I don’t think it’s appropriate to sit here and pretend as if we care about mobile phone games such as Asphalt 8: Airborne here at PRC.net, but today’s Reader Submission brings up a fairly interesting topic regarding some of the fastest cars in what’s becoming a very popular franchise among casual gamers. The Asphalt series is more or less a low-quality knock-off version of Criterion’s old Burnout franchise from an entire decade ago, though there’s an increased emphasis on micro-transactions and other modern bullshit designed to reel in a userbase who maybe don’t possess the memories of superior arcade racers on the PlayStation 2 – ones which didn’t intrude your wallet.
FMecha has taken a break from running our unofficial but totally hilarious Twitter page to let us know of an interesting situation regarding Asphalt 8’s extensive car roster. Elaborate licensing deals have seen various vaporware supercars establish themselves as some of the best vehicles available in the game, despite some of these cars being little more than a hyperbolic art project for a ragtag team who couldn’t possibly build a car to the specifications they’ve claimed. And diehard Asphalt players – yes, they exist, and there’s a lot of them – are growing tired of what’s essentially product placement for cars created by middle eastern sheiks. I mean, everyone knows Asphalt 8 is simcade and has no simulation value – that’s the whole point of an arcade racer – but even the most simple-minded gamers can see what’s happening.
Seeing it’s a mobile game, I’ll chose not to talk about the pay-to-win shenanigans, since complaining about that is like living in Chicago and complaining about heavy snowfall – it’s just part of the deal. Instead, I want to discuss something plaguing the game’s car lineup: vaporware cars by no-name startup car makers. Some of those car makers brak about being a “boutique” car maker, and may (or may not) produce their car in very limited numbers. They also like to make outlandish claims that may rev up automotive journalists’ bullshit meters, and may also end up only as a render – without any real, functioning car scooting around in real life. Sorry, engine-less shells don’t count.
This article basically highlights those no-name supercar companies going for a horsepower (and technology) arms race with promises of four-digit horsepower numbers (after what Bugatti did with the Veyron), and tells it is foolish for those startups to create over-ambitious cars, warning that they may reek of scams, as well. Out of the cars mentioned as “never going to happen” in the article, the Trion Nemesis (a top-tier car in Asphalt 8), Falcon F7, and Devel Sixteen Prototype (the devilish 5000+ horsepower car that seriously revved up the bullshit meters of automotive journalists, although it’s engine builder did manage to actually build one example of Devel’s engine) are in Asphalt 8. The Lykan Hypersport is also mentioned, as in Asphalt, as well as Project CARS, but I don’t list it here since they apparently have sold three out of the seven they’ve built, including one variant to Abu Dhabi’s police force.
Some other suspected vaporware cars in Asphalt 8 include the Kepler Motion (a hybrid supercar limited to 50 models that was supposed to begin delivery in 2014), the Lucra L148 (from the makers of the Lucra L470 kit car that does indeed exist), and the Weber Faster One (widely ridiculed as an ugly car).
The nanoFlowcell electric cars in the game – Quantino and Quant FE – the latter widely ridiculed by Asphalt 8 players as “The Boat” due to how bad the car handles in-game, is something so big I have to separate them from the list above. The nanoFlowcell cars rode on the alternative power sources bandwagon by utilizing new technologies; salt water battery and flow cell system that leads to an outlandish claim – not large horsepower, but rather large amounts of efficiency and electrical range. This also leads to inevitable skepticism by not only car journalists, but also scientists. Of note, Nunzio Laveccia, the supposed technology founder, is apparently a musician without any experience in engineering, either.
It really bugs me about how and why those questionable cars made it into the game. Looking long-term, those questionable cars can create a legal problem; for instance, the Vector cars, also widely labeled as a vaporware car maker, are the big blockade that prevents any re-release of Gran Turismo 2 (in fact, the description for the Vector M12 in the game says that Vector’s company history would make a good movie plot. Well, at least Gameloft didn’t bother adding the highly questionable Lyons Motor Car LM2 Streamliner.
I agree that the influx of vaporware cars in modern arcade racers is a bit silly, especially when their appearance in Asphalt 8 establishes them as some sort of marquee vehicle at the top of its class. People are eventually going to find out the real thing is literally just a giant full-scale model that doesn’t exist as a functioning vehicle, thus leading to a situation where both the developer of the game, as well as the car maker, look quite stupid in the end. Now, it’s one thing to have preposterous cars like these as an end-of-game reward – Electronic Arts and Bizarre Creations had these sorts of vehicles locked away in older Need for Speed & Project Gotham Racing titles for the player to earn – but Asphalt 8 are going a step further and not just charging a premium for them; they’re the best cars in the game. That’s shitty.
Let me explain why.
As you explored Project Gotham Racing 3 and naturally acquired certain Kudos point milestones just by progressing through the game, you were rewarded with a whole bunch of these vaporware concepts – and from what I remember, about half of them were from Ford. What Bizarre Creations did right, unlike GameLoft with Asphalt 8, is that they were not essential pieces of your car collection that you absolutely needed to have. The Ford Indigo and GT90 were awesome looking remnants of the nineties, but when you went online, they weren’t the be-all, end-all leaderboard cars you were required to unlock before you even stood a chance online. And not only that, the overall attributes of cars such as the GT90 weren’t space-age figures that left everything else in the dust; they fit right in with the other twenty or so cars in their respective classes. Rolling up to the grid with a GT90 was more of a way to get everyone reminiscing about the good ol’ days of Windows 95-era Need for Speed rather than an indication you were about to stomp everybody.
That’s good game design.
Electronic Arts took things a step further with Need for Speed II, but there was a method to the madness. EA openly acknowledged the theme of the vehicle roster was primarily homologation specials mixed with 90’s hypercars and one-off concepts, with entries such as the Indigo and GT90 establishing themselves as natural additions to a list populated by vehicles such as the McLaren F1 and Elise GT1 rather than being absurdly over-powered bullshit cars that guaranteed an easy victory. In fact, part of what makes Need for Speed 2 so special was the atmosphere EA had created – the elaborate art projects from Ford and other design firms were treated as “just another vehicle” with their own sets of strengths and weaknesses, giving a sense of legitimacy to their inclusion. Again, good game design.
At the end of the day, however, we’re discussing Asphalt 8: Airborne, a game primarily built to make money off of idiot kids who have been given unrestricted access to mom’s credit card. Unlike classic Need for Speed titles, or the amazing yet short-lived Project Gotham Racing series, this isn’t a game that has been built with any sort of passion or cohesive direction. What you’re looking at with cars such as the Devel Sixteen appearing in Asphalt 8 is nothing more than product placement that puts some $$$ in GameLoft’s bank account.