Gameloft has pulled onto the starting line with Asphalt 8: Airborne. With three previous incarnations of the Asphalt series already under their belt, we were starting to worry if Gameloft was just turning Asphalt into the yearly Madden of racing. Asphalt 8 boasts that players are able to defy gravity and pull off some of the most amazing automotive stunts ever done on the pixelated raceway. Does Asphalt 8: Airborne soar sky-high and make some crazy money? Or should this racer stay in the driveway?

Taking just enough inspiration from the Burnout, Need for Speed: Underground and F-Zero series, Asphalt surprised us with how addictive it really is.  And we are extremely glad to say that it not only lived up to the expectations of its iOS predecessors, it surpassed them with the nitro going full-blast. Asphalt 8 looks great, but most importantly, it plays great. With tight controls and an array of high-end cars for you to choose from as you shred tread through exotic locales, Airborne is, without a doubt, one of the greatest racing titles ever released on the iOS format. But let's shift gears and inspect what's under the hood.

At first glance, Airborne's graphics are phenomenal. The fact that I'm playing such a beautiful racer, which exceeds PS2-level graphics, on an iPad, still surprises me. The raceways of Asphalt 8 go all over the world -- from Venice, Tokyo, the Nevada desert and various other places in the middle. What is particularly noteworthy of these raceways is that they are expansive, extremely long, and keep throwing you curve-balls during your rides.

In Tokyo, I found myself racing down city streets with elaborate signs and stores of my already-anticipated Japanese decor, but I was surprised to see multiple paths, with each path leading off-road. Each of these off-road paths varied in where they sent you, but ultimately they rejoin the main raceway. It was a blast drifting through an indoor shopping mall, proceeding into a huge sewer pipe where I was able to pan my car along the pipe walls and ride on the ceiling. After I getting my nitro to the max, I was immediately reminded of the "little red button" scene from Men in Black; I was soaring along the ceiling, passing over rival racers and oncoming traffic.

The cars themselves look absolutely gorgeous. The paint and lighting effects that Gameloft has accomplished with these cars are very reminiscent of the Need for Speed series. Throw in some blur effects, slick roads and gravity-shifting nitro effects, and I was thoroughly delighted during every race.

As for the controls, Airborne has enough control options to make every type of racer happy. Its default control scheme has the accelerator floored at all times, and when you play Asphalt 8, you can easily see why. Everything moves at break-neck speeds, you need to drift through difficult turns and you will find yourself hitting your nitro button frequently, especially since it continuously refills according to your driving abilities.

I've made it quite clear throughout my previous reviews that I am not a fan of gyroscopic controls. And while I switched to manual controls very early on, I used my iPad as a steering wheel just fine. When I say "used my iPad as a steering wheel", the controls were just that. You hold your iPad like a steering wheel, and twist it left or right to turn. I've seen this done before in other iOS racing titles, but I didn't mind it as much in Airborne. Mainly because they got it right: you do not have to twist your iPad 90 degrees and turn your head sideways in order to pull one of the dozens of turns you'll be doing per race. Nevertheless, I preferred the manual thumbs-on-screen-to-turn style of control.

So with tight controls and stellar graphics, the actual events that happen during your races are amazing. Asphalt 8 has ramps set throughout the levels, with most of them out of the way and off-road so that unadventurous racers would not be bothered by them. But when you do approach one, and you have the nitro engaged, you're in for a treat. Depending on the type of ramp and how you approach it, you're car is able to do barrel rolls and various other types of tricks in midair as it lands and seamlessly gets back into the race. Those hoping for realism should not bother, because these moves (and their flawless recoveries), would never happen in real life. But Asphalt's physics engine makes my car's weight feel right as it would shift in mid-air.

My only major complaint about Asphalt 8: Airborne is that the game costs a dollar to buy, but encourages micro-transactions in order to get the top-to-mid tier cars. Cars are categorized by rank, and the money that I got from getting first place in numerous races just made it seem like I would never be able to afford anything in the A or S class. But still, seeing Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and Bugattis gave me something to aspire to, despite never coming close to earning the in-game cash to reach it. In-app purchases seem to be one of the only reasons why Airborne didn't receive a perfect score; if it already costs money to play, forcing micro-transactions onto the player should be minimized.

With beautiful visuals, excellent controls, varying raceways, and near-perfect multiplayer experiences, I wholly recommend Asphalt 8: Airborne to anyone wanting a fun, over-the-top racing title. Who knows what Gameloft will do in the future with Asphalt 9, but they won't be redlining and blowing their engines anytime soon.


App Store Link: Asphalt 8: Airborne for iPhone & iPad | By Gameloft | Price: $0.99 | Version: 1.0.1 | 884 MB | Rating: 4+

9.0 out of 10 arcade sushi rating