There?s no question that Asphalt 9: Legends is a very good racer. It looks fantastic, the cars handle well, and it?s got a decent variety as far as tracks go.
It?s not a great racer, though, for one simple reason: it?s free-to-play in the very worst sense, by which I mean that it?s got microtransactions coming at you from every which way.
How bad is it? So bad that we were given the ?Starting Racer Pack,? which includes all kinds of goodies that, you?d think, would lessen some of the sting of paying to win — and yet, even with $20 worth of DLC included, it still felt like the game was trying to separate me from my money at every chance it got. There were constant appeals to buy upgrade packs, car parts, cars, you name it — if Asphalt 9 has a chance to go for the hard sell, rest assured that it will jump on that opportunity with headlong abandon. There?s not a moment that goes by where things aren?t flashing on the screen, trying to get you to act now and take advantage of limited time offers.
But it?s even more insidious than simply hard sells. There are things like only allowing you to use your cars for 6 races, before their gas tanks run out and you have to wait 15 minutes to use them again — unless, of course, you pay a few dollars and try your luck at getting rid of the cooldown. On top of that, the races are usually over pretty quickly — sometimes as little as 30 seconds — which means that if you want to play Asphalt 9 for any extended length of time, you need to be levelling up multiple cars at the same time, so that when one becomes unavailable, you can switch to another, and when both of those are used too often, you can turn to a third while the clocks on the others tick down.
The unfortunate thing in all this is that if Asphalt 9 had simply been a standard $40 racing game with everything included out of the box, it?d rank among one of the better racers on the Switch. As I said up top, when you?re in a race, it mostly works incredibly well. The game looks expensive, with top-notch graphics and real-life cars that look fantastic, even to someone as auto-ignorant as me. Likewise, the cars handle incredibly smoothly; you never feel like you?re fighting with the steering, and it?s so easy to slide around corners and zoom down the straightaways. And, in a nice touch, the game borrows from the Burnout series and allows you to crash your enemies with well-timed takedowns.
But it?s hard to see how many things Asphalt 9: Legends does well when you?re constantly being inundated with ads. ?Freemium? games are a scourge of mobile gaming, and seeing it come to the Switch in such an aggressive way feels just as icky here as it does on your mobile device. There?s undeniably a lot to do here, but be ready to shell out some real money if you want to get the full Asphalt experience.
Gameloft provided us with a Asphalt 9: Legends Switch code for review purposes.