Curse you, Sony Ericsson. Because of Asphalt 6: Adrenaline on the new Sony XPERIA Play, my productivity is down. Considerably. In the last two weeks, I've managed to start out with a Mustang GT and race my way to more than $4.2 million in cash reserves and a garage filled with a tricked-out Porsche 911, a couple Ferraris, a Lamborghini Estoque (one of my favorites for drifting) and the workmanlike Nissan GT-R, to name a few. As you probably suspect, none of it is real, not even the crazy Ducati motorcycle.
This is what happens when you play a good driving game, and I have towering pillars of unfinished assignments surrounding me in the real world to prove it. I don't own a console, and I don't have any plans to change that. Instead, this test-drive of the new XPERIA Play smartphone proves that a home-based gaming system is so 1988. This smartphone is a great companion for the gadget-savvy car lover who loves games and tech.
Running the Android Gingerbread (2.3) operating system, the Sony Ericsson XPERIA Play has most of the conventional smartphone tricks up its sleeve, but what makes it unique is the way it slides open to reveal a Playstation-style controller. In this way, the XPERIA Play lets you get a driving fix anytime, anywhere. I sat across from a client at lunch one day, conquering a tricky drift race in Shanghai. They might not have been amused, but I was. There's also multiplayer and free-race modes that enhance the Asphalt 6: Adrenaline experience by letting you race without messing with your career earnings.
Asphalt 6: Adrenaline, the XPERIA Play's flagship driving game, is engaging, with good video quality. There are 12 different circuits, including New York, Havana, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Reykjavik and the Bahamas, and it's easy to advance from the bottom ranks and start winning money, unlocking vehicles and filling your virtual garage with 40 different pieces of coveted iron (car list below). As you have success racing, you pick up new sponsors, decals and tuning enhancements to your vehicle's speed, handling and nitro capacity.
I chose to bomb around the tracks using the classic Playstation controls, though the game can also use the phone's accelerometer to detect steering input if you're cool with flailing around and treating a five-inch rectangular slab like a steering wheel. For an old guy who's thumbs still bear the scars of hours spent driving 8-bit NES cars, the classical controls were immediately familiar. Trying to steer via accelerometer with the phone's sturdy slide-out control pad stowed resulted in me crashing a lot. Either I suck at using that kind of controller, or that kind of controller sucks. Even with adjustable sensitivity, the accelerometer isn't a satisfying way to try and drive.
Despite the high-quality visuals, there are times when, at high speed, you can't make out where the track goes. This might be a quirk exclusive to the graphics ability of the XPERIA Play, but it seems more deeply rooted in the game than that, and it's likely to be the same experience on the other devices that the game supports, like iPhones and other Android phones. The nitro boosters you can pick up make it especially confusing because the speed then goes through the roof. If you're lucky enough to get a purple bar across the top of the screen – indicating maximum boost – it'll help you sweep aside any competitors who cross your path. It also makes figuring out where to go a little easier because the course becomes clearly marked. The screen is also too dim for environments like bright outdoor settings, even with its brightness turned up all the way, making it that much harder to not crash.
Some races are drift events in which sliding sideways through the entire circuit is the goal. Other events include "collector" races, where you're tasked with picking up as many items laid out on the track as possible; "beat 'em all" races, in which you actively seek out opponents and run them off the course; and traditional races. Multiplayer racing is supported by Asphalt 6, and you can play against local phones or play online with a Gameloft Live account. The XPERIA Play I tested used Verizon's 3G network, and online performance without a WiFi connection can be frustrating.
It doesn't take a lot of determination to move up to the final race, set in Los Angeles. There are star ratings you earn for each race, and the higher the total, the more stuff unlocks. I didn't manage to get all the stars I could have, so finishing the last race was anticlimactic. You can easily go back and try any race again to try for a better finish. The mark of a good game is how well it gets under your skin, and Asphalt 6 is addictive enough that you'll want to go back and get all those stars, if you can.
There were some screen twitches during gameplay, too, which was a little surprising for the polished experience Gameloft has developed. The game's also slow to cycle back to your garage or load the next race. The Snapdragon processor and Adreno 205 graphics processor, as fast as they are at 1GHz, sometimes choke when trying to keep up. Battery life has been unsatisfactory for some reviewers, offering a little over five hours of gameplay, but since our Sony loaner was brand new, the battery displayed good stamina. The phone itself stood up to two-plus days of occasional email checking, web surfing and gameplay.
Hitting the game harder, but still spacing use out between real life, wore the battery down after a day and a half. The bottom line is that there's a 1500 mAh battery in there that gets sucked dry faster than on some other phones. Not a deal-breaker if you want to play games, for sure, but you might be charging this beast more frequently than other devices.
There are other pre-loaded games on the XPERIA Play, including Madden NFL 11 and Bruce Lee Dragon Warrior, the latter of which was extremely tricky compared to Asphalt 6. Being an Android device running version 2.3 of the operating system, the EXPERIA Play is also good smartphone when you're not playing games on it. It's a bit thick and heavy for comfortably tucking in your pocket, and other phones have 4G data speeds and faster dual-core processors, but the Android experience on the XPERIA Play is polished, and the built-in game console is unique. There are hardly any games you'll find exclusively on the XPERIA Play, Crash Bandicoot is a direct port of the original Playstation version, and more will be coming, but an old 4:3 aspect ratio game from days gone by doesn't exactly close the deal when considering which device to buy.
The phone costs $199 with a new two-year plan from Verizon. A data plan is also required, and since the XPERIA Play isn't a basic device, you're looking at at least a 2GB/month data plan, adding $30 to any talk and text plan you select. The cheapest you're going to get away with here is $75/month. You'll also ratchet up your data usage if you use the online play mode of Asphalt 6: Adrenaline or download other games.
If you want gaming in your pocket and a console-style controller is an absolute must, the Sony Ericsson XPERIA Play is your device. Otherwise, while it's a good smartphone with decent games, the ones you'll actually want to play are not exclusive to the XPERIA Play. That means you can get a device with faster 4G data capability, a dual-core processor, better battery life and a slimmer form factor. Nostalgia for those first Playstation games is going to have to be really strong to drive you to this phone versus the stiff competition in the market, but if you love Crash Bandicoot that much, have at it.
Asphalt 6: Adrenaline vehicle list
Abarth 500 SS
Aston Martin DBS Volante
Aston Martin One-77
Aston Martin V12 Vantage
Bentley Continental Supersports
Bentley GT Speed
Bentley Speed 8
BMW M3 GTS
BMW M6 Coupe
BMW Z4 sDrive35is
Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport
Can Am Spyder
Ferrari 430 Scuderia
Ferrari 458 Italia
Ferrari 599 GTO
Ford Shelby GT500
Lamborghini Gallardo LP 570-4 SL
Lamborghini Murciélago LP 670-4 SV
Maserati Gran Turismo S
Mercedes C 63 Amg McLaren MP4-12C
Mercedes SLR McLaren Stirling Moss
MINI John Cooper Work
Nissan 370 Z Nismo
Pagani Zonda Cinque
Ruf CTR 3
Ruf Rt 12
Tesla Roadster Sport