With free-to-play games becoming more and more common these days, Gameloft has stepped into the ring by making their newest edition of Asphalt completely free, and it’s still a great game.
I had my doubts about running this game on my Asus VivoTab with only 2GB of RAM and an old Atom processor, but it runs smoothly. It can be played in tablet mode or connected to a keyboard or controller, and is the most entertaining racing game I’ve played in a while. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly the best free-to-play racing game out there.
Asphalt 8: Airborne manages to bring fun new features to what can be a tired genre. The regular racing features are all there: a career mode, multiplayer, unlockable and customizable cars, the whole shebang. But what really makes it stand out are the different types of races, the high-flying jumps, and the ease with which you can destroy other racers.
A bar along the top shows your available nitro, your speed, your position in the race, and what lap you’re on. Your nitro charges up from a variety of things: crashing into objects, wrecking enemy racers, drifting, or going off jumps.
Drifting is simple; just tap the brake as you go around a corner and you’re drifting. You can even wobble left to right to maintain a drift for a long time with ease. There’s also plenty of random objects to hit for points, like streetlights, bus stops, or traffic cones.
Going off a curved ramp will cause you to do barrel rolls that never crash; it anticipates how much time you have in the air and only does as many spins as you can handle. The awesome, yet insanely unrealistic part of this is that you can steer left or right during your flight, even if doing barrel rolls. It’s a cool experience to turn around corners as you soar through the air. Tapping your brake and turning left or right just before a jump will make you spin horizontally, but those are much harder to land.
Wrecking enemy racers is another one of the small joys in this game. Speeding into them from behind, ramming them on the side, or even forcing them into a wall will wreck them. When you or an enemy racers crashes, you simply spawn a bit further back and keep going. You lose some time, but the addition of wrecking in the game makes for a lot of fun.
You earn credits and stars in every game, and small achievements within the race will earn you more credits, like near misses, perfect laps, air time, or destroying objects.
There are several game types you’ll encounter as you make your way through the campaign: regular races, elimination, knockout, or infection. Knockout is a blast; just destroy as many other racers as you can.
Infection, on the other hand, is a unique game type where one racer starts out infected, and they need to hit other racers to stay alive. If you don’t tap any other players within the time limit, you’ll be wrecked and respawn cured of the infection. The advantage to being infected, though, is that you get unlimited nitro.
The campaign is organized by seasons 1-8, with each getting a bit harder. You unlock seasons, and even races within seasons, by getting stars. You can pay to unlock a season for $1.99, but it’s also possible to just collect enough stars to progress for free, since you get 1-2 stars per race depending on which achievements you do.
The home screen is pretty cluttered, with the right side of the screen being scrollable. Up top you can see your credits and stars, the option to customize your car, or go to your settings. The bottom has multiplayer options, and the right side has career, activity among your Facebook friends, other cars you can buy, single races, and local WiFi races.
There are several options for controlling the game built in to Asphalt 8. For tablets, you can use tilt or tap to steer, and for laptops or desktops you can use a keyboard or a game controller. I started off using the tap to steer controls but then docked my VivoTab on its keyboard and really enjoyed the keyboard controls, the only downside being that you can’t customize key bindings.
While your Windows 8 device will play nicely with your Xbox 360, getting your Xbox 360 controller to work with your Windows 8 machine is a bit trickier unless you have a wired controller. Since 360 controllers don’t use Bluetooth, you’ll need an adapter like this $20 Wireless Receiver from Amazon to get your wireless controller working, whereas wired controllers should just plug and play.
If you’re lucky enough to own an Xbox One, you’ll have to wait. Microsoft has said that Xbox One controller support for Windows should be coming sometime in 2014. There is third-party support that has just launched, but if you want official support, you will have to wait.
The multiplayer leaves something to be desired. There’s no Xbox Live integration, but you can connect with your Facebook friends to race against their ghosts. If near someone, you can also play over local WiFi.
Playing the regular multiplayer mode that matches you with strangers didn’t work for me; it was never able to find enough people to fill a game. It gives you options on voting for a game type and a location, but that doesn’t really matter if you can’t find anyone to race against.
Who doesn’t love free games? There are some fantastic free games available for Windows 8, but Asphalt 8 takes the cake as the only high quality free-to-play racing game.
Of course, being a free-to-play game, there are in-game purchases, but they’re not a necessity. Credits can be purchased ranging from $1.99 for 13,800 credits to $99.99 for $1,380,000, but you also earn anywhere from 500-1500 credits for each race, making the purchases unneeded if you play enough. These credits go towards new cars or upgrades, but you can get a decent car for a few thousand credits or the most expensive car in the game for 375,000 credits.
To get the best gaming experience out of your Windows 8 device, you’ll also want to check out these 10 Windows 8 Modern games available from the Windows Store. Asphalt 8: Airborne is a fantastic game, but it only covers the racing genre.
What do you think of Asphalt 8: Airborne? Is Gameloft going in the right direction with more free-to-play games? Let us know in the comments.