seems to have a lower frame rate. Here are some screens from the Galaxy Nexus to compare:

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The brightness also looks too high, making the game oddly washed-out. There are a few places that I could barely see where I was going because the gentle blue track markers blended in too well with the background. Turning my device's brightness down did nothing to fix this. I could also see distant objects drawing as I rocketed along. That should not happen on any modern device.

For 1.4GB of game data, I expected stunning graphics. I really feel like some of the smaller Need For Speed games look better than this. Asphalt 7 is not ugly, but it's just not pretty like the screenshots would lead you to believe.

Conclusion

On the surface, Asphalt 7 is a fine game. The controls are solid, and there are plenty of tracks and race types. I can even deal with the in-app purchases because they don't seem exploitative. This is essentially a $7 game that you can have for $0.99, so dropping a few dollars on better cars seems alright. The learning curve is steep, but not to a fault.

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However, the requirement that you have internet access is beyond ridiculous. Things fall apart for me when it comes to visuals and performance. I'm just disappointed in how this game runs on the Nexus 7, and it's not terribly good on the Galaxy Nexus. Lag, low frame rates, and blurry graphics are not what I expect out of 1.4GB of game data. If this game was free, I'd definitely suggest you pick it up to try. As it stands, you could spend $0.99 if you like Asphalt racing games, but there's just nothing that special here.