Asphalt 8: Airborne review

Racing onto smartphones and tablets is Asphalt 8: Airborne, the latest chapter in the popular racing series from Gameloft.

As anyone familiar with Asphalt would expect, this latest iteration is adrenalin-filled, nitro-fuelled, racing that sees you hitting the roads around the world to compete in a range of race types.

The game is available in Android, iPhone and iPad editions and we've been playing the Android version on both smartphones and tablets since the title's launch. Is it the racer to beat all racers or has it left us wanting to kick it to the curb?

Variety with vroom

There's plenty of variety in Asphalt 8. From street racing at night in Japan to the crazy launchpad of French Guiana; racing through jungle, under a launching rocket - why not, eh? - and more.

Then there are drifting challenges, infection races, or just plain tearing through the streets for fun.

When you first open the app and land on its home page there's a lot going on, with sections to link you through to the different gameplay modes, what your friends are up to, cars on offer and so on. That's fine on a tablet, but on a smartphone it's a little cluttered, and the game has something of a Jekyll and Hyde persona - it's great to navigate on a tablet, but much better to play on a smartphone. A perfect game for the latest phablet or 7-inch tablets then?

Still, you'll soon find your way into the type of races you want. You'll need to be connected to the internet if you want to take part in multiplayer racing, whereas the career is fine offline as you'd expect. There are other connected elements such as saving a "ghost" of your best run to race against later, or for friends to race against, but in most cases you can race in career mode without being connected.

Credit where credit's due

Asphalt 8: Airborne uses a credits system that will allow you to buy new cars and upgrade those you already have. This isn't really optional: if you want to be competitive, you'll need to spec-up your car or be left in the dust and you'll need particular types of car to compete in particular races.

As is typical these days there's an in-app payment option, where you can buy credits for cash, running all the way up to £69.99 for 690,000 credits. Ouch. It's more likely you'll opt for the £1.49 boost for 6900 credits, just so you can get that elusive car you want.

The cars are pricey too. If you want to buy yourself a Koenigsegg Agera R you'll be parting with 375,000 credits, which will take a lot of racing to earn, or about £50 of your real money.

Credits are earned during a race for the various things you do. Getting airborne and performing tricks, smashing your opponents out of the way, drifting and all those cool things will help you accumulate those credits. You also have to earn stars as you race. These are awarded for placing well on the finish line, as well as performing various tricks along the way, such as flat spins off ramps. Don't want to wait? - you can buy your way forward and unlock the next season of races too. It's play to play or pay to play.

Well seasoned

In some cases you'll need to have the right class of car to progress through a season of career racing. For example, you'll be required to have the Tesla S or the Citroen Survolt to take part in showcase races for those models, or you'll have to have the next class of car up, with cars ranging from the lowest D rung to the top S category.

The gameplay itself is rather frantic and it takes some time to get a handle on exactly what you're supposed to be doing - except for hitting the finish line.

As you learn the courses, you'll find some routes are faster than others, some offer more nitro for boosts, some offer better and bigger jumps to score the points. Nitro is a key part of keeping up and all too often it feels as though a car without nitro is just wading through mud. You will need to figure out where you're going to get the best results.

Graphically we'd say Asphalt looks pretty good too. The cars don't have the luscious looks that you'll find in Real Racing 3, but then there's a lot more going on: RR3 is straight track racing, where Asphalt 8 is full of crashes, your competitors doing stupid things, a semi-destructable environment as well as everyday traffic that's got nothing to do with you.

READ: Real Racing 3 review

That's another reason why Asphalt 8 looks better on a smaller display: we love Real Racing 3 on a 10-inch tablet where it's really immersive and you get every detail out of the graphics. Asphalt 8 just looks better on a smaller display than on the larger ones. As you can see in our screens of the game, the edges are a lot jaggier than RR3's smooth graphics.

Between tablet and smartphone we found Asphalt 8 to control better on smaller devices. For example, on the HTC One, we've been able to string together long drifts, whereas the Nexus 10 tends to drift a little and then brake, so we never really make it around that corner as well as we'd like. In many cases, the game feels totally different between the two devices.

Music To Race Cars By

The soundtrack, however, is very good. There are a number of recognisable tracks in the background, all fast-paced and further adding to the excitement. It's a perfect excuse to throw your headphones on and lose yourself gaming on the bus.

Asphalt 8 will let you sync between devices, so there's no problem if you want to play on your smartphone some of the time and your tablet the other. It also uses Google's new Play Games service, so you can keep track of your achievements. The app supports Facebook and Google+ sign-in, so you can find friends to compete with and this also keeps tabs on your profile to enable that syncing.

We've found it to be a little dodgy with syncing, like it needs a dab more polish. We found that we'd sync but have slightly different races logged, or a different number of credits. Try as we might, we've never been able to get two devices exactly the same, a definite oddity. We wish there was an obvious option to force an upload sync online and to then pick that download on another device. 

Verdict

Asphalt 8: Airborne is a great racing game. But not in the true form of road racing, this is all about throwing in added fun extras such as jumps and boosts. It's plenty challenging, in its frenetic sort of way, and well worth the 69p asking price.

However, progress is a little too slow at times, with the temptation of parting with a little real-world cash to help you along the way. A little cash - fine - but some of the top-spec cars will be difficult to acquire through gameplay alone.

Another downside is some control foibles that have shown themselves when testing the game out on different devices. Our HTC One handset was much better to use than the larger Nexus 10 tablet.

If it's crazy racing you're after, Asphalt 8: Airborne delivers. There's speed, there's excitement as well as some great cars. The soundtrack tops things off, making this well worth the investment - just don't go too crazy on the in-game purchases.