On the list of things that not many people know about me is the following fact: At one point, I was the 23rd best 1/10th scale remote control drifter in Europe. And I even represented the UK in the sport of RC Drifting – back in the days when I could spend hundreds of pounds on toy cars without the wife beating me. So, with this background and pedigree, I felt it was only right that I should put in a tender to review Absolute Drift: Zen Edition, the new to Xbox One game from Flippfly and Funselektor Labs.
According to the games’ developers, Absolute Drift was released as a response to the first Ken Block Gymkhana video way back in 2014, and then the next twelve months was spent expanding it into a full game. Having been out on Steam and PS4 for some time now, it’s finally our turn to get to grips with the world of drift. Having seen the press shots that showed a tiny white Toyota AE86 (or Hachi Roku as they are affectionately known) drifting about, looking like a still from the Initial D manga, I was completely sold almost before I fired the game up. Having now spent some time with it, how does it stack up?
Well, first off, the game is a lot of fun. The car models are tiny, and the world is viewed from a top down perspective, so it’s almost like Micro Machines went to Japan and lost itself amongst the touge drifters.
The car is driven with the usual racing game buttons; RT to accelerate and LT to brake, with B acting as a handbrake – this isn’t mentioned anywhere in the tutorials I played, but makes the Gymkhana parts of the game a lot easier. Once you have some speed, either just steer, or brake and steer, and as the rear of the car starts to slide, apply some countersteering and modulate the throttle to maintain the slide for as long as you can.
What could be easier, right? Well, brain surgery and rocket science for a start!
The window of time between “I am a drifting god!” and “Oh dear, it’s all gone sideways!” is very small, and you do need some good reflexes to catch and hold a slide. Different cars help, and I’ll talk about those later, but you are going to have to practice to be able to drift successfully. The viewpoint ceases to be an issue very quickly, and my brain was able to relate the top down view of the car to a left/right countersteer almost straightaway.
As you begin your drifting career, the only car available is the the AE86. However, due to, I assume licensing rules, it isn’t called an AE86, it’s called “The Original”. Same with the next car, it’s clearly a Toyota Supra, but is called “The Super”, the E30 M3 is called “Das Whip”, the Nissan 180SX S13 is “The Missile” and so on. Of the four cars I mentioned, probably the easiest to do well with is The Super, as The Original is a bit twitchy and The Missile seems to want to spend all its time going backwards if you so much as breathe on the brake! The different cars have such different characters, so you should be able to find a car that suits your driving style. Some are slow and easy to drift, but very hard to transition without losing the drift, and others are faster and turn on a sixpence, but are tricky to hold a slide in. In the garage, the cars can be repainted and have decals applied, but that’s as far as the customisation goes, sadly.
The Free Roam mode is where the new cars can be unlocked. As you drive around the six worlds, there are various missions that you have to master in order to unlock the next world. There are also red houses with the names of various drift tracks and “Driftkhana” arenas on, and, after World Four, mountain runs to indulge in.
Driving into one of these houses will transport you to the world it promises, where various criteria have to be met. This might be holding a drift for a set period of time, scoring a certain amount of points, completing a specified number of donuts or spins, or even not crashing. As time goes by and you complete more of the track missions, the new cars will unlock as you complete a certain number. Helpfully, as you drive around, you’ll find a Garage that you can drive into, and usually next to it there is a another building blocked off with the number of track missions you need to complete to get the next vehicle. There are also paint stores that you can drive through that will repaint your car a random colour and even apply stickers. So if you’re bored with the car, then get it sprayed!
Graphically, the game is beautifully simple, with a real “less is more” vibe going on. The majority of the world is white, with shading to show where the edges of the buildings and the roads are, and missions in the world are red. Apart from the red missions and buildings, there are only blue and yellow highlights on some buildings, and the black tyre tracks your chosen vehicle leaves on the world. The tyre marks are amazing to look at, and seem to draw from each wheel individually as the car drifts and drives around. Interestingly, they also continue when the car is in the air, so as you fall off the edge of the world, your tracks spiral down to the water and look super cool. Seeing a mountain track with your tyre tracks hitting each of the clipping points on a series of curves is truly a work of art. It reminds me almost of Japanese calligraphy, with the big sweeping strokes replaced by burnt rubber and the paper replaced by the wide open spaces of the world. Although being a big fan of Top Gear, I did see if it was possible to recreate one of their burnt rubber masterpieces, and I’ve got to say, it was pretty easy! As this is a website for all ages, I’m not going to go into any more detail than that though!
Gameplay wise and Absolute Drift is almost the dictionary definition of “easy to pick up, hard to master”. The game starts off easy, and soon you’ll be drifting about the place, leaving squiggles and collecting bonus blocks. However, soon finesse has to come into play, with just the right amount of throttle, and the right degree of countersteer needed to settle the car into a controlled slide.
Then comes transitioning – switching a drift’s direction without losing it or straightening up too much. Once you can string a series of corners together, this is where the big scores on the drift tracks start to come in. Add in then the presence of clipping points, where the front of the car has to be within a gnat’s whisker of a pole to score bonus points, and the difficulty ramps up quite quickly. It’s never too hard though, and as the controls are responsive and easy to remember, the game feels almost like it wants you to succeed.
In conclusion then, Absolute Drift: Zen Edition is a game that I have had a lot of fun with. It’s like a love letter to the days of the Japanese drift scene, meeting at midnight to race sideways down the mountain passes. It drives well, is instinctive to play and has a real “just one more go” pull that will keep you trying to get the perfect drift long into the night.
It isn’t the longest game in the world, with only five full length worlds (the sixth is kind of an epilogue), but mastering every mission will take a lot of time and dedication. If you want to get your drift on, this is the game to do it with.