Developer, Publisher: Gameloft; Released: July 25th, 2018
Reviewed on: Razer Phone, Android
Get it on: Google Play
Asphalt 9: Legends doesn’t quite take off into the air like its predecessor, but reaches new heights thanks to outstanding gameplay and bright visual design. An experience that largely iterates on what Asphalt 8: Airborne built up, the ninth instalment improves on progression and gameplay in meaningful ways that make it one of the best racers on mobile. While it can’t quite escape the various tropes of free-to-play gaming, these are minor complaints in the face of all features available, and progress never halts to a complete stop. What you get here is a streamlined racer with expansive variety and features that send it into the rank of legends, all available at absolutely no cost.
Although Asphalt 9: Legends plays completely similar to its predecessor, it expands on other key areas of the experience to feel completely different. The career mode has been significantly overhauled to follow a structured progression, and now includes more events than in any of the previous games. Instead of splattering events across different acts, Asphalt 9 separates races under championships, each with a specific requirement. Car classes have been shrunk down to only five, but you now get about 10 full championships per type. This results in an extensive single player career that is packed with variety, rarely restricting your progress throughout its runtime.
I like what’s they’ve done with the progression design, removing position requirements for each event and instead replacing it with a few goals to reach. Coming in first is no longer necessary, albeit half of the races will usually require you to come first anyways. Earning career flags through completing objectives in turn unlocks further events in a championship, and given these are easy to do, players won’t have trouble moving through the single player mode. Events can be surprisingly short, on the other hand, which isn’t a feature completely like. They tend to be quick and over with, but that means there is no room for errors in a 40-second run. A single crash will lead you to restart the race, and there is no way to do that during the event now.
This brings me to the single gripe with Asphalt 9’s progression, which thankfully doesn’t detract from the overall experience, but can be annoying at the very start. Races now require limited fuel to participate in them, with each car having capacity for 6 slots in total. This can be a bit of a pace-killer, as you may find yourself exiting the game to come back once the ride has been refueled. It isn’t as much of an issue once you acquire a few cars in the garage, as there are always plenty of races to go around for them. With championships spanning multiple car classes and sub-types, switching up rides provides an easy solution to limited race fuel. At the same time, it is an arbitrary requirement nonetheless, which may force you to quit the game just as you were having fun. This fuel system also won’t let you retry events mid-race, so messing up will usually fail in winning an event, unless you’re not required to.
Asphalt 9: Legends completely changes up the way you unlock cars through its career mode. Instead of buying them, you now unlock them through vehicle cards that drop blueprints for various cars. On the one hand, I like the feel of this system as it removes the requirement to spend in-game credits on purchasing new rides, which frees me to keep up with incrementally increasing race requirements. At the same time, this system removes the option to buy rides, so you’re now confined to whichever vehicle blueprints you unlock. If you won’t find any rare cards to get cars in this category, you’re completely out of luck acquiring them. Thankfully career races dole out vehicle cards in plenty, so it doesn’t take long until your garage is filled with variety, and you always know what you’re unlocking. You can also purchase vehicle cards using credits earned in races or tokens acquired by completing missions, which speeds up unlocking cars, but there is usually a steep currency requirement for it. Car stats are displayed by rank, the feature that carries over from Asphalt 8, and as before, have to be constantly upgraded to meet increasing event requirements.
Gameplay-wise, not much is changed from the previous game. Racing is still broken up with a diverse set of stunts, with tracks containing rams for barrel rolls and 360° spins. Oddly, you can now do a full spin at any point on track by double tapping the brake button, and are no longer confined to ramps in doing so. Performing tricks yields nitrous to fill the boost bar, which is activated here in four different stages. Tap it once and you go slightly faster, twice to go even quicker. The most you get out of boost is hitting perfect nitrous, which makes a return from Asphalt 8: Airborne, but the ninth instalment also introduces Shockwave. If your boost bar is full, double tapping nitrous will launch the car forward very fast, although it goes on for a very short time. Both perfect nitrous and Shockwave work for taking down opponents, which is fortunately also doable by landing on them or hitting tricks right beside other cars. Asphalt 9 doesn’t quite reinvent the series’ racing feel set by its predecessor, but it also didn’t need to, as the formula works perfectly even if on a basic level, you’re essentially playing the same game.
Diversity is where Asphalt 9 really shines, and it’s expansive nature pertains to both its career mode and racing locations. You go from the heat-drenched streets of Cairo, Egypt to rainy coasts of Scotland where the waves crash over you, to then take a drive through San Francisco hills. Game locations stop surprising after a while, but change up often enough to get bored from repetition. Event types aren’t quite as broad as I’d like, on the other hand. Circuit races seem to be completely gone out of the picture, which is slightly disappointing as they made up a lot of the career in 7th and 8th games. Most events here are point-to-point races against AI opponents, with a few duels and time trials to break up the monotony, and then there’s Hunted, where you get chased by the police. These came as a surprise, as the Asphalt series never came into illegal street racing, but now you are tasked with escaping the law on multiple occasions. I’m not a big fan of those however, mostly because of an awful design, where they require to jump a ramp at the very end to avoid a blockade, otherwise you’ve failed the event. The problem is, with at least four police vehicles up your exhaust, it can be frustrating trying to hit the finish ramp with proper velocity. Police chases provide a nice variety, but are poorly designed so I didn’t even want to play them. Thankfully these events are few and far in between, and other iterations of them involve a 1v1 race with presence of law enforcement.
At launch, car variety in Asphalt 9: Legends doesn’t impress, with only a handful of rides from biggest manufacturers, although there are a few oddballs included. Being someone who reads a lot of Top Gear, I still found some brands I’ve never heard of before represented here. Broken down into five classes, these span different disciplines but can ultimately all be used provided you’ve unlocked them. It’s odd to see discrepancies between cars in a specific class though, where you’d have a Dodge Challenger SRT8 placed in same category as the Viper ACR, whereas they are far apart from comparable in the real world. You probably won’t unlock all the cars for your garage, but with the new reward system, Asphalt 9 gives you a chance to own many more rides than you could in the past. And while the car list isn’t broad right now, Gameloft is known to update it’s racing juggernaut extensively with major content patches. One only has to look to Asphalt 8: Airborne, which is still consistently updated five years following its release.
If single player career isn’t the only thing you’re after, Asphalt 9 boasts the typical set of multiplayer features available in racing games. There is full multiplayer, where you compete with 7 other players, as well as daily events that reward more vehicle cards. I’m only here for the single player, but it is nice to have a bit for everyone. I can also appreciate the fact that Gameloft keeps their Asphalt games free of ads, with no videos or pop-up messages interrupting the action. Finish an event, get your rewards and start up a new one – there is nothing to stop you.
Asphalt 9: Legends continues the series’ tradition of high quality gameplay, detailed visuals, and a vast set of features available at no cost. There is a lot to find here, from the extensive career mode that is a huge improvement over its predecessor to adrenaline-fueled races that take you all around the world. Cars on offer compliment all kinds of tastes, including muscle cars, Japanese tuners and unrealistically expensive exotics. Daily events and multiplayer round off this stellar arcade racer that is simply brimming with content better than ever before. Some features may not be to everyone’s liking, such as the overhauled vehicle acquisition system, but it never presents a big obstacle for progression. Asphalt 9: Legends isn’t radically changed from its predecessor, but offers a satisfying experience nonetheless. For the free price, you simply can’t go wrong downloading this for your racing game needs.