Asphalt 8: Airborne review: High-flying arcade racing done right

Asphalt 8: Airborne makes a great sequel in the long-running Gameloft racing franchise. Tons of unlockable cars, tracks with multiple routes, and a huge single-player campaign make this game a perfect fit for arcade racing fans.

Jason Parker

Jason Parker

Senior Editor / Reviews - Software

Jason Parker has been at CNET for nearly 15 years. He is the senior editor in charge of iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.

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Asphalt 8: Airborne (iOS|Android) is the latest sequel in Gameloft's superpopular arcade racing franchise, but this one has a new element that lets you get big air to perform tricks. The new jumping mechanic is fairly well executed and adds to the excitement, but it becomes old hat pretty quickly.

Asphalt 8: Airborne

Asphalt 8: Airborne

The Good

<b>Asphalt 8: Airborne</b> delivers on the fast-paced, high-flying action that makes arcade racing games fun. There are tons of cars to unlock, and fun tracks to explore.

The Bad

The main menu screen is confusing and needs to be clearer for newcomers to the game. Car upgrades get expensive too quickly, nudging you toward in-app purchases.

The Bottom Line

Asphalt 8: Airborne is probably the best arcade racing game I've seen yet, with tons of light-hearted racing fun, but you'll have to fight the urge to spend your money.

It's important to note that arcade racers like this one differ from simulations like the Real Racing franchise, so don't expect real-world physics and controls. This type of racer is meant to be much more fast-paced and entertaining than the sims, so racing purists might want to look elsewhere. With that said, Asphalt 8 is still a lot of fun.

Fast-paced arcade racing through beautiful environments (pictures)

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Familiar controls
The default control system has you tilt to steer with the throttle always on, and you can touch the right side of the screen to get a nitro boost. The brakes are on the left side of the screen, and while you won't need to slow down much in this arcade racer, a tap of the brakes puts you into drift mode, which comes in handy for sharp turns and generating nitro. You also will find pickups around the track for nitro, so don't worry too much about overusing your speed boost as you race.

One thing to note about the controls is that I found the steering to be pretty unresponsive and muddy through the first couple of races. But all it took was a trip to the game settings to add more sensitivity to the steering. The game defaults to 50 out of 100, and I found that 75 was just about perfect for me. If you find the same thing, play with the settings before you give up, because it made the game much better for me.

Asphalt 8: Airborne
Speed around the track with five other cars as you try to battle your way to first place. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Cars and gameplay
Like the other games in the franchise, Asphalt 8: Airborne comes with all the bells and whistles you'd expect from an arcade racer. For starters there are 47 cars, including luxury racers like the Bugatti Veyron and the Lamborghini Veneno, each of which you'll eventually unlock as you earn money by racing. Getting the top-tier cars will definitely take some time, but like many games these days, Asphalt 8 lets you spend real cash to buy car packs if you want to get ahead quickly. Fortunately, even the beginning cars are pretty appealing, so you won't have to pay your dues racing some subcompact tin can like you do in other games if you don't want to spend the money.

There are only nine different racing locations, but you'll race each track in reverse as you progress and there are numerous routes to take on each track for plenty of variation. To mix it up further, there are a few different race types, starting with a standard race, then adding some variation with elimination, head-to-head, and an Infected game mode, where you infect other racers with a deadly virus that makes their cars explode. There are eight seasons you can race through, and each is a mix of all the different race types so you don't have to worry about doing the same old thing every time.

Asphalt 8: Airborne
Tap to drift around corners so you can fill up your nitro bar for speed boosts. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

As you race, there are ramps in different areas on each track where you can get air and perform a couple of different tricks. Jumps give you extra nitro, so you'll definitely want to take them. On straight ramps you can either perform a standard jump or, by tapping your brake to go into drift mode, you can do a horizontal spin move. Even if you land sideways, your car will automatically right itself, but that's not too surprising for an arcade racer. If you go off a twisted ramp, your car will perform a barrel roll. You only get those two tricks, and it becomes a bit repetitive, but each gives you more nitro to add to your pool.

Smooth and challenging multiplayer modes
If you want to try your luck against other real racers, you can race with friends over local Wi-Fi, or race live against other players online. I tried both, and the racing was very smooth without any hiccups in my testing. In local multiplayer mode, you'll be able to choose the game types I discussed above, the track you want to race on, and what class of cars will be allowed to join. In the online version, players vote on game type, track, and class. While I found that playing locally is a bit more fun with friends (or co-workers) yelling at each other as we raced around the track, the online multiplayer provided the biggest challenge with players coming from around the world.

Asphalt 8: Airborne
As you progress you'll race through eight different settings, with both day and night races. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Some minor drawbacks
I only found a few things about this game that were a bit frustrating. Right after launch, the main screen is laid out in such a way that it's confusing when you first start playing. There is no big Race Now button and it's not obvious what exactly you're supposed to do at first. The button for season one of the career mode is just a tiny square panel over on the right, and if you just want to do a quick race, you need to scroll down to the solo race option. It would be better if both of these were more prominent so people knew exactly how to get started.

Also, the iOS version gets a little more attention to graphics than the Android version. Though the differences don't affect gameplay, I noticed that the iOS version showed a lot more particles and broken glass when jockeying for position with other cars. The Android version doesn't have nearly the detail. It won't ruin the game, but it definitely looks better on iOS.

Another issue I had is with upgrades. You can improve each of your cars' performance with earned cash by buying upgrades to acceleration, top speed, handling, and nitro. The first set of upgrades is really cheap, but the second level gets expensive very quickly. This might be where people will be most tempted to turn to in-app purchasing, and it seems like that's what Gameloft is going for. I suppose this is how the company makes its money, but I'd like to at least be able to do a few upgrades before the price gets out of control.

Still a lot of fun
Even with these issues, Asphalt 8: Airborne is the best arcade racing game I've played in a while and the best so far in the franchise. With tons of cool cars to unlock, tracks with several shortcuts and alternate routes, and high-speed, flipping-through-the-air, nitro-boosted racing action, this game is great for a quick adrenaline rush.

Asphalt 8: Airborne

Asphalt 8: Airborne

Score Breakdown

Setup 8Features 8Interface 8Performance 9