Gameplay is similar to that of Asphalt 7: Heat, with the player given four control options: "Tilt to steer" (auto-acceleration with movement controlled by tilting the device), "Tilt and icons" (manual acceleration via an on-screen icon, with movement controlled by tilting the device), "On-screen controls" (auto-acceleration with movement controlled by an on-screen virtual steering-wheel), "Tap to steer" (auto-acceleration with movement controlled by tapping the side of the screen). The Windows 8 and Windows 10 versions feature different control schemes, including the traditional WASD keyboard scheme.
The five star rating system for each race, the use of primary and secondary objectives introduced in Asphalt 6: Adrenaline and also used in Asphalt 7 have all been retained in Asphalt 8. Three stars are awarded for finishing in first place, two for second, and one for third. Achieving secondary objectives, such as performing a given number of stunts or knocking down opponents, awards the player with two additional stars. Obtaining stars in an event is cumulative - players who finished first in an event without completing the secondary objectives may replay the race and obtain a five-star rating even if the primary objectives aren't met. The core gameplay is slightly different, however. As the subtitle implies, the focus of Airborne is on jumping, with tracks featuring a lot more ramps than in previous games. In addition to performing standard jumps, the player can also perform flat spins (by drifting onto a ramp) and barrel rolls (by hitting curved ramps). All jumps earn nitro boost; the longer the airtime, the more boost earned. Destroying obstacles such as barriers and lamp posts or hitting traffic cars also earns nitros. Another new feature, which substitutes the "Adrenaline mode" in Asphalt 6 and 7, is the ability to perform a "Perfect Nitro". When the player hits boost, a small red zone appears in the boost bar. If the player hits boost again when the boost meter is in the red zone, the car will accelerate even faster, with the boost lasting until the player runs out of boost, brakes, crashes or hits a ramp.
In the initial version of the game, the career mode consisted of 180 events split into eight "seasons", which become progressively more difficult. In later versions, additional challenges were added to the seasons. When the game begins, only Season One is available. Later seasons must be unlocked either by earning a certain amount of stars or by purchasing a "Season Unlock" in the in-app store. The Great Wall update added 30 new events centered on the Great Wall. The Dubai update introduced a new season where only fully upgraded cars are eligible to participate, besides adding three new events centered on Dubai. The San Diego Harbor update introduced a new season featuring events where the player can participate in a twenty-four car race (Exclusive Metal Events - only on iOS 8), alongside several new events centered on both Dubai and the San Diego Harbor.
Online multiplayer mode can be played both locally via Wi-Fi, and globally via the internet. There is also a "World Series" online multiplayer mode, although this mode is unavailable on iPod touch 4th generation and iPhone 4. Playing on multiplayer is the only way to increase a player's in-game level, to which more credits are awarded as the player levels up. The Multiplayer League Update in October 2016 introduced a revamped multiplayer gameplay in the form of the "Multiplayer League", where players compete against each other in online multiplayer races to win exclusive rewards.
Asphalt 8 is the first game in the Asphalt series to use Game Center for achievements rather than Gameloft's own Gameloft Live. The April 2015 update added support for the Apple Watch and made it compatible only on the iPhone 5 or later models using iOS 8.2 or later through the use of Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. The October 2015 update added support for the Apple TV.
There were forty-seven licensed cars available initially, but due to game updates, there are 182 cars in total as of January 2017. The cars are divided into five classes, and their performance is now determined by the new Rank rating feature. The player starts with one car in the lowest class (Class D), the Dodge Dart GT (Starting Rank 505; Max Rank 778; Max Pro Rank 802).
Unlike in previous games, all other cars are immediately available for purchase without the need to collect stars to unlock them. These include: in Class D, the Cadillac ATS, the Scion FR-S, and the Alfa Romeo MiTo GTA; in Class C, the Chevrolet Camaro GS, the Lamborghini Urus, and the Lotus Exige S Roadster; in Class B, the DS Survolt, the Aston Martin V12 Zagato, and the Ferrari 458 Italia; in Class A, the Marussia B2, the McLaren 12C Spider, and the Pagani Zonda R; and in Class S, the GTA Spano, the Ruf CTR3, and the Bugatti 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse. The car with the highest Rank is the Arash AF10 (Class S; Starting Rank 1692; Max Rank 1763; Max Pro Rank 1812; Max Pro Tuning Rank 1830).
With the June 2014 update, however, certain cars, such as the 2015 Ford Mustang and the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT Coupé Final Edition, had to be unlocked by spending real-world money on them or winning them from time limited events. These cars were available in "Premium" packs, each containing two cars. As of the Decals update in March 2015, the Premium packs have been discontinued, and the former Premium cars can now be purchased with Tokens, a premium currency which was introduced in the preceding Winter 2014 update.
Update 1.1.0 in November 2013 added four new cars, including the Renault Clio RS 200 EDC and the Ferrari F430. An update in January 2014 added five new cars, including the Ferrari LaFerrari and the W Motors Lykan HyperSport.
The Great Wall update in February 2014 added four new cars, including the SRT 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8 and the McLaren P1. An update in May 2014 added the SSC Tuatara. An update in June 2014 added eight new cars, including the Ford 2006 GT, the Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR AMG, and the Hennessey Venom GT.
The Dubai update in August 2014 added five new cars, including the Savage Rivale Roadyacht GTS and the Nissan GT-R NISMO. The San Diego Harbor update in September 2014 added five new cars, including the Mazda Furai and the Koenigsegg One:1. The Winter 2014 update in December 2014 added eleven new cars, including the Ferrari 308 GTS, the Arrinera Hussarya, the Tramontana XTR, and the 9FF GT9 VMAX.
The Decals update in March 2015 added five new Ferrari cars, one of which is the Ferrari Enzo Ferrari. The Tenerife update in May 2015 added eight new cars, including the BMW M3 Sedan, the Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4, and the HTT Pléthore LC 750. The Hot Summer update in July 2015 added eight new cars, including the AC 378 GT Z, the Chevrolet SS, and the McLaren 675LT.
The Summer's Over update in September 2015 added six new cars, including the Lamborghini Huracán and the Cadillac 16 Concept. The Santa's Gift update in December 2015 added fourteen new cars, including the Nissan Skyline GT-R (R34), the McLaren 570S, the Lamborghini Egoista, and the Trion Nemesis. The Monkey's Year update in February 2016 added nine new cars, including the Alfa Romeo 4C, the Lamborghini Estoque, and the Chevrolet 2016 Camaro SS.
The Elite Cars update in April 2016 added seven new cars, including the Mazda RX-8 and the Devel Sixteen Prototype. The Enduro update in June 2016 added eight new cars, including the Jaguar F-TYPE Project 7, the Mercedes-AMG GT3, and the Weber Faster One. The Rio update in July 2016 added seven new cars, including the Donkervoort D8 GTO and the W Motors Fenyr SuperSport.
The Multiplayer League update in October 2016 added seven new cars, including the Mercedes-Benz CLA AMG 45 Racing Series, the TVR Sagaris, and the GT by Citroën. The Championship update in December 2016 added eight new cars, including the BMW M2, the McLaren Mercedes MP4-25, and the Arash AF10. The Lunar New Year 2017 update in January 2017 added five new cars, including the Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG Special Edition and the Lamborghini Aventador SV.
Asphalt 8: Airborne features nine different locations at the release, as well as eight more locations added through updates. Each location features multiple tracks. These tracks are either new to the series or old tracks which have been reworked and redesigned to satisfy graphical needs. The locations available initially are Nevada, Iceland, Tokyo, French Guiana, London, Barcelona, Alps, Venice and Monaco.
An update in March 2014 added a new location, the Great Wall, along with six new tracks based in the new location. An update in August 2014 added a new location, Dubai, along with four new tracks based in the new location. An update in September 2014 added the San Diego Harbor track, with both the forward and reverse versions of the track available. Later, in the same year, the Winter 2014 update added a brand new fictional racetrack named Sector 8, yet again available in forward and reverse versions.
In a game update in May 2015, Tenerife was theintroduced as a new location with four different tracks. Right before 2016, in a December 2015 update, another new location, named Area 51, was added with four new tracks. An update in July 2016 added Rio de Janeiro as a new location, with four new tracks. The Championship update in December 2016 saw the Monaco track renamed to Azure Coast.
The Lunar New Year 2017 update in January 2017 added a new location, the Patagonia, along with four new tracks based in the new location.
Asphalt 8 is the first game in the series to feature a licensed soundtrack. When playing the game, there are three selectable "stations"; bass, rock, electronic and rap. Some of the songs available are "Be Electric" by The Qemists, "Etude" by Nero, "Rocksteady" by The Bloody Beetroots, "Fire Inside" by Gemini, "Stamina" by Vitalic, "Burn It Down" by AWOLNATION, "Underdog" by Kasabian, "Play For Real" by The Crystal Method (Dirtyphonics Remix), "Professional Griefers" by Deadmau5, "Go with the Flow" by Queens of the Stone Age, "Holdin' On" by MONSTA (Skrillex ft. Nero Remix), and "Pulsar" by Celldweller. The March 2014 update added four new songs: "Animals" by Martin Garrix, "Over It" by The Crystal Method, "Asleep at the Wheel" by Band of Skulls, and "Cannibal" by Silversun Pickups.
In addition to the licensed songs, Asphalt 8 also features original music composed by Vincent Labelle.
Asphalt 8 received critical acclaim from critics and became the leading game of its genre. The iOS version holds an aggregate score of 91 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on eighteen reviews.
TouchArcade's Eric Ford gave the game a perfect score, 5 out of 5, calling it the "pinnacle" of the Asphalt series. He was particularly impressed with the new jump-focused gameplay and the graphics, arguing that "the graphics engine does a great job of imparting that sense of speed that is essential for a game that thrives on fast gameplay". His only criticism was what he perceived as a disparity between the price of some of the cars and the reward money given to the play; "as you get towards the really expensive cars, you'll notice that you don't earn quite as much money proportionally to afford what you might want." However, he saw this as a "minor complaint" and concluded by saying "the iOS platform has quietly become a haven for great racers, and Asphalt 8 looks to be leading the pack right now." AppSpy's James Gilmour also gave the game 5 out of 5, praising the controls, the range of tracks, cars and upgrades. He argued that "Asphalt 8: Airborne plays like a greatest hits compilation of arcade racers. Perhaps you enjoyed the powerslide from Out Run and Ridge Racer? Or the nitro boosts and takedown challenges from Burnout? Well, you'll find them all in Asphalt 8. The good news is that rather than Gameloft simply ripping off aspects of other games and mashing them randomly together, the dev has managed create a polished, adrenaline-infused racer which is way more fun than it has any right to be [...] Though Asphalt 8: Airborne's parts may be borrowed, they have been skilfully assembled to build a highly entertaining vehicle." MacLife's Andrew Hayward also awarded a perfect 5 out of 5 score, feeling the game reverses the sense of stagnation which had crept into the Asphalt series by the time of Asphalt 7, and arguing that it "essentially feels like a reboot in terms of quality. It's actually a rather amazing feat". He compared the game to Real Racing 3, praising Asphalt 8 for featuring a "real" multiplayer mode. He concluded that "what began life as a passable mobile diversion nearly a decade ago has finally blossomed into a racing experience that's frantic, hearty, and really rather impressive throughout. Asphalt 8: Airborne blurs the line between mobile and console racers, with an amazing asking price to boot, and it's easily the best racer of its kind on the App Store today."
Andrew Stevens of 148Apps scored the game 4.5 out of 5, arguing that it takes the Asphalt series "to a new height." He too praised the new jump-focused gameplay; "I've always had great fun with arcade racers and enjoyed the previous Asphalt entries, but something as simple as adding ramps and a few stunts to the action has really taken this series in a new direction." He concluded that "Asphalt 8: Airborne is a great addition to the series and arcade racing fans will find themselves very happy with its offerings." Gamezebo's David Oxford also awarded a score of 4.5 out of 5, praising the new jump-focused gameplay, the graphics, the range of cars, the level design and the use of licensed music. Although, he was critical of the drifting mechanics, he concluded that "Asphalt 8: Airborne's numerous features and modes, including multiplayer, help round out this package. It's an easy recommendation for anyone who likes their racers a little more realistic than a cartoon kart racer, but with a healthy dose of over-the-top arcade action."
Pocket Gamer scored the game 9 out of 10, also giving it a "Gold Award". Reviewer Harry Slater compared the game to Real Racing 3, arguing "If Real Racing 3 is a precision instrument, then Asphalt 8: Airborne is a lump hammer [...] there's a simple arcade glory to the proceedings, which leaves you with a smile on your face after every breathtaking dash to the line. So while Asphalt 8: Airborne might not be subtle, every second you spend in its company is exhilarating fun." He praised the level design, control options, the nitro system, and the use of shortcuts on every track. He concluded that "Asphalt 8: Airborne might not be the best-looking racer out there, and it certainly isn't the most realistic, but as an arcade blast it's hard to top. Its powerslides are that bit madder, its jumps that bit more ludicrous, and its takedowns that more satisfying than its nearest competitors. This is a racer that concentrates on fun above anything else, and it hits its mark almost every time. If you're a fan of gaming with a grin on your face, then Asphalt 8: Airborne is going to be right up your street."
IGN's Steve Watts was less impressed, scoring the game 7.8 out of 10. Although he praised the graphics and gameplay, he was critical of the in-app purchase system; "By the time I reached the mid-point, the hodgepodge of car requirements felt like an unworkable maze. I constantly needed more stars, but by that point progression required me to spend a large wad of cash on a car that might only be useful for one event. I would begrudgingly buy it, earn the five stars available in that event, and then go looking for another that could slowly inch me towards the next season. Of course, Asphalt is more than happy to remind you that you can simply purchase some cars or in-game currency to speed up the process." He concluded that "Asphalt 8: Airborne is a highly polished racer with loads of content, but its pacing is slowed by aggressive gating that pushes too hard toward its in-app purchases. The later season requirements are too intrusive and the grind starts to wear thin after a while."