Asphalt 8: Airborne Review: Gameloft’s Arcade Racer takes a Huge Leap Forward in this Wildly Enjoyable 8th Installment
The fact that Gameloft’s Asphalt franchise is on its eighth go-round should tell us a few things: first, it’s successful enough to still warrant new installments, and second, the developers had better be thinking about ways to add spice to the arcade racing formula that has gotten them this far. I’ll join other reviewers by saying that when I first picked up Asphalt 8 my expectations were fairly low. Surely this was just another updated title designed to make Gameloft some extra cash on the side… But wait, they threw the word “Airborne” on the end of the title, and what are all these 5-star reviews doing in the App Store? There was reason enough to investigate, and I’m happy to report that–for whatever reason–Gameloft has blown the roof off the Asphalt franchise with the 8th installment, and out of nowhere, Asphalt 8: Airborne just rocketed to the top of the best racers on iOS.
First off, let it be known that this 99-cent game carries an incredibly appropriate subtitle. Gameloft means it when they start the game’s App Store intro with “leave gravity in the dust.” It only takes a few seconds on one of Airborne’s awesome courses before you see an approaching ramp conveniently located in your vehicle’s course. And while you can expect to get an enormous amount of air while speeding through locales like Venice, French Guiana, Iceland, and the Nevada Desert, the craziness unfolds when your vehicle traverses what we’ll call a “twisted” ramp–which launches your vehicle on a trajectory that will have it doing barrel rolls during its flight. You can even pull tricks off the regular ramps by entering drift mode before you take to the sky. Depending on your airtime, expect your vehicle to spin at least 360 or 720 degrees.
But we’ve skipped too far ahead. Asphalt 8 has its way of making you get ahead of yourself–whether its unwieldy use of nitrous, going after a shortcut that’s just out of reach, or forgetting to describe the basic controls of the game… Mostly, the default racing experience in Asphalt 8 conforms to what we’ve gotten used to from iOS racers. Your vehicle will auto-accelerate, but it’s up to you to tilt the device left or right to turn. Tapping the left side of the screen engages the brakes, while tapping the right side fires boost… Additional tweaks to the system allow for multiple levels of boost: tap once and it’ll fire, tap twice and it’ll go even harder, and the third tap will have your vehicle reaching for its max speed. Alternatively, you can shoot for the two-tap boost system, which means timing your second tap while the boost meter is in the red. It’s a well-designed control system that stays out of the way and lets us enjoy the stunning visuals and breakneck speed that dominate the entire game.
As for vehicles, there are plenty. Asphalt 8 boasts 80% new vehicles over its predecessor, and some of the most incredible cars available include the Lamborghini Veneno, Bugatti Veyron, Ferrari FXX and Pagani Zonda R… As soon as we start talking high-end vehicles, you’d be right to start wondering how Gameloft has implemented IAPs. Fortunately, Asphalt 8 makes use of IAPs in a manner that I found predictable and acceptable. You can manage to build a decent career without ever shelling out more than the 99-cent asking price (especially if you’re smart about it), while choosing to spend some extra money will just expedite the process.
While this is a game that’s nearly perfect and worth well over $1, it’s worth noting that throwing gravity out the window the way Gameloft has done results in some tweaky physics–sometimes causing your vehicle to make contact with unexpected objects and lose a fair bit of momentum. Frustrating? Sure, but that’s what happens when cars fly… The only other issues with Asphalt 8 that pulled me out of the moment had to do with level design. It’s hard to imagine these courses LOOKING any better, and their unlinear routes allow for some freestyle racing decisions, but I was occasionally clueless as to which way to go and would end up opting for a route that moved me from the front of the pack to the back. Chalk it up to “not knowing the course” if you want, but I’d like at least some subtle hints about the course’s main thruways.
If you’re looking for a racer that matches Real Racing 3’s realism, hopefully it’s obvious that you’ve come to the wrong place. But if you want a game that looks every bit as good as RR3 but is every bit arcade, it’s time to pickup Asphalt 8. It builds on Gameloft’s past experience with the franchise, but takes every necessary risk to provide something wholly new and exciting.
Our Score: 4.5 Out of 5