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

Asphalt 8: Airborne
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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
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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.

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