Review: Street racing gets portable, and, just like in real life, traffic ruins all the fun.
Most people don't think too much of ports, even when those ports come from decent platforms. But, when a game also exists on a system like Nokia's N-Gage, well, it has to work hard if it's going to earn any respect. Urban Asphalt GT makes a decent attempt, providing some fun racing action, a good selection of cars, and a modicum of tuning options, but in the end it's the lackluster gameplay that keeps this port from being a winner.
The game features 23 cars and about 10 tracks, and while that may not sound like a lot, there's a pretty good selection of autos, including sport compacts, like the VW New Beetle RSI and Golf GTI MK V, British supercars like the Aston Martin Vanquish and Morgan Aero 8, American powerhouses like the new C6 or more classic Shelby GT-500, Nissan's new 350 Z and coveted Skyline GTR, and an impressive selection of modern Lamborghinis including the Murcielago, Gallardo, and Diablo. Not a huge number of cars by any means, but enough variety to keep most gamers happy. The tracks don't offer quite as much diversity, most being fairly generic circuits twisting through cities like Miami, Paris, and even Chernobyl, with a very Daytona-like superspeedway thrown in for kicks.
You can play the game in a variety of modes. There are arcade races where you'll jump right in and race against opponents in similar cars, time attacks that pit you against the clock, and police chases where you take control of a Lamborghini police car and tag speeders. But, the meat of the game is Evolution Mode, which gives DS players a taste of console racers like Gran Turismo, starting with a stock car and running through a series of races, earning money, new cars, and hop-up parts. You'll start off with a Hummer H2, which is terribly unsuited for racing, but will quickly move on to more exciting sets of wheels in different events. The racing events are generally limited to one of a few different car models, which helps to keep competition close, and helps you to grow your garage as you move from event to event rather than relying on just a few. But, there aren't enough overlapping series, meaning you'll often find yourself having to buy a car for a single series, and then never using it again. Having a vast garage is fun, but dropping all your money on a single car for a single race isn't.
Those cars you do get to use more than once you'll be able to upgrade with turbo kits, engine blocks, add exhausts, tires, and a few other upgrades. You can also change your cars colors (from only a limited set, unfortunately), and can also change your car's body, which will, for example, turn your red C6 convertible into one of the yellow C5R Corvettes you see racing in the American Lemans series. Unfortunately, while you can upgrade your cars suspension, you can't actually tune or tweak your suspension settings. Given the game's terribly simplistic attempt at a physics model, though, that's probably for the best.
The game plays like a cross between Ridge Racer and Burnout, featuring the mad tail-out antics of the former with the risk-reward boost bonuses of the latter. Unfortunately, it's lacking the addictive feel of either. Braking into a corner kicks the tail of your car out, and from there you simply slide the car around, waiting for it to straighten out when the track does. Drift-heavy games can be great fun, but the engine here doesn't quite feel solid, and the behavior of the cars is far from predictable. And, since most of the racing takes place on city circuits with plenty of non-racing cars around, trying to maneuver your car through traffic while sideways can be a big problem. Traffic in Burnout makes for an added challenge, and is a fundamental part of the game, but here it's just a massive annoyance. It's hard enough sometimes just to see where the road goes in this game, never mind looking out for the cars you'll find sitting in the middle of the road.
Since the DS is a new platform and this is the only racing game available at the moment it's difficult to rate this game's graphics, but overall the game looks passably good. It does suffer from some bad popup, and the repetitive textures can make it difficult to see where the track goes ahead, but even so the tracks look decent, and the car models are simple, but good looking. The game is played on the upper screen, while the lower one displays a map of the circuit, along with a table of sector and lap times in time-attack mode. Like the graphics, the sound effects are decent, with music that isn't too terribly annoying and engine notes that are simple, but do the job.