Gameloft’s games are not challenging. There, I said it. The titles in its stable may sometimes be perfectly suited for children, tell a nice story, bring a ‘genuine’ RTS, FPS or platforming experience to iOS but never ever do they challenge the player or even remotely trigger the mere simmering of adrenaline while playing. All of Gameloft´s heavily inspired games impress and sometimes even amaze, yet always remain intolerably lenient. Until now. Asphalt 8: Airborne is not just the best entry in the series, it´s Gameloft´s strongest and most unique game so far.
Asphalt 8 combines everything Gameloft learned during the series in one huge action-packed, bumper breaking bonanza, blowing not just the other episodes but also the links to games it may have been inspired by to oblivion. The game borrows slightly from Real Racing 3 when it comes to in-app purchases, yet establishes its own rules past these screens and on the tracks. The main goal in Asphalt is to win races, although winning is dependent on several in-game missions that form the joyful catalyst for often absurd moments experienced during play. Missions include being airborne for several seconds, spinning the car in mid-air or knocking as many competitors off track as possible.
Standard controls in Asphalt 8 are spot on, with tilt controls for maneuvering, auto-acceleration adding to the sense of speed and just two on-screen actions to perform. Pressing the left side of the screen initiates a drift (whilst steering) or the brakes and pressing the right side of the screen engages the nitro. These car-friendly afterburners form an essential part of the game, as they can give that last push to win when lagging behind or driving an inferior car.
Asphalt 8: Airborne features licensed luxury cars and high-performance cars that can be bought with in-game currency. The staggering 180 (!) events are scattered among eight seasons, aptly named after previous entries in the series. From within the career mode, stars unlock new seasons, granting up to five stars per event. Finishing first grants three stars, the remaining two require air time, spins, drift distance or a race finished unscathed. These special missions are a lot of fun because they shift the attention towards elements other than driving. They add arcade-like sequences where you’ll rather focus on making jumps and knocking down competitors. There will be moments where you might be reaching for that last star requiring three seconds of air time, thinking “what an amazing desert this time of day” or “did I just fly past an eagle?”
All of the nine settings look absolutely stunning and change according to your progress. Tracks can be raced in reverse and are even subject to day-night cycles, making it a real treat to revisit them during the seasons. All tracks have alternate pathways and carefully mapping routes really increases the chance to win a race (hidden shortcuts ahead!). The abundance of details in the Nevada desert, Iceland, Barcelona and Venice is incredible, with birds flying over, waterfalls casting subtle veils over the landscape and lens flares or reflections cutting the line of sight in a very realistic way.
Gameloft experiment with a friendly payment model of $ 0.99 and optional purchases. As with Plants vs. Zombies 2, the game is much more of a challenge without additional payments, providing between 15 and 20 hours of gameplay, depending on how thorough and greedy for stars you are. Like Plants vs. Zombies 2, gathering stars is never an errand run or dull ordeal and only adds to the versatility of the game. Quick races are a lot of fun and so are the multiplayer matches (local Wi-Fi or asynchronous) against up to eight friends. Where Asphalt 8: Airborne shines though, is the immense career mode with 180 events in nine very different settings. On top of the graphical splendor, races are accompanied with music by Bloc Party, Kasabian, Queens of the Stone Age and more great artists, adding icing on the cake.
Asphalt 8: Airborn manages to break loose from the great ‘curse of copy’ Gameloft have suffered from throughout the years. This may be the first Gameloft game succeeding entirely on its own, with great graphics, delightfully spectacular sequences and an amount of content second to none. The in-app purchases are there but can be avoided entirely and for 99 cents, Asphalt 8 offers an astonishing amount of bang for your buck.
Asphalt 8: Airborne is available now as a universal download for $ 0.99. Get it in the