Published on October 12th, 2013 | by Kristian Ivanov0
Asphalt 8: Airborne Review
Asphalt is a long running series of arcade racing games, starting way back on the Nokia N-Gage. It’s a series well known for its high-quality gameplay trough all of its previous iterations. Today we have the 8th game in the series, featuring some interesting design changes…so let’s have a look and see if it holds up.
As it’s now standard for the series, the gameplay consists of high-speed races with expensive licensed cars with the objective to finish in first place or with the highest score, while competing with up to 8 opponents. These objectives define the different race types:
- Classic – standard race, whoever crosses the finish line first wins.
- Elimination – a timer-race, when the timer runs out, the racer on last place is eliminated, then the process repeats until only one is left.
- Versus – same as the Classic mode, except there’s only one opponent.
- Knockdown – another timer-race, but here the objective is to make your opponents crash as much as possible.
- Infected – another variety of Classic mode, but here one person gets infected and can later infect others. During the infection, he has infinite nitro, but the catch is that after a while he explodes and respawns cured, unless he collects nitro power-ups or infects others to gain more time.
- Gate Drift – a timer-race where the idea is to keep drifting, but unlike previous games in the series, you have to go through gates placed in certain locations on the road to get your score points, if you stop before that, you lose them.
The main singleplayer mode consists of 8 “seasons”, with 12 races per season. Each of these races comes with a car requirement and a predefined race type with two sub-objectives (feature brought back from Asphalt 6). The sub-objectives themselves range from “trigger perfect nitro boost” to “crash X opponents” or “do X flat spins”…personally I found them to be much easier to complete than back in Asphalt 6.
The other main gameplay change from the previous games is the new physics system. As the title suggests, expect to be flying in the air off ramps, flipping your car, doing mid-air takedowns and a whole bunch of other crazy things. To me, this serves mostly as a gimmick, but it still has its practical use if you take it into consideration with the new track design. The tracks have evolved from the standard “main road with an occasional shortcut” to a whole new level…now you’ll be greeted with multiple alternative roads, some shorter, some longer. Often you’ll be able to access or switch roads by using the ramps placed all over the place for…well, jumping. This adds a nice variety without resorting to a open-world track design, which would’ve been a damaging choice for the series.
While Asphalt 8 is not the leader in texture detail, I doubt anyone can deny that this is one of the most graphically impressive games on a phone/tablet to date. Previous games in the series all featured high details and some neat effects, but Asphalt 8 takes it to a whole new level. The screen filters, along with the capabilities of Gameloft’s new engine make a combination well worthy of the term “console quality graphics”.
I’m also happy to say that Gameloft brought a much requested feature to the series – graphics options. You have a really powerful device? Hit the “high” setting and enjoy the fancy effects…low powered device? Hit “lowest”, there might not be any fancy details, but the game will still look better than a lot of racing games on the market. One thing I need to say though, is that the game suffers from a higher than normal brightness (much like in Dungeon Hunter 4) on some devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S2 that I happen to use.
The car handling also changed a lot from the previous series. Every car, even the lowest tier ones just feel heavy on the road and when you gain speed, the camera shake effect enhances the experience even more. Even drifting feels better than the previous games, mostly due to the change in the mechanic. Before you had to start a drift in one direction, then stop and start it again in the other…now all you have to do is start it and you have the freedom to switch directions whenever you want, making it much easier to maintain and far less likely to crash in a wall.
Here I should bring up two of most fatal flaws in the game:
- The AI: while the rubber band mechanic provides a nice and constant challenge on the track, the opponents just seem highly aggressive…and it seems like they have a significant advantage when it comes to “battling” – they can easily spin you around by pushing either rear side of the player’s car, which universally results in you losing either some time or the whole race right there…you on the other hand can only perform a “knockdown”, any attempt to spin them the same way will simply not work.
- The multiplayer matchmaking: in 4 out of 5 online multiplayer races I tried, I had at least one opponent with a car of significantly higher tier and stats than the one I used. This makes competitive multiplayer pretty much non-existing at this point.
The good news here is that both these problems can be resolved by simple game patching, which, as far as Gameloft’s history with Asphalt games goes, will eventually happen.
Another cool feature that might seem unimportant to some people is the return of the music selection option. In the pause menu, just hit the genre-buttons and pick a song you like. Personally I love this feature since I’m pretty picky with racing music. Speaking of which, the track selection is also really good…surprisingly good in fact. Not that it’s the best thing ever, but the selection sounds much more like a racing game playlist than any of the previous series on Android (though I would’ve preferred instrumental tracks only, but hey, we have a music selection option now).
The game is not free to begin with, just like all other Asphalt titles. There are however IAPs in the game aswell, much like the ones in Asphalt 6 and 7. Pretty much you can spend some money on early unlocks, but there is nothing in the game that will be left as IAP-exclusive. Everything can be purchased in-game without spending any additional real money on it.
Something worth mentioning however is that the game’s progression seems to be slower than previous games. By the time I reached half-way in the singleplayer races, I had 6 cars total with tier-1 upgrades, which is pretty low compared to the 18 cars I had in Asphalt 7 at that point. Upgrades are also much harder to get due to their high prices…even the tier-2 ones can be pretty pricy. All this seems to be due to the low race rewards. Some people speculate than the IAPs and the slow progress are tied together on purpose…I personally can’t say for sure and will leave it up to speculation until I see one or two updates released.
To conclude on this…this is easily one of the best games you can buy on an Android device. Even if you take into consideration all the flaws in the game, there are still no other arcade racing games available that come close to the quality of Asphalt 8. It provides a high-quality experience that you’ll keep coming back to if you have any interest in racing games.
Summary: Asphalt 8: Airborne is undoubtedly the best arcade racing game available on Google Play and arguably the best game in the series to date. Showing off console-quality graphics and gameplay, it's well worth it's price, despite the few issues it has.