Heat it up.
Deja Vu. A feeling that you've already witnessed something that has just happened at an earlier point in time. It's also the feeling you get when you start playing Asphalt 7 Heat.
It's fair to say that Gameloft's racing series has progressed rather slowly of late, with mainly graphical improvements leading the way when it comes to the yearly update, but that in itself doesn't mean a game is not worthy of your time or money. So does number 7 add enough under the bonnet to warrant another sequel or is just all in the paintwork?
Getting the graphical enhancements out of the way first, it's clear that Gameloft have learnt a lot from their recent games and the polished look of Asphalt 7 on a Retina screen is proof that their racing series is looking better than ever. While cars are just as shiny as the previous game, there are more effects in play in this title. More evident is the roadside detail, which feels much more fleshed out. Driving through the city streets is made more enjoyable by the solid feel of the buildings around you and the great layout of courses which weave in and out of small lanes between skyscrapers.
Only one issue seems to plague the iPad version of the game and it's only really evident when you put it side-by-side with the iPhone 4S, the shadow under the car is strangely missing. It's no big deal, though, just one of those oddities that creeps in from time to time.
Track-wise, some of the courses from last year have managed to make their way back in to the new game. It's a mixed blessing as these tracks offered some mad short-cuts and have been visually updated too, but it would have been nice, all the same, to see an all-new series of tracks. The new courses do seem to live up to their predecessors, though and you'll find yourself jumping over cliffs, through roadblocks and in and out of tunnels in some fairly long and well laid out stretches of road.
Stars make a reappearance, too, but this time they feel more enforced than before. You can earn stars by gaining 1st, 2nd or 3rd places, plus more for completing tasks that build up over time. Complete one task, such as knocking 2 cars off the road, and another appears in its place. It's a model used in many other games like Tiny Wings and I think it works just as well here.
Once collected, stars will unlock cars and new courses, but as they are not spent, they continue to mount up, meaning that some grinding may be needed to reach the really impressive super-cars. Once opened, the real currency comes in to play, with the money earned during a race being used to buy your vehicles. This is also where Gameloft's now infamous In App Purchase model comes in to play, but the good news is that those only wishing to pay the initial purchase of the game will still be able to save up enough to buy everything, albeit with a lot of patience. It's worth mentioning that In App Purchases are never forced on customers and I never felt pressured to use them.
Progress through the various cups on offer is steady, with rewards being new cars to drive and new modes being opened up, such as the drift challenges. If you need a break from the structured gameplay you can also opt for quick play, which has an impressive range of modes and tracks all available from the off, with only the cars locked until you've opened them in the main game or pay for them.
Online is also easy to set up, either local via Wifi or Bluetooth, or through Gameloft Live, which has come a long way in recent years. I found getting a game pretty easy and the options available are just as good as in single player. Online games also add to your reputation score and money, too, so it's well worth getting online in order to advance the single player.
Lastly, Asphalt 7 has a new feature that should, in theory, make it stand out from the previous titles. It's an Autolog style system that can keep track of lap times and match them to your friends based on their Gameloft Live Ids. Adding friends is straght-foward assuming you know their ID and it's a nice little extra to throw in. The only issue is that it doesn't feel quite as well thought out as EA's system and doesn't really integrate into the single player game in the way that something like Need For Speed on consoles does.
Asphalt 7 Heat is a pretty full package that, while not being a major overhaul of the series, does enough to warrant a purchase by fans. It's certainly one of the best looking games on the App Store and you can't fault it for doing pretty much what it sets out to do; being a fast, no nonsense arcade racer.
- Sound: 7
- Graphics: 9
- Gameplay: 8
- Longevity: 8
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