Asphalt 8: Airborne review - burn rubber in ways physics never intended

Asphalt 8 for iPad
(Image: © iMore)

Asphalt 8: Airborne is hitting the App Store on August 22, and let me tell you - it’ll be worth every single one of the 99 cents you pay for it, and probably worth a few in-app purchases too. We got our first taste of the game at E3, which, if nothing else, showcased the extreme upgrade in graphics. After playing it for a day or two, I’m happy to report that Asphalt 8 has officially replaced Real Racing 3 as my favorite driving game.

If there’s one thing the Asphalt series had going for it, it was a ridiculous, over-the-top gameplay style, and it very much stays true to that spirit. Asphalt 8 is built for adrenaline junkies in a bunch of ways. For one, boosting now has a mini-game element built into it. When you tap once, you initiate your boost, and when you tap again, you go into a faster, second-phase boost. After the first tap, your nitro meter starts going down, and if you tap a second time when it reaches a small target zone, then your secondary boost will be even, uh, boostier.

Asphalt 8

Asphalt 8 earns its AIrborne namesake due to the new aerial mechanics built in. Tracks are littered with ramps that let you corkscrew through the air, launch over chasms, and land squarely on top of fellow racers. Throw in a little drift action before you hit the jump, and you can spin laterally. The gameplay itself is about par for course. You work your way through a series of challenges across a variety of international locations. Play types range from the standard race to an elimination mode that continually removes whoever’s in last place, a demolition-focused takedown mode, and infection, which is basically a very dangerous version of “tag”.They’ve shamelessly stolen the ghost-based multiplayer, but more power to ‘em. There’s also live multiplayer for up to 8 racers.

Players earn stars for completing race objectives, and credits from earning medals, such as near-misses, takedowns, and other high-speed antics. The more stars you gather, the more races you unlock. Credits go towards buying new cars and upgrading the ones you already have. Yes, you can buy credits through in-app purchases. By the sixth race with around 10,000 credits, I was at a point where I needed to get a new ride or upgrade the noobmobile I started with in order to move forward. $1.99 gets you 6,000 credits, and the most expensive one in the game is 375,000. You can also by collections of cars ranging from $1.99 to $99.99. That rate of progression doesn’t feel too steep to me, but your mileage may vary. At least there’s no secondary premium currency.

By default acceleration is permanently on, tapping the left side hits the brakes, and tapping the right side starts the nitro. There are alternative control schemes, but I’ve been perfectly happy with this one. Drifting goes on for a little while longer than I would like, but on the whole the controls are extremely fluid and reactive.

Asphalt 8

The graphics and soundtrack are fantastic to the point that I can barely believe this game costs a buck. You’ve got great reflection effects in the windshields, light trails in the darker levels, excellent particles when grinding against competitors, natural UI tilting as you steer, and lots more. The little things, like having incoming traffic blink their headlights at you for being a crazy person, are particularly nice. The music is high-energy, level-specific, and every once in awhile, you’ll actually hear a band you recognize. Even the cars are faithful reproductions of actual models, though they still get dirty and dinged up over the course of play.

The absolute worst thing I could say about Asphalt 8 is that the track selection isn’t great. Even with a variety of game modes, new cars, and lots of branching paths, you end up soaking in a lot of the same scenery. The UI could use a little bit of tweaking. For example, I’d like to be able to hit a replay button after absolutely bombing a course, rather than having to tap through and load it up all over again. A confirmation window when upgrading vehicle parts would be really nice too. Although much of Asphalt 8 might be slightly derivative of, say, the Burnout series, that really doesn’t take away from the fun of the game.

All in all, Asphalt 8: Airborne is absolutely awesome. It’s gorgeous, fun, balanced, and has all the right parts for an excellent racing game. If you’re tired of waiting for Real Racing 3 repairs to finish, and are looking for something a little more lighthearted, Asphalt 8: Airborne will scratch that racing itch just as well (if not better). 

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Simon Sage

Editor-at-very-large at Mobile Nations, gamer, giant.