ASPHALT 8: AIRBORNE REVIEW
This is the eighth game in the series, so it shouldn’t be surprising that Gameloft has locked down the basic mechanics. The silky smooth tilt controls for steering feel intuitive, and since the cars auto-accelerate, the two halves of the screen function as gigantic buttons to trigger brakes and nitro boosts. Those three basic building blocks are all that’s needed to offer really precise handling across the nine well-differentiated environments, which run the gamut from a neon-soaked Tokyo rife with sharp turns to the ramp-laden streets of London.
Asphalt 8’s addition to the series, the air stunts, are a nice twist that offer nitro boosts as rewards, which gives them a risk-reward dynamic. Taking to the air is often slower than sticking to the streets, so making split-second decisions about whether I could spare that time to make it up with the boost I’d earn helps add tension to races. The physics occasionally behave erratically, leading to a jump or spin not behaving like you’d expect and flubbing the trick. It’s rare, but it can be a bother.
Asphalt is lengthy, offering eight seasons of increasing speed classes and 180 races in all, plus a full-fledged online mode with all the maps and race types available. Most of the races are standard multi-car or one-on-one matches. The longevity is a double-edged sword to some extent, since the large number of events means each of those maps get repeated several times. Sure, it’s fun speeding down the streets of Barcelona in a faster car, but after a dozen or so times I knew the turns so well that I’d either win easily, or be hopelessly outmatched by better cars. Skill was no longer the deciding factor; it all came down to purchasing better vehicles.
A few modes do offer more inventive race types. Infection became a quick favorite of mine – it gives all the “infected” racers unlimited boosts, but with the constant threat of burning out once the infection passes if you fail to add time by spreading it. Another mode, Knockdown, deemphasizes the race aspect and instead has you attempt to cause more crashes than your opponent.
To keep these events spread out, the pacing is dictated by collecting stars to unlock new seasons of races. They’re granted by winning races, or fulfilling special conditions like a certain number of drifts or takedowns. Within the seasons, certain events require a particular car that can be purchased with in-game currency. By the time I reached the mid-point, the hodgepodge of car requirements felt like an unworkable maze. I constantly needed more stars, but by that point progression required me to spend a large wad of cash on a car that might only be useful for one event. I would begrudgingly buy it, earn the five stars available in that event, and then go looking for another that could slowly inch me towards the next season.
Of course, Asphalt is more than happy to remind you that you can simply purchase some cars or in-game currency to speed up the process. The packs of cars are either a sampling of a particular speed class, or a variety pack of middling vehicles, so neither is a workable long-term solution. Packs of currency are even less helpful. They may be enough to field some purchases in the early game, but not later when stars are in short supply and expensive cars are more desperately needed. In short, no single purchase would see you through the campaign, and some of them are extremely pricey.