Asphalt 8: Airborne Review (Android)

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Asphalt has been a staple in the mobile gaming market for a long while spanning all the way back into the “dumb” phone era.  Remember those?  Of course you don’t, nobody does.  With each new release, like most any sequels, the developer crams in more things to do: A prettier look with increased textures/polygons or even the intro into 3D, a tweak to the action or sometimes change it entirely, and while several things have been tweaked and changed from the previous version this really isn’t a huge revelation from Asphalt 7.  So, should you bother dropping a gigantic Washington on this?  Should you loosen the purse string and spend ALL that MONEY?  It’s SO MUCH MONEY, isn’t it?


First things first: The price.  Like 7 they are selling this at a huge discount compared to earlier versions which ranged from $2.99 up to $5.99 for Asphalt 6.  Why the huge drop in price, you might ask?  One bastardized word: “Freemium” for which this doesn’t even do properly because you still have to pay the entry fee.  But whatever you want to call this it’s not as horrifying [Candy Crush Saga] as you are probably thinking.

The mobile market is still in…”transition”… actually, I think a better phrase would be “at war” with it’s pay structure.  Many developers (or publishers forcing their developers) are throwing out having to pay for a game at all in favor of grossly unbalancing the user experience and mentally manipulating them into buying money packs, items, upgrades, etc.  When this is done right it doesn’t punish the player or make them feel like they HAVE to pay in order to progress naturally and I believe a good example is Real Racing 3.  But when done wrong, the player hits a brick wall with an ad that flashes about buying crap in order to go farther and I’m staring right at you Candy Crush Saga, you POS.  Sorry, back on topic.  Gameloft has become one of those developer/publishers who still charge for their game, albeit at a much lower price, while also taunting you with stuff to buy in order to progress faster.  I feel this is a far trickier balance because your customers are still paying to play and making them feel as if they aren’t getting what they paid for and are required to pay more to progress can be a dangerous balance.  I feel they basically walk that line, leaning constantly into the “maybe you should just spend real money” territory without jumping head long into that abyss [Candy Crush.]  Let’s get to the game.

 

Gameplay

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If you played Asphalt 7 and enjoyed the way it handled, with it’s light and quick reacting car physics then you might want to have a sit down.  The car handling in this game is far heavier than it was in 7.  Personally I prefer the heavier, slower reaction and it seems as if it can be adjusted in the options to better suit those who liked the lighter feel.  What makes a pleasant return is MOGA controller support which works great, aside from drifting which doesn’t favor well at all.  I’m sure the MOGA Pro controller with it’s full-sized analog sticks are better suited for the subtly required to control a drift, but with the OG MOGA controller it’s basically a crapshoot.  Aside from the Drift courses though the controller helps ease that heavier feel and playing both 7 and 8 side by side they feel very similar with the controller.
So far (no I haven’t “finished” the game, don’t judge) the courses seem just alright.  Asphalt was never a contender for most interesting, realistic, fun courses and this entry really isn’t going to snatch up a nominee for Best Track either.  That isn’t to say the game isn’t fun despite some lackluster courses.  What does break up the stale feeling a bit though are the jumps added to each course.  Yes, there are jumps that send your car flying and you can do tricks and score more nitro, etc. hence why this version is called “Airborne,” although I feel they really could have gone crazier with this game because as is there are only a sprinkling of ramps in each track.  You do get some big air sometimes but it all feels safe, like they wanted it to be a sequel so they couldn’t do anything drastic, but they also wanted a crazy element so they just kind of wafted something new into the air of the games design.  One thing that they did tweak which I believe helps the games flow is that knocking competitors out is way easier to do and is nearly a guarantee with nitro engaged.  This helps the pace of the game because it honestly does feel a little slower than 7 did.
Graphics

Graphically, depending on the type of device you are playing on, it ranges from pretty good and on par with Asphalt 7, in my opinion to stunning.  But again, that is my opinion and I’m coming from a place that thinks Need for Speed: Underground was absolutely gorgeous.  If you are the type of person that hates lens flares, blurry water-spotted screens, light bloom and speed blur then definitely turn down the graphics to medium or lower as all those things go away on anything other than High.  A couple screenshots to show the differences below:

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Visual Setting = Very Low

Visual Setting = High

As you can see, the difference is stark but not horrifying.  The game simply removes all the extras yet maintains texture quality and polygon count.  So while that would likely speed up slightly older phones it isn’t going to allow something like the EVO 4G to run it, which it can’t I tried.  To give an idea of how it ran for me I have an HTC One that has a 4-core chip, 2GB RAM and a decent GPU built in and the game wasn’t completely smooth while playing in High setting.  I do, however, have a custom ROM and kernel installed and when I opted to overclock the GPU and CPU a little bit it became pretty smooth on High.  But on high I love the look;  Super high contrasts, blown out blooms, slick, glistening street tops.  I really like the look of this game and think Gameloft did admirably with getting it to run well and still look great.  It’s also impressive that the load-times are in check and not exaggerated.

A couple things that actually aren’t as impressive in this release are the crashes, which are pretty lackluster when compared to A7 and the knockouts of other racers which again doesn’t have that same “oomph” as they once had.  Not a big deal, but it’s interesting that one of the images that Gameloft is using to sell the game on the Play Store says in big letters “Realistic crashes and car damage” and I have not seen either of those yet.

 

Audio
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Sound design has never really been a strength of Asphalt either.  With #5 being so bad that engine sounds cut out at top speeds, leaving the player effectively sound-less.  While this one doesn’t get that bad it does lack a lot of the same touches that the graphics department put into the game.  While it’s hard to pull it all apart when taken at face value, looking deeper reveals some issues.  First off, the car never tops out…ever.  If you hit a long straight and listen the sound will loop from a low top gear sound to a top-out sound but then just fade and cycle over again.  That’s pretty annoying, another issue is with the music, and while they did splurge and get some pretty decent license music from actual artists, such as Queens of the Stone Age, their aren’t that many and you can’t hear every song because you are forced to select which “genre” out of the three available that you want to hear.  Bass, Rock and Electronic.  So, after 3 or 4 songs you are back to the first track in that list.

One more thing is the hiatus of the voice-over lady who would state the obvious.  She never really got annoying for me in the other games so her lack of presences here is almost missed.  But I could see how she could get annoying after half a dozen releases.

 

Final Thoughts

With a series almost as long in the tooth as Need for Speed at this point with just as many embarrassments as that series has likely wanted to hide in a closet too.  It’s easy to hate on a series for trying to refresh it’s work horse with flashy graphics, new pay models, and tweaks to it’s gameplay.  But Gameloft, the King of the console knock-offs, has once again been able to keep Asphalt on mobile platforms in the forefront of the go-to arcade racer and this title maintains that status.  It’s a fun game that is easy to dump hours into without even scratching the surface.  It dances the fine line of being too aggressive with it’s “pay-to-progress” model, but it never throws up a full on road-block or irritating “Play timer” to keep you from trying a race again.

I kind of want to touch on something while I’m on the topic of pricing.  This game is ONLY .99 cents, ok?  People…please keep that in perspective.  a song on iTunes is getting hard to find for $.99 and it lasts maybe 4 minutes?  This is hours of gameplay that looks great for that same price.  I saw many people commenting on other pages about “I’m not spending that for this” and I have to step back to see if he accidentally spent a C-note on it or something.  People these days are expecting WAY too much for $.99 and it’s getting a little ridiculous.  You will easily spend $5 on a froofy coffee that took 4-minutes to make and might take an hour to drink, but you’ll act like you’re spending your last monies that you will ever see EVER when it comes to a game that took months to design, develop and eventually release.  Keep things in perspective, please.

 

Final Score: 8.0

The GoodThe BadThe Ugly
Great Graphics

Reworked physics
Sound design falls a little flat.

Courses need more Wow factor

Pay model borders on "pushy"
The 1.6GB it takes up on your phone.

2 thoughts on “Asphalt 8: Airborne Review (Android)”

    1. It actually looks like, as of right now anyways, that it is free in the Google Play Store as well. It looks like it might just be a valentine’s promo. Hopefully the balance internally didn’t get “tweaked” in order to compensate for the free price if it sticks around. You know, by making it harder to unlock stuff.

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